Hukkat and Balak

Rabbi David Markel Hall


h¡r¦u¼t¡h t¡¼q§H ta¦z zot chukat hatorah, This is the law of the Torah which word YHVH spoke to the children of Israel.

Numbers 19:1. The Red Heifer. The next verse in the Torah has created much intrigue because of the nature of the Sacrifice. Most of the sacrifices of Israel were bullocks. The red heifer is the exception to the rule. Logically, it is more desirable to sacrifice bullocks than heifers because one bull can service several heifers. Heifers are used for producing offspring and for milk, so offering them for sacrifices is undesired. In this case, the female is offered, spotless and choice. The sages describe this law of the red cow as "the quintessential decree of the Torah, meaning that it is beyond human understanding. It is axiomatic, however, that human inability to comprehend such decrees indicates the limitation of the student, not the Teacher (Rambam)."

The Torah says that a crimson thread and cedar wood were thrown into the fire with the burning flesh. Notice that the priest who supervised the process was ritually impure and could not enter the camp or city until he had immersed himself and his clothing in water. Even so, he was considered unclean until evening.
The ashes of the red heifer were used to purify the unclean, particularly those who had come into contact with a dead body. They could not come into the tabernacle without first being sprinkled with a solution of water and the ashes of the red heifer.

Numbers 20:1. Israel’s last year in the wilderness. Herein is the event that caused Moshe to not be allowed to enter the promised land. Moshe was instructed to speak to the rock, but instead, he struck it with his rod. As discussed in previous readings of this passage, Moshe broke prophecy by striking the rock. Yeshua is the rock from which Israel drank. (John 4:10) "Yeshua answered her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that said to you, Give me to drink; you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

As the people went around Edom (land of the descendants of Easu, Yaakov’s brother), they began to complain against Moshe and HaShem. This is why He sent serpents among them. Moshe had a bronze image of a serpent on a pole placed in the middle of the camp. Anyone who was bitten could look on the serpent and be healed. Today, doctors use this image as their symbol.


Balak (waster) was the son of Zippor (little bird) king of Moab. He reported back to his father that Israel had grown very great since coming out of Mitz-ra-yim (Egypt) so Zippor sent for Balaam, who was a soothsayer and apparently could hear from HaShem. The king offered Balaam a great reward to curse Israel. HaShem instructed Balaam not to go with them. After negotiating with HaShem, he went with the king to curse Israel. However, HaShem would not allow him to curse Israel. All Balaam could do was to bless Israel.

The Torah tells us that Balaam went home, but in Talmud, Sanhedrin 106a, the rabbis tell us that Balaam found a way to bring curses on Israel and counseled Balak to seduce the Jewish men into debauchery. Because of their open sin, HaShem had them hung, at evening. Even after this severe punishment, one of the men of Israel openly sinned in the same way. Phinechas (mouth of the serpent) son of Elazar (G-d is my help) ran the rebellious man through with a spear and saved Israel from the wrath of HaShem.