Chukat (Diaspora) and LGBT   

The parsha with an emphasis on death teaches us much about life.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” said Ben Franklin.

”Every patient has a 100% mortality”; Professor Amal Matu, EMed Home, EMCast, July 2016 edition. “Eventually”. 

Two great Americans, living 200 years apart, recognized the inevitability of Death. Death, of course, features prominently in our Parsha, Chukat: as Rav Matis Weinberg points out, in Chukat, Miriam passes away; her brother Aaron dies; and Moses is told that he too is soon to pass away. All this comes in a Parsha introduced by the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer, an institution totally oriented to the issue of Death.

Rav Weinberg explains the paradox that the Parah Adumah “makes pure those who are impure, and make impure those who are pure”: Man is created by the Lord, and if Man would stay always attached to his Source of Life, G-d, he would be immortal, and pure, just like G-d. However, Adam chose separate existence (a life of his own, of his own choosing and making); as such, he separated himself from the Source of Life, and so must die.

The choice was: be part of G-d and totally share existence with Him, in the Garden of Eden, forever; no death, and no impurity. Or, Adam could choose to a separate life, thereby exchanging his pure, Edenic existence for an impure life outside Eden. As Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch said: pure physical life, with its tight constraints of cause-and-effect, begets spiritual Tumah, impurity, by definition.

The paradox of the Red Heifer thus mirrors the paradox of human existence: Adam and Eve can only have life by accepting death and Tumah.  

This paradox is thus a Chok: a law of Nature, of Creation, of Existence. In the purely physical realm, gravity, the speed of light, nuclear forces, and DNA are Chukim. One can no easier change gravity, as one can change one’s DNA. These are the existential realities within which we live. Only G-d makes these Chukim, not us humans.

Rav A. Y. Kook addressed the not-so-modern problem of human lack of acceptance of these Chukim, these “givens” of Existence. The Torah is the blueprint of the Creation, and when Israel accepted the Torah, Israel “stood at the bottom of the mountain (Sinai)” (Exodus 19;17). The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) says that this hints at the fact that G-d covered the Nation with Mount Sinai, threatening to bury and kill them if they would not accept the Torah. Rav Kook explains that the mountain represented all the givens in Life: parents, family, country- and genetic material. Israel’s acceptance of Torah, the blueprint of Existence, hinged on accepting the Chukim of Existence.

Indeed, from the beginning, there were problems with this acceptance. Our Rabbis, Chazal, say that the Nation never fully accepted the Torah until the time of Queen Esther and Purim. Furthermore, we know that in the desert, there was the episode of the מתאוננים, the mit’on’nim, complainers((Bamidbar, 11;1). Literally, “on’nim” means mourners; Rav S.R. Hirsch explains that the reflexive verb “mit’(on’nim)” is used to indicate that the Jews were mourners over themselves:” We are lost; we don’t feel comfortable with this Torah; nobody can express their true selves within the constraints of G-d’s Law”(see my dvar Torah on this website, The Death of Gay Marriage; June 28,2013).

This brings me to our modern mit’on’nim, rebels against Chok. These people simply can’t see reality- and when they do, and don’t like the sight, they rebel. Some examples:

-It seems that there are those in the US who can’t tell the difference between science fiction and real life. If cars can go flying on autopilot, like airplanes, in Sci-fi, why do we have to take the trouble to pay attention to the road and drive. Voila, the TESLA autopilot steered car, the auto of Sci-fi dreams; permanent dreams, at times. It seems that a few crashes have occurred because the autopilot didn’t detect what was happening outside;

-Until the late 20th century, one could only complain about one’s given family, country, etc. But now, with the Human Genome worked out, why not mourn over one’s very DNA? I don’t like being the XX (female) variety, I’d rather be XY- or vice versa. In short, trans-genders. Instead of recognizing this for what it is, the sickness of mit’on’nim, there are a lot of doctors out there who are making a lot of money off these unfortunates, filling them full of sex hormones and surgically altering their appearance. Also, it’s not limited to the US; Google it, and you’ll find that an Israeli from Nazareth won Israel’s transgender beauty pageant in May, and is going to proudly represent us in the world pageant in August. I have no idea whether Israeli physicians are involved in these transformations; I hope not. It certainly does not come under the Jewish, Halalkhic definitions of medicine (v’rapo yerapeh, Shmot 21; 19- and v’hashevotz lo, return the patient to his lost health; Deutoronomy 22;2). I wouldn’t grant a physician a license to commit this travesty; let him try to counsel this unfortunate Jew.

-And of course, there’s another figment of imagination: the Palestinian. It’s interesting that Parshat Chukat is paired this year with Balak . Bilaam, the Aramean (in Hebrew, the word is a congener for ramai, a liar and con-man) features prominently in Parshat Balak; in Chazal, he is portrayed as being able to put a negative spin on anything. Thus, he creates hexes and curses.

Bilaam is the other side of the coin: you don’t like Reality, don’t complain, rather give it the spin of your choice. Thus: “What does Golda Meir mean, saying that there is no Palestinian people? They have existed from time immemorial, right here in Palestine”. Never mind that nobody can find any mention of them throughout history, until invented by the KGB and the PLO in 1964.

So there you have it: the Red Heifer is no relic of history, and Bilaam is as relevant as our Prime Minister aping “two states for two peoples” (Google Yoram Gaon and his recent, low- key attack on that nonsense). How could anyone compare the people of Israel with the Arab rabble of the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, etc.? As Bilaam said, in his final, only utterance of truth:

“Mah tovu- Your tents are so good, O Jacob!

Your dwelling, O Israel!

The G-d who brought them out of Egypt will consume Israel’s enemies;

Those who bless you will be blessed,

And those who curse you will be cursed” (Bamidbar, 24; 5-9).