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Drash on Chukkat 2024

Rabbi Adi Cohen

Temple Shalom Gold Coast

Parashat Chukat presents several rituals and laws that are rich with spiritual teachings.

One of the primary focuses of this parasha, is the ritual of the red heifer (Parah Adumah) and the mysterious purification process associated with it.

The red heifer ritual involves the slaughtering of a completely red cow, the burning of its body, and the collection of its ashes, which are then used to purify those who have come into contact with death.

One peculiar element here is the paradox within the ritual: while the ashes of the red heifer purify the impure, those who handle the ashes become impure themselves. This paradox can be seen as a reflection on the nature of communal responsibility and the interconnectedness of individuals within a community.

It suggests that acts of purification and helping others often come at a personal cost, yet these sacrifices are essential for maintaining the purity and moral integrity of the community as a whole.

The ritual of the Bronze Serpents provides a different spiritual insight. When the Israelites speak against God and Moses, they are punished with a plague of fiery serpents. In response, God instructs Moses to make a Bronze Serpent and place it on a pole; those who look at it are healed.

Back then, as is now, acknowledging one’s wrongdoing and seeking help are crucial steps towards healing and redemption. It also emphasises that remedies for moral failings, often involve an act of reflection and a symbolic ritual that leads us back to our foundational beliefs.

Following its original role in a healing ritual, the mysterious Bronze Serpent was continuously worshiped by the Israelites for several hundred years. In the Second Book of Kings 18:4, we find that the Israelites were still worshiping it with  incense.

The Talmud, Avoda Zara, 44:1 describes how the serpent was finally destroyed when the Sages acknowledged that worshiping it as an object of power, was the wrong thing to do.

Parashat Chukat offers a rich tapestry of spiritual teachings  highlighting communal responsibility, the cost of leadership, obedience, repentance, and faith.

While the rituals themselves are part of our past, their ethical and spiritual teaching are still part of our Jewish identity today. There are people who need our help. Whether it is our family time, our resources, or our capital; there is a price we pay. A price we need to commit to pay.

These rituals, the red heifer and the Bronze Serpent, collectively illustrate the complexities of ethical living in our tradition, where personal sacrifices, faith and belonging are integral to maintaining moral and communal integrity.

Shabbat Shalom.

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