Parshat Chukat Summary

Parshat Chukat is the 6th parsha in Sefer Bamidbar (also known as Numbers).

This parsha is verses Numbers 19:1 – 22:1, or a total of 87 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

Before beginning the summaries, let’s look a little bit at the concept of a “chok” or decree.

This parsha begins with the words, “This is the decree [chukat] of the Torah …”

What is a Chok?

The Hebrew word “chukat” or “chok” (plural “chukim”) is translated as decree.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his book Horeb divides the commandments into 6 categories:

  • Torot = Instructions – Fundamental principles relating to mental and spiritual preparation for life.
  • Mitzvot = Commandments – Commandments of love.
  • Eidot = Symbolic Observances – Symbolic observances representing truths which form the basis of Israel’s life.
  • Avodah = Worship – Divine service.
  • Mishpatim = Judgments – Declarations of justice towards human beings.
  • Chukim = Statutes – Laws of righteousness towards those beings which are subordinate to man.

The above brief explanations are taken from the section headings in Horeb.

Included in the Chukim are diverse mitzvot such as:

  • respect for animals
  • not slaughtering a cow and its offspring on the same day
  • respect for a human corpse
  • prohibition of suicide
  • clothing
  • sexual immorality
  • which foods can and cannot be eaten (kashrut)

The chukim are also often described as commandments that do not seem to have a “rational” basis. That is to say, based on human logic alone no legislature would have enacted such laws.

With that background, let’s dive into the text of the parsha.

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Aliyah 1: Numbers 19:1 – 19:17, 17 verses

The chok that is described at the beginning of this parsha is usually referred to as “parah adumah,” the red cow or the red heifer.

God commands the Jewish people to take a completely red cow which has no blemishes and has never been yoked. They are to take it outside the camp and slaughter it. It is to be burned along with some cedar wood, hyssop, and a purple thread.

parah adumah - red cow red heifer

The ashes of the burnt red cow are then gathered and safely stored. These ashes can then be mixed with water and used for sprinkling on an impure person.

A person who comes into contact with a human corpse is impure for 7 days. He becomes pure by having the ashes of the red cow mixed with water and then sprinkled on him on the 3rd and 7th days.

Aliyah 2: Numbers 19:18 – 20:6, 11 verses

The person to be purified must immerse in a mikvah after having the water and ashes mixture sprinkled on him.

An impure person is not permitted to enter the Tabernacle or the Temple.

Death of Miriam
Numbers Chapter 20 begins the account of year 40, the last year of wandering in the wilderness.

God directed the Jewish people to the Wilderness of Tzin, to a place called Kadesh.

Miriam died and was buried there. According to Jewish tradition Miriam died on the 10th of Nissan of the 40th year in the wilderness.

Suddenly there was no water for the people to drink. The people complained to Moses and Aaron and blaming them for the lack of water.

Aliyah 3: Numbers 20:7 – 20:13, 7 verses

God told Moses to take his staff and gather together all of the people. He further instructed them to speak to the rock and they would be provided with water.

Moses took his staff and gathered the people. Moses upbraided the people and called them “rebels.” He then raised his staff and struck the rock two times. Water gushed forth from the rock.

God informs Moses and Aaron because of their disobedience and failure to sanctify Him, they would not be permitted to enter the Land of Israel.

There are many explanations trying to explain what sin was committed by Moses and Aaron.

Aliyah 4: Numbers 20:14 – 20:21, 8 verses

Moses sent a message to the king of Edom. He briefly explained the history of the Jewish people. He asked the king for permission to pass through Edom.

Edom refused.

Moses then offered to ensure they would stay on the road and pay for any water they drank.

Edom refused again. Then Edom came out with an armed force.

The Jewish people did not fight Edom, rather they went around them.

Aliyah 5: Numbers 20:22 – 21:9, 17 verses

The Jewish people left Kadesh and journeyed to Mount Hor.

Aaron died and was succeeded as High Priest by his son Elazar. According to tradition Aaron died on the 1st of Av of the 40th year in the wilderness.

The Jews were attacked by the King of Arad. Arad took a captive.

The Jewish people fought against Arad.God delivered the King of Arad into their hands, and they vowed to dedicate all of the captured cities to God.

They left Mount Hor. Their journey took them into a desolate area. They complained to Moses. As punishment God sent serpents into the camp that bit people and they died.

The people confessed their sin. God instructed Moses to make a serpent out of copper and place it on a pole. Whoever was bitten and looked at the copper serpent would be healed.

Aliyah 6: Numbers 21:10 – 21:20, 11 verses

The Jewish people continue their travels: to Oboth, then to the wilderness toward Moab, then to Nachal Zered, then to Arnon on the border between Moab and the Amorites.

At this point the Torah records for us a cryptic song from a book called “The Wars of the Lord.”

Aliyah 7: Numbers 21:21 – 22:1, 16 verses

The Jewish people sent a message to the Amorite king Sihon asking if they could pass through his land.

He refused. In fact, he gathered his army to fight against the Jews. Israel defeated Sihon and took possession of his land and cities.

Then Og king of Bashan attacked Israel. They defeated him and took possession of his land.

The people journeyed and came to the plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.

About Scottish Highland Cattle

The animal shown in the photo above is a Scottish Highland cow. Not all of them are the red color like the one in the photo.

I don’t know if those with a red coat are eligible to be used as the Parah Adumah. Among other factors, it would depend upon how many non-red hairs they have and if the hairs are uniformly red.

Haftarah Summary

Judges 11:1 – 33

Jephthah the judge lived and ruled at a time when the people of Ammon were attacking the Jewish people. The king of Ammon claimed that the Jewish people had stolen Ammon’s land. To rebut those claims, Jephthah recounts the history of Israel’s journeys and wars after the Exodus. a significant part of that history is from Parshat Chukat.

Further Reading

We don’t know a lot about Miriam, but she clearly was an important woman. Here is a brief biography of Miriam.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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