Wednesday, July 2, 2008

On Wells and Borders (Parshat Hukkat)

This coming Shabbat we will read Parshat Hukkat (Bamidbar 19:1 -- 22:1). The subject, in a nutshell, is death, purity and holiness. The end of the parsha contains the song of the well followed by the request of Israel to pass through the territory of Sichon, King of the Emori. What can we learn from the proximity of the two apparently unrelated subjects? The Israelites rejoice in the divine gift of water gushing from a well in the desert after much frustration, much as Yitzhak rejoiced in redigging the wells which the Plishtim (Philistines, a synonym in English for spiritually and culturally insensitive people) repeatedly buried after Avraham originally dug them.
Water is a symbol of both Torah and life. The water purification at the beginning of the portion is about returning the person exposed to death to the land of the living. The desert, too, is a place of death, and within it the isolated place of water and life bursts forth. Song is the form of prophecy, the bursting forth of the special gifts of the Israelite soul, uniquely able to connect with the Divine Presence. Through Torah, Israel can initiate the contact with G-d, rather than merely passively receiving it when it comes.
Following this event Israel asks to cross Emorite territory, making clear that they will pay for all food and provide their own water, not taking from the life-giving waters needed by the local population. But the king refuses. Why? Is it merely distrust, or is it more? The well-song indicates the direction. The idolatrous Emorites are tone-deaf to the divine song of Israel. They can not comprehend it. They cannot live with the proximity of that which is outside their perception. They lash out. Israel goes to war and conquers the land, which they had not planned to do. In similar circumstances against Ammon, Moav and Edom, which they are forbidden to fight, they quietly detour around. This indicates that the action in this case is out of obedience to G-d rather than love of battle.
May we soon merit the outpouring of the Divine Spirit in prophecy in the end of days.

1 comment:

Avi said...

May HaShem comfort His people soon with Moshiach and the complete Geula.