In this Shabbat’s weekly Torah portion Chukat Numbers 19:1 – 22:1, Moses is taught the laws of the red heifer, whose ashes purify a person who has been contaminated by contact with a dead body.

After forty years of journeying through the desert, the people of Israel arrive in the wilderness of Zin. Miriam dies, and the people thirst for water. God 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 told by God that neither he nor Aaron will enter the Promised Land.

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In this week’s Haftara Prophets reading I Samuel 11:14 – 12:22, the prophet Samuel (a descendant of Korach, the protagonist of this week’s Torah portion) gathers the Jews to firmly install Saul as king of Israel. During the course of his address to the Jews he called out, “Here I am; bear witness against me before God and before His anointed; whose ox did I take, or whose ass did I take, or whom did I rob; or whom did I oppress, or from whose hand did I take a bribe…” This echoes Moses’ statement in this week’s Torah reading: “I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them.”

The nation gathers at Gilgal for a second coronation of King Saul–the first one having lacked a convincing consensus. They offer sacrifices and rejoice together. The prophet Samuel then delivers a talk: he asks the people to testify that he never committed crimes against the people, and they confirm. He discusses how God saved and aided them every step of the way and chastises them for wanting a flesh and blood king. He assures them that God will be with them if they follow in His ways, and of the consequences they will face if they do not follow God’s word.

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Happy studying!

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