Parshat Chukas 5781: The Thirty-Eight Missing Years

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Chukas is sponsored anonymously and dedicated lilui nishmas HaRav Yehuda Leib HaKohen ben HaRav Moshe Shimon HaKohen and Miriam bat Reb Menachem Mendel and Reb Zev Avraham ben Shlomo and wife Sima. To our anonymous donor, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Chukas 5781: The Thirty-Eight Missing Years

by Moshe Burt

In previous years, this Parshat HaShavua dealt with the ritual of the Para Adumah. To record context, regarding the thirty-eight missing years which followed the Hashem’s conveyance of the laws regarding the Para Adumah, this author excerpts from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Parshat Summary, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text” on Sefer Bamidbar (page 179):

Parshat Chukas opens as Hashem commands Moshe and Aharon concerning the mysterious ritual of the Para Adumah (red heifer), designed to effect the purification of an individual contaminated by close proximity with a human corpse.

The text then records Miriam’s death, as the historical narrative resumes towards the end of the nation’s forty year sojourn in the wilderness.

Rabbi Goldin then presents context for this period of time, asks questions and provides commentary (ibid, 190-192):

Immediately after outlining the laws of the Para Adumah, the Torah resumes its historical narrative with the statement “And the B’nei Yisrael, the whole assembly, arrived in the Wilderness of Tzin in the first month, and the nation settled in Kadesh: and Miriam died there and was buried there.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 20, posuk 1 as rendered to English by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” page 190)

Something astonishing has occurred in Torah that could easily escape our notice. Nearly thirty-eight years have passed without comment from the text.

The last historical event recorded in the text, the rebellion of Korach and its aftermath took place at the beginning of the nation’s forty year period of wilderness wandering. The death of Miriam, however, occurs at the end of this period, in the fortieth year of wandering. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Olam Rabbah 9; Rashbam on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 20, posuk 1, Ibn Ezra on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 20, posuk 1, and numerous other sources)

What happened to the bulk of the forty year period of wilderness wandering? Clearly these have been important, formative years. An entire generation, the generation of yetziyot Mitzrayim, has perished and a new generation has risen, destined to enter the Land.

Why, then, do all of the wilderness years pass without any comment in the text at all — without, in fact, even a note that they have passed?

…The Torah’s silence concerning the missing thirty-eight years is matched by a similar silence from the classical commentaries.

While some scholars, such as the Chizkuni, are clearly aware of the phenomenon of the missing years (Rabbi Goldin citing Chizkuni on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 20, posuk 1), they make no attempt to explain why the Torah does not chronical this period more fully.

Perhaps the key to this mystery lies in the answer to a more technical question. What is the symbolism of the repeated appearance of the number forty at critical moments of the biblical text?

A possible answer emerges from an unexpected source.

In commenting on the development of a human fetus, the Talmud states that, until the passage of forty days from conception, the embryo is considered to be… mere water. From that point on, the fetus enters a new, more advanced stage off development. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Yevamos 69b) Clearly, to the Rabbinic mind, the fortieth day marks a critical point in the birthing process. (Rabbi Goldin notes: this rabbinic statement should not be misinterpreted as an automatic acceptance of abortion during the forty-day period of gestation…. The general rule is that abortion is prohibited at any time after conception unless the mother’s life is threatened. In all circumstances, appropriate Rabbinic authority should be consulted.) If forty represents a critical juncture in the biological birthing of a human being, perhaps the number forty plays a similar role throughout Judaism’s tradition.

The significance of these years emerges… as a period of incubation, a time when, step by step, a new generation is forged through a crucible of experience. The value of the wilderness years will be determined by the nature of the generation born, by the product created during the passing years.

The Torah therefore remains silent concerning the passage of years themselves, allowing us to draw our conclusions concerning their value after the fact, on the basis of the generation born.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 193):

The Torah’s silence concerning the B’nei Yisrael’s forty years wilderness passage reminds us of a lesson too often forgotten:; The passage of time, in and of itself, is immaterial. What matters is what takes place during that time, and how those events impact upon our lives.

If, over the years, problems are ignored and reconciliation avoided, then the passage of time will work against us. If, on the other hand, we use our time wisely and constructively, confronting our shared issues squarely and with sensitivity, then time will surely be our ally.

In this author’s view, this last point is one which all sectors in contemporary Israel, particularly those who would make up an Israeli governance, should ponder closely.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network.
He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.