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Audio: Parshat Chukat

This parsha is 39th of 54 sedras 6th of 10 in Bamidbar. Written on 159.2 lines in a Torah (rank: 39).
6/30/2011, 11:02 PM

A7 Radio's "Torah Tidbits Audio" with Phil Chernofsky
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A 2-sided Month 

Maybe we'll work Para Aduma into this Lead Tidbit (or maybe not), but for starters let's take the opportunity of Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Tammuz to reflect on what the month is... and what it could be.

That leaves the first 16 days of the month that are not mournful. We sort of anticipate the coming of the Three Weeks once we start Tammuz, but that's getting ahead of ourselves.With 29 days in Tammuz in our fixed calendar, there are 13 days of its days that are in the mournful period. That's a bit less than half the month (44.8% to be specific).

The Mishna in Taanit tells us of five calamities that befell the Jewish People on the 17th of Tammuz. Most prominent on the list are the Sin of the Golden Calf and the breach of Jerusalem which preceded the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. The 17th of Tammuz is a black day on our calendar, and it begins the black period of the Three Weeks of mourning the Churban.

According to the accounts in the Book of Yehoshua (ch. 10), G-d was fighting (so to speak) together with Yehoshua and his army against an alliance of five kings. Towards the end of that battle, Yehoshua "asked " that the Sun and Moon stand still (so that he might finish the battle successfully). G-d performed that miracle at Yehoshua's request. The pasuk tells us: "And there was no day like that before it or after it, when G-d listened to the voice of a man; for G-d fought for Israel. "

We have something else of note in Tammuz to draw our attention. It is not usually a focal point of the calendar, but for those who know - which now includes you, dear TTreader, it can significantly shape our attitude towards the month of Tammuz. Our Tradition records that on the 3rd day of Tammuz, Yehoshua invoked the famous miracle of SHEMESH B'GIV'ON DOM...

However you choose to understand the account in the Book of Yehoshua, the point here is that Tammuz is associated with a great and unique miracle. May we suggest that such an act on G-d's part comes when Israel finds favor in his eyes (to borrow a phrase from Tanach). And that those other events associated with Tammuz come about when G-d is angry or disappointed with Bnei Yisrael.

G-d had told Moshe Rabeinu to hold his hand over the Sea and it would split. G-d told Moshe to strike the rock. G-d told Moshe to speak to the rock. All the miracles of the Exodus and onward were performed by G-d for the people of Israel. In this case of Yehoshua, it was Yehoshua who - in front of the people - asked/demanded? that G-d perform a miracle.

This is not just a look back into Jewish History. Our Tammuz pondering must include the future. The lesson of Tammuz is that we have run the gamut in our relationship with G-d, from deep tragedies to great, exalted events. We have correspondingly run the gamut from turning away from G-d to faithful adherence to Him and His Torah.

If so, then let us ponder Tammuz as this month begins. Ponder not only its varied history, but the behavior and attitude of the people of Israel that determine - to a great extent - the status of our relationship with G-d.

On another note... The miracle of the Sun and Moon standing still was a one-shot deal. Normally, the Sun and Moon do not stop their normal functions. But that is no less miraculous than the event in Yehoshua 10. It's just more common. Every sunrise and sunset is a wonder of G-d's Creation. The cycle of the Moon's phases should always give us pause to ponder. The occasional eclipses provide further celestial events at which to marvel. Take nothing for granted in this world.

It is up to us not just to ponder history but to resolve to break the cycle of ups and downs and to finally "get the point " by improving ourselves and our communities to be the people that G-d knows we can be. This improvement must come in all areas: religious, social, ethical. We know the challenges and we know what we should be doing. Do not let the mood of the upcoming Three Weeks dampen our resolve. Let the events of Yehoshua inspire us and show us how far G-d goes in our favor.

Phil Chernofsky is the educational director of the Orthodox Union's OU Israel Center in Jerusalem and editor of the Torah Tidbits parsha pamphlet. Since 1998, he has hosted Torah Tidbits Audio, a shiur on the weekly parsha with witty insights. It airs every Thursday from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Israel time and is downloadable as a podcast on Israel National Radio. Phil made Aliyah to Israel over 30 years ago. He is the author of the newly released book And Every Single One Was Someone, a tribute to victims of the Holocaust.
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