This week’s Parsha, Chuckat-Balak is a double portion. Parshat Chukat begins with an introduction to the laws regarding the Red Heifer, whose ashes decontaminate those who have touched a dead body. The story continues with the arrival of the Israelites in Zin and the death of Moses’ sister Miriam. Emerging with her death is a drought for the nation. The Israelites plead with Moses for water who then goes to God to ask for a solution. God provides Moses with a solution for this thirst. God commands Moses to speak to a certain rock which will then provide drinking water. Moses becomes angry with the rebellious nation and instead strikes the rock. Although water does flow from the stone, as a result of his disobedience, Moses is told that neither he nor his brother Aaron will enter the promised land. The story continues with Aaron’s death, the passing down of his priestly responsibilities to his son Elazar, and a thirty day mourning period on behalf of Aaron’s death. When the Israelites complain again about their situation in the desert, God unleashes venomous serpents on the nation. After many deaths, Moses went to God and pleaded for the removal of the snakes. God replied with a command for Moses to mount a snake-like sculpture on a high pole; any individual from the nation who was bitten and looked up at the sculpture would be healed. Next, the people of Israel sing a song in honor of a miraculous well in the desert and conquers the land of an enemy who attacked them. Parshat Balak starts with Balak, the king of Moab, learning about the Israelites population and army success. He becomes fearful of them and summons Balaam, a prophet to curse the nation. At first, Balaam refuses to go see the king because he is bound to God but after many attempts and approval from God he agrees to the task. Along his journey to the nation, Balaam’s donkey encounters an angel of God, which Balaam is blind to, who is blocking their path. After enduring abuse from Balaam, the donkey speaks to remind Balaam of her previous loyalty and God opens up Balaams eyes to the angel. Once Balaam finally arrives at the Israelites camp, he attempts to curse them three times from multiple vantage points. Each attempt made by Balaam to curse the nation fails and he ends up blessing them instead.
Throughout this week’s portion, everything seems to go wrong. Time after time another setback and disappointment emerges. Like the Israelites after the death of Miriam and Aaron, the Yavneh community is also feeling a certain feeling of thirst and mourning over the loss of our traditional summer in Northwood. It is easy to complain and blame higher powers, no different from the Israelites, but I urge this community to remember that although we cannot physically be at camp this Shabbat we can join together and use this summer as an opportunity to strengthen our bond and appreciation for each other. Like in the story of Balaam and the serpents, what feels like a curse and a setback can be transformed into a unifying and, although unusual, great summer. With that said, reach out to another camper you would not normally talk to over the year, your Gurim buddy, or get involved with Yavneh Sheli and maintain the Yavneh spirit!