This week’s Torah Portion is called Parashat Chukat. It contains reading from Numbers 19:1-22:1. Here is a brief commentary by Baruch:
We would all like to be a spiritual giant, never doubting G-d and always following His word in perfect obedience. Recently I spoke with an individual who felt that the great heroes in the Bible were in some way different than you and me. He said that G-d created them for success and gave them the victories so as to be testimonies to us. His words bothered me and I reject them. The spiritual giants of faith were not created differently from you and me, but simply responded differently to situations in which they were placed. If one wants success (obedience to the will of G-d) then one has to learn how to overcome. This is the real difference between the giants of our faith and you and me.
In this week’s Torah portion Israel is attacked by the king of Arad. He was a very powerful king and Israel responded correctly; they turned to G-d and sought His favor. He moved in their midst and gave the victory. Notice that the victory did not depend on Israel’s strength or who the enemy was, it solely was based on whether G-d gave the victory or not. This victory over Arad was a highpoint for the children of Israel. Even though Israel trusted in HaShem in this time of war, did Israel learn the spiritual principle of trusting in HaShem at all times?
No sooner did Israel enjoy this great victory did G-d inform them that they would have to take the long route to the promised land rather than traveling the shorter route through the allotment of land given to Esau (Edom). When the people heard this the text says,
“…and the soul of the people grew short on the way.” Numbers 21:4b
Israel had asked permission earlier to cross the land of Edom and to even pay the Edomites for the inconvenience and whatever they consumed on the way (see Num. 20:14-21). Nevertheless Edom refused. Many scholars understand the phase “…and the soul of the people grew short on the way.” as an idiom that speaks to discouragement. In other words, Israel, having had a great victory over Arad, wanted to go to war with the Edomites and after the victory take the short cut to their destination. When HaShem did not agree they were discouraged.
Part of faith is trusting in G-d not only when He responds to one’s request in the manner that one wants, but also in those times when G-d’s will is not what one wanted. The journey around Edom was difficult and lacked the apparent supplies for such a large congregation. Instead of trusting that HaShem would not have led them this way unless He was going to provide for them, the people immediately began to complain, doubt, and wanted to return to Egypt (see verse 5).
Israel’s sin of refusing to accept G-d’s plan is very similar to Edom refusal. So why was HaShem’s response to Israel so harsh, while Edom seemly was left unpunished? To answer this question one must remember what G-d’s call is upon Israel and what will eventually happen to Edom. The problem with most of us is that we tend to look at things and evaluate them based upon a short term perspective, rather than looking at things from G-d’s perspective and seeing the eternal consequences. Israel and Edom both have a significant role in the future. One is glorious and the other is disastrous. If one wants to share in this glorious future then he must learn to accept the long and difficult way, rather than the shortcuts that our flesh would choose.
I remember traveling home once with my father after attending a function. On the interstate the journey was about two hours. The old highway Rt. 66 would add about 45 minutes. I asked to take the slower road because I liked seeing the towns along the road. Actually, he and I were having a great time and I was not in a hurry for the day to get over. The important thing is not the route of the journey, but with whom you are traveling.