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Cantor's thoughts on Chukat






Torah portion Chukkat narrates the death of Aaron, Moses’s brother. Aaron played an important role in the formation and spiritual leadership of the Israelites. He was the elder brother of Moses and Miriam and, like them, belonged to the tribe of Levi, the tribe indicated for religious duties. His journey begins when he is appointed by God to be Moses' spokesperson due to Moses' speech impediment, which culminated in the Israelites' departure from Egypt.

As the first High Priest of Israel, Aaron was instrumental in establishing the priesthood. Aaron's responsibilities included performing sacrifices, maintaining the Tabernacle, and overseeing the priests. His role was vital in negotiating between God and the Israelites, ensuring the community's spiritual well-being through rituals and sacrifices. The priesthood, descended from Aaron, became a lasting institution, existing to this day with a reduced role.

Among the different events in Aaron’s life, the creation of the golden calf was perhaps the first one to come to mind. Aaron yielded to the people's demands for an idol, leading to the destruction of the first tables of the law. Despite this lapse, Aaron's leadership was reaffirmed through divine acts, such as the budding of his staff, which signified God's choice of Aaron and his descendants for the priesthood.

Aaron's death on Mount Hor marked the end of a significant chapter in Israelite history. Stripped of his priestly garments and passing the high priesthood to his son Eleazar, Aaron's death was deeply mourned by the entire community for thirty days. His legacy is one of a spiritual leader, mediator, and human figure with flaws and strengths.

A Message from Rabbi Anderson


Korach, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, took – with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, descendants of Reuben – and they rose up against Moses with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community…. (Num. 16:1-2)

One famous puzzle of Parshat Korach is its first words: in Hebrew, ויקח קרח (vayikach Korach), or in English, “Korach took.” What exactly did Korach take? The best-known explanation is that Korach betook himself to rise up – in other words, that he separated himself from the community (Midrash Tanchuma, Rashi) – although there’s a minority view that Korach took the other conspirators, especially the chieftains, when he incited them to rebellion (Ibn Ezra mentions but rejects this). Overall, our tradition leans heavily in the direction of seeing Korach as a rebel who perhaps organizes other rebels, but not someone who coerced others into rebellion, and later midrash and commentary also emphasizes that any of the rebels who changed their mind (including Korach’s own household) were not punished. Each person becomes responsible for their own decisions, and those shape their outcomes.

 While in the Torah there’s a clear causal relationship between Korach’s rebellion and his death, in the rest of Jewish history and in our lives today we know that many bad things have happened to good people, and vice versa. This coming Thursday night (July 11th) at 7:30pm on Zoom I’ll be finishing my Big Jewish Questions series with what I think is the biggest Jewish question: how does any of this fit into a world with a just God or any other internal logic? Please join me if you can – we’ll be making a real effort to find answers that make sense to Jews today. 

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784