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Shabbat Commentary

30 June/1 July: Shabbat Chukat comes in 9.07 pm, goes out 10.26pm

One fascinating aspect of the Jewish tradition is the recognition that human life is a complex mixture of contradictory elements. The two sections of Parshat Chukat give expression to the presence of paradox in life.

The Red Heifer is described as a ritual which “purifies the defiled and defiles those who are purified”.   It reminds me of the saying that a rabbi should comfort those who are uncomfortable and make uncomfortable those who live in comfort.   Similarly, Moses is described as a paradoxical character.   Within a few short verses he shines as a charismatic leader and he fails as a person who is a slave to his passions.

We all live with contradictions.   Sometimes we can smooth out the differing aspects of our identity — Moses had to learn that he couldn’t lash out in anger if he wanted to be a leader.    Sometimes we have to learn to embrace the contradictions;  like learning that doing holy work with the red heifer means getting your hands dirty (bloody!) in order to serve the people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman

June 29, 2017