This week’s parasha, Chukat, Numbers 19:1 – 22:1 is probably one of the saddest portions in the entire cycle. In 20:1, Miriam dies and was buried in the wilderness. In the same chapter, HaShem’s anger at Moshe and Aaron find them losing their right to lead the people into the land of promise.
But Adonai said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in Me so as to esteem Me as holy in the eyes of Bnei-Yisrael, therefore you will not bring this assembly into the land that I have given to them.” (20:12)
Next, still in chapter 20, the Edomites, Israel’s cousins, refuses to allow Israel to pass through their land – even after Israel promises not to veer off the thoroughfare. Finally, coming to Mount Hor, the first part of HaShem’s pronounced discipline at Meribah is realized as Moses takes Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of Mount Hor where Aaron’s garments and emblems of authority are removed and given to Eleazar, and Aaron dies. After his burial, Moses and the new High Priest Eleazar descend the mountain, and remain in a state of uncleanness for seven days (19:11).
At this point, Bnei-Yisrael have to travel back toward the Sea of Reeds, having to detour around Edom. As they retravel the original Exodus route, “the spirit of the people became impatient along the way” (21:4), and they complain and murmur against HaShem and Moses (21:5). Discipline is swift, and, once again, many people die, only this time of snake bites (21:6). The remembrance of this discipline seems to be what Rav Shaul had in mind when he wrote to the Believers in Corinth “let’s not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were destroyed by serpents” (1 Corinthians 10:9). In fact, Rav Shaul has much to say in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 10, warning the Yeshua believers, from events in Israel’s history, that the discipline of the LORD at times is swift and decisive, as we saw last week in Parashat Korach. In fact, Rav Shaul wrote
Now these things happened to them as an example, and it was written down as a warning to us—on whom the ends of the ages have come. (10:11)
However, Shaul does not stop with Israel simply as an example. He warns the Yeshua-believers, “let the one who thinks that he stands watch out that he doesn’t fall” (10:12). Israel was and still is the chosen people of God, His am segula, treasured people, (Deuteronomy 7:6). But that chosenness, that treasuredness, was never a license to do wrong – in fact if anything it was and is just the opposite. Peter reminds his audience, as well as each of us today, that as believers in Yeshua, we are first and foremost to be
…just like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in everything you do. For it is written, “Kedoshim (holy) you shall be, for I am kadosh (holy).” (1 Peter 1:15-16)
Therefore we are all
…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were “not a people,” but now you are “God’s people.” You were shown “no mercy,” but now you have been shown “mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
In the CJB Besorah Reading Cycle, John 4:3-30 records Yeshua’s interaction with the Smartian woman at the well. Among other things He tells her is this profound statement.
“Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming—it is here now—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people as His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24).
Once again, this plays into Rav Shaul’s often misunderstood teaching that
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. (Galatians 3:28)
I, as well as many others, have noted, there remains a very distinct difference between males and females, and there are social, cultural and ethnical differences between not only Jews and Greeks, but between all the nations and ethnicities of the world. Yeshua did not remove the difference between Samaritans and Jews. He clarified a new and living way to approach the Father, that being in spirit and in truth. That is how Rav Shaul could say to the believers in Rome,
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all—richly generous to all who call on Him. (Romans 10:12)
In a recent class on Halakhic Process we read the following from the Babylonian Talmud,
One sustains poor gentiles along with poor Jews, and one visits sick gentiles along with sick Jews, and one buries dead gentiles along with dead Jews. All this is done on account of the ways of peace, to foster peaceful relations between Jews and gentiles. (Gittin 61a)
While distinctions most assuredly remain between Jews and non-Jews, we remain responsible to care and to do good for one another, regardless of those distinctions, thus fostering דרכי שלום, the ways of peace. I suggest that while the rabbis may have seen the ways of peace as a physical reality needed between them and their non-Jewish neighbors, in light of Yeshua’s teaching the way of peace is the wholeness and completeness that comes in approaching the Father in spirit and in truth. Salvation, which is from the Jews in the person of Yeshua, is for all creation, for all humankind as we each approach the Father in spirit and in truth.