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July 3, 2008

The Power of Foresight
By Hayley Siegel
The Transforming Essence
By Moshe Rudin

The Power of Foresight
In this week’s parashah, Huqqat, one of the most shocking events in the entire Torah occurs. Despite forty dedicated years of service as teacher, general, and counselor on behalf of God and the Israelites, Moses is told by God that he will not be permitted to enter the Promised Land with the tribe!

The reason? A conversation with a rock puts Moses in a hard place! When the children of Israel complain that they are thirsty, Moses turns to God for help in securing water in the dry desert. God provides Moses with an immediate solution. All Moses must do is speak softy to a rock, and this conversation will supply all of the tribe and animals with their desired water. As complaints and groans from his thirsty tribe members beat down upon him like a waterfall, Moses strikes the rock out of frustration. While water pours forth, God is enraged by Moses’ disrespect. Moses loses the privilege of entering into the Promised Land with the tribe: “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, you will not bring this congregation to the land that I have given them” (B’midbar (Numbers) 20:12).

Moses’ inability to enter the Promised Land is the most devastating event of his life, and certainly the most unexpected. After unshackling the tribe from the burdens of Egyptian slavery, he spent every waking hour leading the tribe forward to the Holy Land – a place where they would be both physically and spiritually nourished. While managing rebellions amongst his people, dealing with personal struggles, and defending the tribe from their enemies, Moses remained the key person in charge at the end of the day. With one simple mistake and lapse in character, Moses is prevented from reaching the apex of his life.

Moses’ inability to enter the Promised Land teaches us a powerful lesson about the importance of taking the time to think about our words and actions. By examining Moses’ unfiltered outburst at the rock, we understand how one moment can offset all of the good we have accomplished in our lives. The news is littered with examples of powerful, successful individuals at the top of their games who torpedo their personal lives and professional careers when they disregard the future consequences of their actions. From Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, to the fraudulent executives of Enron, we are reminded that a lack of foresight can create total destruction for ourselves and our loved ones.

Parashat Huqqat teaches us that we must take the time and energy to reflect on the performance of every deed we complete and be mindful that each action has consequences. Although living up to this responsibility may be burdensome, this thoughtfulness will help us to advance with dignity and integrity to our own promised lands. On this Shabbat, may we consider each moment significant on our personal journeys and garner the strength to think about our words and actions before they leave our minds, hearts, and souls.

The Transforming Essence
HaShem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying: This is the Statute of the Torah which HaShem commanded saying: Speak to B’nai Yisrael; take to you a perfectly red heifer which has no blemish . . .

In the midst of the great trials of the wilderness, the endless outcries of the people, the expedition of the twelve scouts and its disastrous aftermath and the revolt of a portion of the nation’s leaders against Moshe and Aharon, comes a startling hiatus – a declaration of core values. Zot Huqqat Ha-Torah – This is the Statute of the Torah. Not a statute, not the statute of impurity and purity but the statute of the entire Torah. Thus is the preparation of Mei T’horim – the Waters of Purity – the admixture of which, applied ritually, has the power to remove tum’ah, ritual impurity, from one who has been overshadowed by death.

Tumah and Taharah, translated as impurity and purity, but leading to vastly different worlds of implication, association and symbolism than the English terms, are better rendered as Of Life for Taharah and Of Death for Tum’ah. Our Torah is a Torat Hayyim, a Torah of Life, affirming possibility, actualization, hope, positive change and growth. Jews do not seek the balance between the poles of Tahara and Tum’ah, between Of Life and Of Death but are unequivocally Of Life, even as the God we worship is Elokim Hayyim, the God of Life. This preoccupation with life seems to demand that we be forever out of synch with a world that is divided between living and dying, a world regulated by cycles of germination, growth, decay and dissolution. But we are a people who looks to innerness; a people called upon to see beyond all ephemera and phenomenon to the enduring and eternal; to be and to live the Or – the light – that infused the abyss in the first Speech: Y’hi Or – Let there by light.

The Rabbis understand the word huqqah – statute – to refer to an irreducible teaching, a royal edict, a pillar of reality which cannot be fathomed by human conception, only realized through action. Sandwiched between revolts and upheavals which ultimately sweep away the entire tumultuous generation of the wandering, including that generation’s leaders, Aharon, Miriam and Moshe, Huqqat Ha-Torah – the Statute of the Torah – appears as a reminder that amidst change, turbulence and chaos, there are eternal verities that endure: `Iqqarim, essential states of being through which all existence is delineated and which are reflected in humanity by what we do, see, dream and live.

This is why the Statute of Taharah is the Statute- because it treats of the essence of the Torah and the nation charged with its realization. Every mitzvah in the Torah, every behavior, act and practice is meant to lead to the proliferation of the light, of life, of the actualization of that which is of God in every human being.

The Kabbalat Shabbat service concludes with Psalm 93. In this concluding psalm, the world is described as a garment which God wears, the hidden heart of all that is. The rivers raise their voices and roar, the many waters swirl, the mighty waves of the sea pound but even greater is the elevation of HaShem. (Ps. 93:3) For all of the madness and randomness, the churning vicissitudes of the life of the individual and of the world and of the wilderness in which we wander, there is a life-presence within the maelstrom the finding of which elevates and transforms. `Eydotecha ne’em’nu m’od– Your testimonies are very trustworthy. (Ps. 93:5)

Torah – occupation with the Torah and realizing its values, infusing Torah with our deepest selves – enables us to transcend the sound and the fury and to dwell in kedushah, in blessed holiness. As the verse continues – L’veitkha na’avah qodesh, HaShem, l’orekh yamim – Holiness is beautiful for Your House, God, to the end of days.

Shabbat Shalom