There Are Rivers We Will Not Cross – Parshah Chukat

This weeks Torah Portion, Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1) starts off with Moses being taught the laws of the Red Heifer, whose ashes purify a person who has been contaminated by contact with a dead body (I mentioned this in passing when speaking on the question of Atonement – see

And it speaks about the  40 years of journeying through the desert; Miriam dying and here the people thirsting for water. Yehovah tells Moses to speak to a rock and command it to give water. Moses gets angry at the rebellious Israelites and strikes the stone. Water issues forth, but Moses is then told by Yehovah that neither he nor Aaron will enter the Promised Land … + more.”

Like all of Scripture this section raises some powerful thoughts and questions.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as always writes most eloquently that “… we are an unstable mix of reason and passion, reflection and emotion, so that sometimes grief and exhaustion can lead even the greatest to make mistakes, as it did in the case of Moses and Aaron after the death of their sister. Second, we are physical, therefore mortal.

Therefore, for all of us, there are rivers we will not cross, promised lands we will not enter, futures we helped shape but will not live to see. … Hence the life-changing idea of Chukat: we are dust of the earth but there is within us the breath of God. We fail, but we can still achieve greatness. We die, but the best part of us lives on.

… Life lives in the tension between our physical smallness and our spiritual greatness, the brevity of life and the eternity of the faith by which we live. Defeat, despair and a sense of tragedy are always premature. Life is short, but when we lift our eyes to heaven, we walk tall.

In reflecting on this at the end of a week where my youngest turned 21 having been born exactly 2 years after his grandfather and my father-in-law died, and also on the same day Emily, one of my nieces lost her young partner to cancer and he left behind 3 young children.

So, to me as well it has been a time to see tragedy and the brevity of life mixed with joy and celebration as seems so typical in this life.

It also leads me to reflect on the greatest tragedy in my world – the loss of one of my grandchildren – see

And it was also only some 2 years ago that I lost my Dad, the man that shaped my life the most, and whose many talents now seem almost mythical in their greatness.

And reflecting on the joy of children leads me to another blog post I wrote as part of a series on Happiness – which brings me full circle and back to the Sabbath!

Shabbat Shalom!

One thought on “There Are Rivers We Will Not Cross – Parshah Chukat

  1. Shabbat Shalom Paul, Thank you for your comments on Torah portion and your very poignant message. Very bitter / sweet memories for you . Can’t believe your youngest turned 21 ! I think it was your youngest who I remember coming with you to the Mansfield Hall – Prayer for Israel – only seemed like yesterday !!!

    What a wonderful “ role model “ your father was . May his memory be a blessing indeed.

    Re Torah portion , I recently came across another comment regarding Moses striking the rock : that HaShem was angry with Moses because HaShem was not sanctified in the sight of the people but rather that to the people it looked like Moses displaying his own miracle power .” Because you did not believe Me , to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel , you shall not bring this congregation ……..” Num 20: 12. Either way , it would have been devastating for Moses -but he continued on – faithful to Ha Shem – despite what would have been a bitter disappointment – not to enter the Land promised .

    I have recently had the Radio Active Iodine treatment recommended by the surgeon who did my surgery to remove Thyroid and large neck Tumour. Scan showed that the remnant Cancer cells were targeted and that there are no metastasis elsewhere in my body – so thankful to my Father . Still having regular blood tests, Doctors and Oncology Appointments . Feeling better – a lot to process – missing Ernie so much.

    Trust you and your family are well Paul . Shalom and blessings Bettye


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s