Parsha Chukat “Statutes” Numbers 19:1-22:1
In this week’s Parsha we read of the passing of two of Israel’s “Greats.”
Miriam and Aaron, both of whom die in the wilderness.
In the midst of this, Israel is totally dependent upon God for all their needs. Miracles are a common daily reminder of God’s providence.
Psalm 78 sums up the daily miracles quite poetically, “…In the daytime also He led them with the cloud, and all the night with a light of fire. He split the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink…He had commanded the clouds above, and opened the doors of heaven, had rained down manna on them to eat, and given them of the bread of heaven. Men ate angels’ food…”
Amazing miracles happened for the children of Israel every day! So then, why bring up Miriam and Aaron? What is the connection between Miriam and Aaron with the miracles of the desert?
We read in Taanit 9a:9 (Tractate in the Mishnah)
“… Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says: Three good sustainers rose up for the Jewish people during the exodus from Egypt, and they are: Moses, Aaron and Miriam…The well was given to the Jewish people in the merit of Miriam; the pillar of cloud was in the merit of Aaron; and the manna in the merit of Moses…”
So we read, it was on account of Moses and Siblings that the Israelites even received these heavenly miracles. Here is a summary of these claims…
When Miriam dies, (Numbers 20) “…Miriam died there and was buried there. Now there was no water for the congregation…” the well of water disappears.
Aaron dies. (Numbers 20-21) “Now when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days. (Next Chapter) The king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South, heard that Israel was coming on the road to Atharim. Then he fought against Israel…”
In Hebrew, Chapter 21 starts out saying: “And, the King of Arad…” therefore, the death of Aaron was connected to what this king heard and why he felt courage to fight against Israel. What did he hear? Rabbi Yosei goes on to explain, (Taanit 9a:10) “He heard that Aaron had died and the clouds of glory had disappeared, and he thought that the Jewish people were no longer protected by Heaven…” The death of Aaron meant the disappearance of the guiding Pillar of Cloud.
Lastly, after the death of Moses, (Deuteronomy 34) the Children of Israel enter into the Promised Land; celebrate the festival of Pesach (Passover) and the manna from heaven ceases.
Why is it that some of the greatest miracles in the history of the Jewish people disappear right before their entrance into the “Promised Land”? Wouldn’t it have made more sense that as the Children of Israel come closer to entering the land, that miracles would become more commonplace, not less?
We can recognize with the death of Moses, Aaron and Miriam that an era is coming to a close. But wasn’t everything about the desert wilderness excursion preparing Israel to enter into the “Land flowing with Milk and Honey”?
Joshua, the newly appointed leader was about to take Israel into the Promised Land. He needed all the encouragement he could get…why then do the daily miracles stop?
And, what are the correlations between the Israel of today and the Israel of the wilderness?
When Israel came back to the Land in 1948, the world looked on in astonishment and shock as literally a nation was “born in a day”. No pillar of Cloud, no manna from heaven, no miraculous springs followed them. They had been kept through the centuries, which was a miracle in itself. They had survived the horrors of the Shoah. A dead language was revived. There were signs of God’s hand protecting His people. God had kept them throughout the world, sustaining them with heavenly bread (Torah) and living springs of water (His Divine Presence). He had kept an invisible pillar of cloud over the Land of Israel that called every Jew back to their homeland.
When Israel entered the Promised Land under Joshua, it looked as though God had left them. The daily miracles were gone and instead Israel had to fight for the land and gather their own food.
It was much the same when the Jewish people returned after 2000 years of exile. The nations thought obviously “God has left them.” Upon their arrival to Israel, they had to fight for statehood and work the land for food.
Back then just as today, no one recognized Israel’s entrance to the Promised Land as a miracle by God.
Here’s the key; the Divine miracles were there, only to get the nation of Israel where they needed to be to accomplish what God had set before them. The miracles were not an end in and of themselves. They had purpose and meaning. God didn’t feed a throng of people just so they could be wilderness wanderers for the rest of their lives.
Instead, He fed His people and brought them through the wilderness to enter into His land according to His promise to their forefathers.
When the obvious daily miracles stopped, did this mean God had finished with them? Absolutely not! It meant it was now that He would glorify Himself—through His people, instead of —to His people.
In the wilderness, God was showing Himself faithful to His people; this was the point of the Divine miracles. Once they prepared to enter into the land however, He chose to use His people to show Himself strong.
As Isaiah the prophet wrote, “…For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel.”
God is glorifying Himself in Israel today. But He is choosing to use His people to do His work. Oftentimes, the miracles He performs can appear to be mere coincidence and chance. Israel’s existence throughout history even up until today can be blown off as pure luck… but when we look at Israel through God’s eyes we see how He has loved them, kept them, and finally returned them home. Just as He promised!
I feel that today, many people are looking for Divine miracles and the Glory cloud, not realizing that in our times God is looking for people willing to make the miraculous happen!
Sometimes, miracles can be as simple as planting a tree on the mountains of Israel, or having dinner with a Jewish pioneer, or playing soccer on Jerusalem’s rebuilt streets.
Miracles are when we do God’s work. Bringing hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless, and strength to those in weakness.
As it says, “How beautiful…are the feet of him who brings good news.”
The phenomenon of today isn’t about getting to watch divine miracles from the sideline. Instead the wonder of today is we get to walk in miracles that, though in the eyes of man may seem happenstance, we know it can only be God fulfilling His word through us.
Sometimes, when we are in the thick of the fight it can seem to us that God and His divine providence and miracles have left us. Often, we can look at God’s work in our lives and explain them away as mere coincidence. Don’t! Recognize God working out His plan through the daily simple miracles we receive from Him.
Today, don’t be distracted running around looking for miracles, instead recognize the daily, simple miracles we receive! Don’t run toward the “great signs and wonders,” run toward the great spiritual battles of the world, because there you will find the Lord at work. Let’s not sit on the sidelines as receivers, let’s run to the battle and be difference makers in today’s world. Until the day comes when, “… the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads…”