by Joe Steiner - June 26, 2015
This week’s portion, Chukat, comes to us from the Book of Numbers in the Torah. The Torah is part of the whole Bible: the Tanakh. Studying the Torah/Tanakh serves as a fruitful way to study the human condition, warts and all.
In Chukat, we find that a water crisis existed for Moses and his followers. The Israelites complained once again to Moses and Aaron that the hardships they faced made them yearn for the happier times they had experienced in Egypt. In response, Moses and Aaron went to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting where they “fell on their faces.” The Lord appeared to them and offered a solution to the water issue. He commanded them to take the rod, assemble the community, and then order the rock to yield its water.
It is in the actions of Moses and Aaron that we find aspects of the human condition that remain with us still.
First of all, Moses took the rod and insulted his followers by calling them “rebels.” Then, instead of speaking to the rock as the Lord ordered, Moses angrily struck the rock twice and miraculously water flowed. How often have we witnessed the negative effects of anger? In Moses’ case, the Lord punished him by denying him entry into the Promised Land.
Additionally, as Richard Elliott Friedman writes, Moses is seen as a real person: a real person who, for the first time, altered a miracle. As time passed, starting with Joshua who made the sun stand still at Gibeon, men and women would also make decisions on their own. Many of those decisions came to have life-altering consequences. Scientists, many of them Jews, made exciting discoveries (miracles?) that dealt fatal blows to diseases that had long plagued mankind.
On the 26th of March, 1953, Jonas Salk announced the discovery of a vaccine to combat polio. On the 16th of May of that year, Salk gave the vaccine to his family. In 1959, Albert Sabin’s vaccine trials began in the USSR. This time, a live vaccine was contained in a sugar cube. And in August of 1960, Sabin’s vaccine was licensed in the United States. By September 1994, polio was declared to be eliminated from the Americas.