Skipping, cracking open, gushing out — the Torah portion of Chukat (sort of)

So this is what happened: Due to the mysteries of the calendar, I am not going to read the Torah portion of Korach this year. If you fly between Israel and Chutz-La’aretz (not Israel) between Pesach and the week of July 28, 2019, you will either double up on or miss a Torah portion. This is because the 8th day of Pesach was Shabbat. For Israel’s Torah reading cycle, where it was not Pesach anymore, the reading resumed with the regular cycle on that Shabbat, while in “Not Israel”, it was still Pesach with its special holiday reading and the regular cycle resumed only a week later, introducing an imbalance which will be fixed only in about 4 weeks.

Aside from the practicality, it is painful to live in this disconnect. I don’t like it, and yet, find myself defensive when faced with angry voices: “Why are we still having 2nd day holidays anyway? we know the calendar! Let’s just stop this nonsense??” Ah, well, maybe, yes, some day. Meanwhile, we’re reminded that we don’t live in a perfectly harmonious world; that we’re still scattered despite the immense power (and illusion) of the internet; and that there’s still so much work to do.

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The Torah portion of Chukat looks like another Numbers – laundry list of ‘what shall we put in here’: the Red Heifer; Miriam’s death and Moses hitting the rock; the complicated relationship between Israel & Edom, and its surrounding nations; the Copper Snake and the Song around the Well. In a way, it’s about how the same thing can give both life, purity and good things, as well as death, impurity and troubles / “challenges”. The same purifying process of the Red Heifer cause tum’a (spiritual impurity) to those who administered it; the same water that brought life to the People, also beget Moses’ death; the same Copper Snake that reminded the people of G-d’s power later became a source of idolatry; things that seems rock-strong, crack open, while “soft” water, gush out. The Psalmist says in his own poetic words (118:22):

  אֶ֭בֶן מָאֲס֣וּ הַבּוֹנִ֑ים הָ֝יְתָ֗ה לְרֹ֣אשׁ פִּנָּֽה׃    The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

Last week – or two weeks ago, depending on where you are, we read about following “both our hearts” (Numbers 15:39). We have a good heart and a bad heart, suggests Rashi. We would think we should follow the “good”, but the Torah tells us that the same thing can be both good and bad, that it can go either way, and we can’t always figure those out.

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So Israel?? Yes. For-ever?? For now. That’s wonderful! You’re going home!? Well…. What did you miss most about Israel? That I can order ice-coffee and it’s sweet and soft (and not “ice-coffee at all), and that I can use my name, and not make up an easy to pronounce one, while I worry that my coffee goes to Michael, Mitchel and the like. Maybe, it’s symbolic of at least one a piece of my identity that’s in place and in peace here more than elsewhere.

Shabbat Shalom from the hills of the Shomron (for now :))

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