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.
Rabbi Paul Arberman