Torah Portion

Chukat

חוקת

Numbers 19:1-22:1
Judges 11:1–33

Navigating the Torah's Rough Narrative Terrain into the Land

Navigating the Torah's Rough Narrative Terrain into the Land

The route the Israelites take through the Transjordan in Numbers 21 is choppy: They are in the Negev then suddenly they are back in the Transjordan; they are moving south and suddenly they are north; they are in western Moab then suddenly they are in the eastern desert. Though traditional commentators attempt to tease out an overall route, it seems more likely we are looking at a palimpsest that includes contradictory versions of the story.

Dr.
Angela Roskop Erisman
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Moses Strikes the Rock in Exodus and Numbers: One Story or Two?

Moses Strikes the Rock in Exodus and Numbers: One Story or Two?

In Numbers 20, when the Israelites are without water, God tells Moses to get water from a stone, which he does by striking it, and is punished. Yet in Exodus, Moses does the same thing and the story ends positively. What is the relationship between these two accounts? Remarkably, R. Joseph Bekhor Shor says that they are two accounts of the same story.

Prof.
Jonathan Jacobs
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The Grain and Pomegranates of Mei Merivah (מי מריבה)

The Grain and Pomegranates of Mei Merivah (מי מריבה)

Faced with a lack of water, the Israelites complain to Moses that they “have no grain or pomegranates.” This narrative discontinuity together with other textual anomalies suggest that interwoven into the Merivah story is the missing opening verses of the non-Priestly spies story.

Dr. Rabbi
David Frankel
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When Did "Fire Go Forth from Heshbon"?

When Did "Fire Go Forth from Heshbon"?

Contrary to the biblical account of the Israelite conquest and burning of Heshbon in Numbers 21, the archaeological remains of Tell Hesban (biblical Heshbon) demonstrate that it was not settled until centuries after the conquest and settlement period and not burned until over half a millennium later!

Dr.
Elizabeth Bloch-Smith
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North Israelite Memories of the Transjordan and the Mesha Inscription

North Israelite Memories of the Transjordan and the Mesha Inscription

The Mesha Inscription describes Omri’s conquest of the mishor in the Transjordan, and Moab’s subsequent (re)taking of it, in the 9th century B.C.E. Reading Numbers 21 in conversation with archaeological findings confirms much of this and offers us a glimpse at the history of this region before the Omride conquest.

Prof.
Israel Finkelstein
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Prof.
Thomas Römer
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Nehushtan, the Copper Serpent: Its Origins and Fate

Nehushtan, the Copper Serpent: Its Origins and Fate

The Torah describes Moses building a copper serpent to heal the Israelites. According to Kings, Hezekiah destroys it because it was being worshiped. Archaeology and history clarify the religious and political meaning of this image.

Dr.
Richard Lederman
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Ironing Out Israel's Itinerary Through the Transjordan

Ironing Out Israel's Itinerary Through the Transjordan

The itinerary notes in Numbers 21 is a hodgepodge of styles and directions. Nevertheless, once we isolate each style, we find three separate itinerary lists, each from one of the standard Pentateuchal sources. 

Dr.
David Ben-Gad HaCohen
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Why Deuteronomy Has an Account of Aaron's Death in the Wrong Place

Why Deuteronomy Has an Account of Aaron's Death in the Wrong Place

Bewildered, Rashi asks why Deuteronomy records Aaron’s death at Moserah (not Mt. Hor) and why it does so in the middle of Moses’ description of his (second) forty-day stay upon Mount Horeb. Academic biblical scholarship sheds light on these questions.

Dr.
David Ben-Gad HaCohen
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What Is the Biblical Flying Serpent?

What Is the Biblical Flying Serpent?

A number of biblical and non-biblical texts describe encounters with flying venomous snakes in the Sinai and Arabian deserts. Egyptian iconography may help clarify what is being pictured.

Dr.
Richard Lederman
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The Story of Jephthah: The Urge to Manipulate

The Story of Jephthah: The Urge to Manipulate

The haftarah for Chukkat cuts off the end of the Jephthah story, ending on a triumphant note, with the defeat of Ammon. When looking at the whole story, however, we are presented with something very different. In Judges, Jephthah is a manipulative leader, who forces everyone’s hand, including God’s. Although his tactics lead to the defeat of Ammon, they also lead him to sacrifice his own daughter and to massacre thousands of his own brethren.

Professor
Jack M. Sasson
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Jephthah's Wandering Biblical Message to the King of Ammon

Jephthah's Wandering Biblical Message to the King of Ammon

An ancient quote, preserved in Jephthah’s speech to the King of Ammon, gives us a clue into the methods of the Torah’s redaction and the status of pre-pentateuchal sources.

Dr.
David Ben-Gad HaCohen
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What Was the Book of the Wars of the Lord?

What Was the Book of the Wars of the Lord?

And what can we learn by comparing it to another ancient book mentioned in the Bible, Sefer HaYashar (The Book of the Upright)?

Prof.
Edward L. Greenstein
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Did Jephthah Actually Kill His Daughter?

Did Jephthah Actually Kill His Daughter?

The story of Jephthah’s daughter is famous as an example of child sacrifice, yet certain clues in the biblical text imply she may have suffered a very different fate.

Prof. Rabbi
Jonathan Magonet
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The Song of the Well, Psalm 136, Was Removed from the Torah

The Song of the Well, Psalm 136, Was Removed from the Torah

Numbers 21:16–18 speaks about the Song of the Well, but only records a short snippet. Whereas most commentators assume that the song was simply very short, R. Yehudah HeChasid offers the radical suggestion that the song was actually cut from the Torah and placed in the book of Psalms by none other than King David.

Dr. Rabbi
Zev Farber
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Giving Miriam and the Matriarchs their Proper Funerals

Giving Miriam and the Matriarchs their Proper Funerals

The Bible pays little attention to the death of its female characters, writing only cursory death notices, or sometimes none at all. Second Temple period authors, retell the Torah’s stories to give more pride of place to the death scenes of its heroines. 

Dr.
Atar Livneh
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The Red Heifer in Synagogue: Purifying Israel from Sin

The Red Heifer in Synagogue: Purifying Israel from Sin

Ezekiel 36 uses Priestly “purification” imagery similar to that of the red heifer ritual to describe God’s future reconciliation with Israel, inspiring the rabbis to choose this passage as the haftara for Parashat Parah.

Ethan Schwartz
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War at Yahatz: The Torah Versus the Mesha Stele

War at Yahatz: The Torah Versus the Mesha Stele

A closer look at the Torah’s focus on Wadi Arnon as the northern border of Moab: Who really cared about the boundaries of Sihon’s Amorite kingdom?

Dr.
David Ben-Gad HaCohen
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Moses Dies at the Age of 120 — Was It Premature?

Moses Dies at the Age of 120 — Was It Premature?

The end of Deuteronomy recounts that at an age of one hundred and twenty Moses says he is no longer able/allowed to lead the people’s journey and will therefore not be carrying them on to cross the Jordan (Deut 31:2). According to other places in the Torah, however, Moses dies because of a sin – his or of the people.

Dr.
Gili Kugler
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Chukat

חוקת

Numbers 19:1-22:1

וַיָּרֶם מֹשֶׁה אֶת יָדוֹ וַיַּךְ אֶת הַסֶּלַע בְּמַטֵּהוּ פַּעֲמָיִם...

במדבר כ:יא

And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod...

Num 20:11

Numbers

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