Reflections on the Parashah Hashavua Chukat (Bamidbar 19:1-22:1)
Where does Israel’s success as a people come from throughout the centuries of its existence as such? Where can the strength come from that has led it to prevail over the misfortunes, slavery, persecutions, invasions or exterminations that it has had to suffer from its own origins until even today, so many centuries later? I believe that there is a common element that can explain it: Unity in Faith.
When Parashah Chukat describes, even as if it were an anecdote, that during the journey of the people of Israel through the desert to the Land of the Covenant, all the indigenous peoples through which they had to pass were firmly opposed to facilitating Israel’s passage, even by force if necessary, reveals to my mind one thing evident, and that is that it was no longer a chaotic, relatively small and disorganized amalgam of ex-slaves who left Mitzraim with their clothes on and in haste, a bunch of harmless and irrelevant nomads susceptible to submit to any power that would give them shelter and refuge.
No, it was no longer like that, but Moses and Aaron, as leaders of the People by the hand of Hashem, had managed to organize a complex society, had endowed it with genuine, authentic and personalized laws, and with a social and religious identity of its own, differentiated from that of the rest of the peoples that surrounded them. And all of this, allied Israel around the service of God, and the special relationship with Him that had been established. Thus, in the story of the Parashah, it becomes evident that several generations had already passed since the departure from Egypt, and that the number of members of Israel had turned it into a power to be reckoned with. The twelve original tribes had gathered around the Tabernacle of Adonai, the Tent of Meeting, and this is evidenced in Sefer Bemidbar itself, as it relates in great detail their number and, therefore, the whole complex process that had to be developed to raise and settle the camp on their pilgrimage.
I can just imagine the rulers of Edom, Arad or Arnon until their arrival at Yericho, uneasy and their populations panicking, contemplating how thousands, hundreds of thousands of Israelites entered their domains, perfectly ordered and motivated under the strong leadership of Moses and Aaron and with the stories of the exploits of the power of that God who took them out of Mitzraim speaking for them. The veracity of this fear can be expressly proven, when in the Haftarah of the Parashah Shelach (Joshua 2:1-24), the woman who hides the Israeli spies who had gone to recognize the city of Yericho, confesses to them «I know that the Eternal has given this land to you, that the fear of you has fallen upon us and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted because of you».
A divided people does not prosper, it spits and ends up falling apart or being dominated or conquered by other stronger and more determined peoples. A people that does not find reasons for unity is condemned to disappear, to dissolve with the passage of time or the vicissitudes of history. But that did not happen with the Jewish People, because they did have such a strong mortar that remained uniting them even in misfortune and exile, even in the Diaspora and the dispersion of its members all over the face of the earth; and that strong glue was a firm union based on their faith in Adonai. In spite of their tug-of-war, in spite of their disappointments and disenchantments, in spite of their sins and forgetfulness of the divine commandments.
The People of Israel has always been the same and will always be the same, because they have always had an indissoluble and unbreakable union with their God; a marriage that was based from the beginning on love and not on convenience. Today, the Jewish People has changed in its form, in its place of residence, its tastes or vision of life, even in its diverse skin color, but not in its essence: its love for God and His love for His People. That is their wealth, that is their power, that is their success, that is their past and that is their future, a promising future if they remain united in those principles.
But for this to continue to be so, the People must also be aware that there are no good or bad Jews; that there are no more or less observant or secular, more or less attached or not to tradition, Israeli Jews or Jews in the Diaspora, but that we are all the People, and precisely for this reason, and although there are Jews for whom it may seem otherwise, diversity only unites and enriches it even more if possible, and gives it much more meaning in this XXI Century. The world changes and people adapt, but the essence of Israel will remain the same because it does not depend on the vicissitudes of history but on the Spirit, and the Spirit is immortal. As Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a survivor of the Shoah, said, «I did not know if I would survive, but I was sure that the Jewish people would survive». So be it.
Shabbat shalom – Rafael Mateo.
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Parashat Chukat and the concept of unity in Judaism
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