Parashat Hukkat

Preparing for an Unknown Future

The Torah law about the red heifer was given because it anticipated the temporal nature and limitation of what Miriam had to offer.

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The Torah seems to pass over the incident without remark--simple and straightforward: "The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there" (Numbers 20:1).

But the next verse reveals to us the impact of her death. Not only are the people diminished by her loss, but the absence of her calming presence gives way to another uprising against Moses and Aaron.   

If the Torah law about the red heifer was given because it anticipated the temporal nature and limitation of what Miriam had to offer, then we have to dig deeper for the mega lesson: the Torah will always give us the insight to prepare for the future even when the current approach seems to suffice and there is no need for a change. And how do we know that the lesson works? We look to the next section of text for affirmation.

The people reclaimed their resolve and marched forward: "The Israelites then marched on and encamped in the steppes of Moab, across the Jordan from Jericho" (Numbers 22:1). They not only readied themselves to enter and settle the land, their stance also served to reflect a renewed attitude about the future that stands before them.

They do not want to return to Egypt. Rather they want to enter the land of promise that lies ahead--even with all that is unknown about it.

We have to be willing to do the same.

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Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.