Parashot 39 & 40: Hukkat and Balak B’midbar (Numbers) 19:1-22:1; 22:2-25:9

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue

Parashah: 39: Hukkat (Regulation) B’Midbar (Numbers) 19:1-22:1

and Parashah #40: Balak B’midbar (Numbers) 22:2-25:9  (read together in regular years)

Haftarah: Shof’tim (Judges) 11:1-33; Mikhah (Micah)5:6-6:8

B’rit Chadashah: Yochanan (John) 3:9-21; Revelation 2:14-15


We start with parashah Hukkat. The importance of the Para Adumah (red heifer) is usually the most popular focus of this parashah with good reason. Previous studies at Beth Elohim focused on the fact that the Para Aduma and the process of priestly purification represent Yahshua, His sacrifice, and the purification process He necessarily went through as He ascended to heaven.

The heifer was a virgin animal in the context of never having a yoke attached and the fact she is a heifer and not a cow. Similarly, Yahshua was sinless; without blemish. He gave His all willingly. He obediently followed his Father as a suffering servant of G-d just as the heifer willingly follows her master. The heifer had to be totally red, which signifies the complete blood sacrifice required for redemption of sin.

Comparing the sin of the Golden Calf to the water of the Para Adumah we see that both the golden calf and the Para Adumah were burned in fire. The golden calf was crushed to dust; the Para Adumah to dust and ashes. The golden calf’s dust was mixed with water; the Para Adumah’s ashes were mixed with water. Interestingly, when Yahshua’s side was pierced, blood and water ran together. There were no ashes as He was not physically burned although He was a complete offering to G-d (Olah) that would typically be burnt. As three-thousand Jews died because of the golden calf, so too three different species: cedar wood, hyssop, and a red thread, were burned in the fire of the Para Adumah. Whereas the golden calf made impure a pure nation, the Para Adumah, made impure a pure person who touches it. Yahshua took the sin of the world and became impure according to His definition of impure we will discuss shortly. As the golden calf’s dust purified the people when Moshe had the Jews drink water mixed with its dust, so did the Para Adumah purify an impure person who voluntarily drinks of the Water of Life. The sin of the golden calf representing idolatry is pervasive in all generations. The cleansing power of the Para Adumah (Yahshua HaMoshiach) is available to anyone who drinks the living water, accepts the sacrifice as a reconciliatory path to G-d, and seeks to learn and follow G-d’s Torah.

We must not ignore the symbology of the materials; cedar wood, scarlet yarn, oregano (hyssop), and scarlet yarn. Cedar-wood is a symbol of endurance and is used as such in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, an enduring holy place. Conversely, it may represent haughtiness whereby someone thinks themselves to be “higher” or better than others. This was the sin of Korah we discussed last week.

To return to G-d, one must become low like hyssop, the lowest of all trees, and like the worm (from which scarlet dye is produced). The attributes of submission and humility are necessary to ascend to G-d. Keep in mind humility does not mean degrading ourselves or denying what G-d has given us for His glory. This fact is evidenced in Yahshua’s response to criticism of His character compares to criticism or rebellion against G-d’s Torah. Moshe was called the humblest of servants because he continued to focus his service to G-d as the priority and not to the whims or complaints of the Israelites. He continually prayed for them as we are to do for each other continually. Hyssop is a simple of humility and purification. It was used in smearing the blood on the doorposts of the Israelite houses on Pesach. It also symbolizes external truth which is a means of purification. It was used in cleansing individuals of leprosy including leprosy of internal falsities and evil (sin) as were the other two similar materials of cedar-wood and scarlet: “The priest shall take for the leper that is to be cleansed two living clean birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet and hyssop, and shall dip them in the blood of the bird that was killed, and he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed” (Lev. 14:4-7). The idea of internal cleansing is illustrated in “in the cleansing of a house if the leprosy be in it “(Lev. 14:49-51).

For preparing the water of separation by which cleansings were wrought, cedar wood and hyssop were also employed (Num. 19:6, 18); by “cedar wood” was signified internal spiritual truth, and by “hyssop” external; thus by “cedar” an interior means of purification, by “hyssop” an exterior one. That “hyssop” denotes a means of purification is described in David: “Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall become clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (Ps.51.7) where “to be purged with hyssop and made clean” denotes external purification; “to be washed and made whiter than snow” internal purification; “snow” and whiteness” are predicated of truth. That “hyssop” denotes lowest truth, and “cedar” highest truth, is evident in  1 Kings 4:33: Solomon spake of woods from the cedar which is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that goeth out of the wall” where “cedar’ denotes internal truth which is of intelligence; and “hyssop” external truth which is of intelligence. G-d commands the use of these items so we may contemplate the necessity of becoming humble in our approach to G-d and our fellow-man. The true and complete rectification for haughtiness as the root and cause for most sins is humility and submission. Haughtiness is considered so serious a flaw that it is often likened to idolatry. Therefore, the purification for this attribute must be brought about by humility and modesty, in order to undo the damage of pride. A humble spirit can be the vessel to fill our hearts with proper fear and love of G-d. Humility is manifest when we come to understand our complete dependence on YHVH/Yahshua for every second of every day. Without Him, we have nothing; we are nothing. It is through multiple examples of Yahshua’s humility and submission to G-d the Father that we must learn to emulate His ways that we too may one day ascend to heaven.

An important question to explore especially when we discuss the import of the Old Testament to the B’rit Chadashah is whether Yahshua followed the Old Testament laws for purification according to the Para Adumah or if He ignored them and considered them abrogated with his arrival on earth. Since Yahshua came into contact with a dead body (his own) on Nissan 14, He would not have been allowed to enter the earthly nor the heavenly Temple. Our parashah prescribes the cleansing process for one who has touched a dead body or a grave:

“Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days. He must purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean… then a man who is ceremonially clean is not take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or grave or someone who has been killed or someone who has died a natural death…”  Since Yahshua was unclean because He had come into contact with his own dead body and the grave, we know that He had to be sprinkled with the ashes of the Para Adumah and immerse in the mikveh (cleansing) on the third and seventh days. We see a connection to John 20:17 that takes place when Yahshua came out of the grave on the first day of the week (Sunday): “Yahshua said to her [Miryam] ,’ Lady, why are you crying? Whom are you looking for?’ Thinking it was the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you’re the one who carried him away, just tell me where you put him; I’ll go and get him myself.’ Yahshua said to her, ‘Miryam!’ Turning, she cried out to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbani!’ Stop holding onto me.’ Yahshua said to her, ‘because I haven’t gone back to the Father.  What does “ascending to my Father” have to do with the Torah requirements? Nowhere does it say a man must ascend to G-d before he can be touched. John 20:25 takes place in the evening on the same day. Yahshua has not ascended into heaven and has not yet been purified. Thomas says “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger into the place where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe it.” Notice Yahshua does not invite Thomas to touch him at this point. John 20:26 picks up a week later (7 days): “A week later his talmidim were once more in the room and this time Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Yahshua came, stood among them and said ‘Shalom aleikhem!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, look at my hands, take your hand and put it into my side. …” Why did Yahshua make Thomas wait a week before allowing him to touch his side?  Let’s look at the sod or deepest level of understanding this passage.

Death requires the ashes of the Para Adumah and mikveh (immersion) on the 3rd and 7th day according to the Torah (Num. 19:9-12) This washing for death, and by intimation for sleep, is also found in 1 Thess. 4:16-17 “For the L-rd himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of G-d: and the dead in Moshiach shall rise first: Then we which are alive [and ]remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the L-rd in the air: and so shall ever be with the L-rd.” The word Heaven in Hebrew is shamayim indicating a combination of fire and water Aish (alef shin) = fire and mayim (mem yud mem) = water. This implies G-d made the firmament from a combination of fire and water; two opposite elements of which only G-d can subdue and use simultaneously. Passing through the seven heavens is the reality typified by the ashes of the Para Adumah (red=fire, ashes=the result of fire) which are mixed with water (Mayim) and sprinkled on those who have come in contact with the dead or with a grave. When Yahshua died, He had already commanded His spirit to Heaven but His body was unclean because of death. As He ascended through the heavens to present himself to the Father, the heavens (Shamayim) themselves acted as the waters of purification of the Para Adumah which consist as well of fire and water mixed together. So, passing through seven heavens is the same as being sprinkled by the ashes of the Para Adumah. After the sprinkiling with the ashes of the Para Adumah, the one who came in contact with the dead must be immersed in the mikveh.  Once more in John 20:26, we see Yahshua invited Thomas to touch him as he was now clean! His obedience to the Mosaic Law should clarify its applicability in New Testament times beyond doubt.

At the beginning of parashah Balak, we are reminded of the severity of adding to or subtracting from G-d’s Torah. Recall in Genesis 3: 3 that Chava (Eve) told the serpent “We may eat from the fruit of the tress in the garden, but about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden G-d said, ‘You are neither to eat from it nor touch it, or you will die.’” In reality, G-d had told Adam “You may freely eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You are not to eat from it, because on the day that you eat from it, it will become certain that you will die” (Gen. 2:16). From the difference in these sentences, it is clear that Adam subtracted from what G-d actually said, unless Eve paraphrased that she was told. Regardless, the sin was accounted to Adam and it resulted in the fall of all mankind. IN case we miss the severity of adding to or subtracting from G-d’s Torah, we are reminded in Revelation 22:18-19.

Bil’am, the son of B’or was summoned by Balak who was the king of Mo’av to do some dirty work for him. Balak realizes that attacking the Jews physically would not work because Jewish survival was proven through spiritual laws and Adonai’s protection. Balak figured that by attacking them with curses he will be victorious.

Bil’am is persistent. It is interesting to note that when he asks G-d a second time about going with the men. G-d in his unmerited kindness and patients allows Bil’am to go, but to do only what G-d tells him (Num. 22:20). Sometimes when a door opens that we know or suspect is contrary to G-d’s Torah, we are tempted to believe that G-d has changed his mind. However, in such cases He is giving us just enough rope to hang ourselves. If we follow G-d’s Torah, the Ruach will guide us but not force us. There comes a time when the Ruach will simply allow us to turn our own way toward complete ruin. Bil’am’s story illustrates a dilemma we are all faced with throughout our lives. If G-d does not want Bil’am to go, why doesn’t He tell him to turn around and go home? If, on the other hand G-d doesn’t care if Bil’am goes, why does the angel block his path? How are we to react to conflicting messages? It is clear G-d does not want Bil’am to curse Israel. Yet, just as Balak persisted in sending messages, so Bil’am persists in asking G-d to give in to his selfish desires. The answer to our dilemma is that we pay attention the first time. Had Bil’am obeyed G-d, it would have been a done deal. The reality is that a person will be lead on the path they wish to follow. G-d knew that just as Balak would not take “no” for an answer, Bil’am would not take “no” from G-d. So, G-d allowed him to go with a warning. This is a similar situation as that when Israel asked G-d for a human king. G-d knew it would cause nothing but heartache for the Israelites, but He allowed it with conditions. He knew the people would not take “no” for an answer. There is never any good that can come of settling for less than G-d’s perfect will for us. This is a lesson that most people will never learn.  Bil’am wanted material wealth more than he wanted G-d’s blessings. Too often we too, are much too eager to settle for less, perceiving whatever we get as “more.”

Next the angel comes as a warning to Bil’am that G-d knows the thoughts of man and nothing is hidden from Him. Afterwards, Bil’am being duly warned is allowed to continue his journey. Yet, he continues to go with Balak from place to place trying to find an angle from which to curse Israel. Finally, he realizes there is no tricking YHVH Elohim. It would have been so much easier for him and us if we recognized early on that G-d’s will shall be accomplished with or without us.

Another of Bil’am’s comments in Numbers 23:21 reads “No one has seen guilt in Jacob, or perceived perversity in Israel; Adonai their G-d is with them and acclaimed as king among them.” In case you have not yet figured it out, Bil’am was one of the greatest anti-Semites in history. You see, anti-Semitism is not like any other type of hatred. It is not a hatred of perceived faults. It is a hatred of virtue. Bil’am hated the Israelites’ lifestyle and their relationship with G-d. Bil’am could have chosen to join the Israelites, just as people have the choice today. But a blessed status with G-d requires obedience and love for G-d. This necessarily mandates following G-d’s Torah. Bil’am chose to hate the Israelites rather than become part of a people he knew were blessed by G-d. Rabbi S. Baars wrote an excellent article on this subject in which he relates a theory held by Mark Twain on anti-Semitism. He said that people create immense hatred when they see others behaving better than themselves. He noted that half the Jewish community of London were refugees from pogroms in Europe, and were being supported by the other half- a feat he pointed out would be hard to match amongst his Christian brethren. Just look around us today if you have any doubts concerning the validity of this phenomenon. What does G-d say? 2 Thess. 3:6-14 reads: “Now, in the Name of the L-rd Yahshua the Messiah we command you, brothers, to stay away from any brother who is leading a life of idleness, a life not in keeping with the traditions you received from us. For you yourselves know you must imitate us, that we were not idle when we were among you. We did not accept anyone’s food without paying; on the contrary, we labored and toiled, day and night, working so as not to be a burden to any of you. It was not that we hadn’t the right to be supported, but so that we could make ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: if someone won’t work, he shouldn’t eat! We hear that some of you are leading a life of idleness-not busy working-just busybodies! We command such people-ad in union with the L-rd Yahshua the Messiah we urge them-to settle down, get to work, and earn their own living. And you brother’s who are doing what is good, don’t slack off! Furthermore, if anyone does not obey what we are saying in this letter, take note of him and have nothing to do with him, so that he will be ashamed.” It is futile to attempt to convince any anti-Semite that the reason behind Torah observance is a love and fear of G-d and the Ruach who strengthens us to become and remain set-apart from mainstream humanity. Our best witness to this truth is a consistent lifestyle in thought and behavior. The greatest mitzvah from one believer for another is to promote independence for that person in such a way as not to embarrass them; to assist and guide that individual to appoint where they can take care of themselves. This process can occur in many areas and does not necessitate the person doing the mitzvah be materially wealthy.

Nevertheless, we read the account of Bil’am after a long run of extremely serious and disappointing sins of the Israelites. It is no mistake that the Torah places Bil’am’s words after so many spiritual failures, including but not limited to Korach’s rebellion and subsequent complaints in the aftermath of Korach’s destruction against Moshe. With this ammunition, how can Bil’am proclaim that no one has seen iniquity in Jacob? The answer is that Bil’am himself knows, therefore he hates that G-d still holds Israelites as a treasure unto Himself. However, we must make a choice to serve G-d by annihilating our egos and submit ourselves to the shaping and refining power of YHVH/Yahshua and no other.

It is encouraging to note that in the final analysis, the events involving Balak and Bil’am work toward the good for the Israelites. In Num. 24:5, as Bil’am attempts to curse the Israelites, what emerges is a beautiful blessing instead: “How lovely are your tents, Ya’akov, your encampments, Israel…” The remainder of the prayer guided by the Ruach tells the past, present and future of Israel in six short verses.  The culmination of this pronouncement will be the fulfillment of G-d’s unconditional promise to Avraham.

Haftarah: Shof’tim (Judges) 11:1-33

This week’s haftorah describes how the people of Israel were attacked by the nation of Ammon. The Israelites engaged Jephtah to lead them in battle against this military threat. Jephtah first sent a missive to Ammon, declaring his peaceful intentions. In his message, he also discussed the Israelites’ conquest of the lands of Sichon and Og, victories which are related in this week’s Torah reading. Jephtah the Gileadite was the son of a harlot. He was sent away from his home by his half-siblings, and settled in the land of Tob where he became a great warrior. When the nation of Ammon attacked the people of Israel, Jephtah(Yiftach) was called upon to lead the Israelites in battle. Jephtah agreed, on one condition: “If you bring me back to fight with the children of Ammon, and G-d delivers them before me, I will become your head.” The Israelites accepted his terms. Jephtah tried to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict by sending messengers to reason with the king of Ammon; but the latter remained inflexible. Jephtah then successfully led his countrymen in battle, and they trounced and eliminated the Ammonite threat. Jephtah’s method of handling conflict teaches us that we are to attempt peaceful means first. The algorhythm Jephtah uses is described in 3 John and various passages in Matthew. Matthew 5:23-24reads

“If your brother sins again you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Matthew 18:15-17 reads:

While the Lord was addressing the problem of sin, there are broader principles at work in his teaching. And no matter which side has caused the problem, the solution is the same: First, go to the person with whom you are experiencing a conflict and address the issues face-to-face. Avoid involving a third or fourth person, especially if their knowledge of the situation will worsen the problem for the offending individual. Such discussions tend to intensify the conflict and further undermine the relationship. Judging from the amount of conflict experienced in our world, this is surely one of the most overlooked commands in Scripture.

Unfortunately, Jephtah also vowed to Adonai that if the Ammonites were delivered unto him, he would sacrifice whatever came out of his doors to greet him upon his return to Adonai as a burnt offering. His only daughter and child was the first one to come out of his doors to meet him. She told Jephtah to keep his vow to Adonai but that she wanted to go away into the mountains with her friends for two months and mourn as she would die unmarried. She went away for two months, returned as promised, and Jephtah sacrificed her as he vowed to Adonai. Subsequently, it became a law in Israel that the women of Israel would go every year for four days to lament the daughter of Japhtah from Gil’ad. This narrative is an illustration of the daughter’s devotion to G-d and love of her father. Would we do the same?

In the interest of time allowed for the service, please read the Haftarah for parashah Balak independently. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me before the service.

B’rit Chadashah: Yochanan (John) 3:9-21

Let’s focus on verses 13-15 for a moment. No one has gone up into heaven; there is only the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. Just as Moshe lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that everyone who trusts in him may have eternal life.”  Our first question may be “why would Yahshua ask us to look up to a serpent?” Let’s think about what we’ve previously covered in this lesson. Yahshua became sin for us; unclean in spirit and in body until He ascended to heaven. In our parashah G-d tells Moshe that anyone who has been bitten and looks up to the snake on the pole will remain alive (Num. 21:9). According to the apocryphal book “Wisdom of Solomon” which says that the serpent served as lesson and symbol: “He who turned toward it was saved, not by what he saw, but by You, Savior of all.”  And the Mishnah (contained in the Talmud) teaches “Could the serpent slay or the serpent keep alive? It is rather to teach us that when the Israelites directed their thoughts toward on high and kept their hearts in subjection to their Father in heaven, they were healed; otherwise they perished.” The lesson for us is that we must actively trust in Yahshua and keep our eyes on Him, even when we are in the midst of “being bitten” and G-d’s instructions defy our human nature.

Please read the B’rit Chadashah reading for parashah Balak independently and refer any questions to me before the service.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Tamah Davis