Parashat Chukat: Various Teachings From Netivyah Staff
In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Joseph Shulam: The Willingness to be Outside the Camp 
This week the Torah reading is from Parashat Chukat, Numbers 19:1-22:1, the reading from the prophets is from Judges 11:1-23, and from the New Testament from John 3:10-22. These recommendations to read from the Torah on Shabbat are not my invention. They are the recommendations of the apostles in Acts 15:21:
“For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” – Acts 15:21 [NKJV]
I can’t stress enough the importance of every disciple of Yeshua to read regularly, and repeat every year, the reading of God’s word from the beginning to the end. The Word of God is the road map for our lives. It is guiding us on how to live, what to do, and where history is dragging us. The balanced reading from the Torah, from the prophets, and from the New Testament is a type of personal revelation that is progressive from week to week.
The reading from Numbers in Chukat starts with a very strange and interesting command:
“Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.”’” – Numbers 19:1–2 [NKJV]
The strange thing about this command is that Aaron and the priests had to have a red heifer, not white, nor spotted, nor brown, but red. There are such cows but they are rare.
In the Golan Heights there is a special farm that raises these red heifers. The whole cow has to be reddish/brown color. There are Orthodox Jews who are paying good money to this farmer on top of the Golan Heights to carefully breed these cows to produce the perfect red heifer.
I don’t really know why God commands the children of Israel to have such a red heifer, but the most interesting part for me is how the New Testament uses this command. In the Torah, the ashes of the red heifer were very important, because without these ashes people with leprosy could not be declared clean from the illness, and people who have touched a dead person or an animal could not be purified.
People who were not purified could not go up to the Temple to worship and offer sacrifices. It was a major thing to have the ashes of the red heifer available for all the purity laws of the Torah. However, for me the most important thing for today is how the New Testament deals with this issue and the significance of the red heifer for our relationship to God and to Yeshua Himself.
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” – Hebrews 13:10–16 [NKJV]
Please read the above text carefully. What is the writer of the book of Hebrews talking about?
- An altar from which the priests who offered the sacrifice and the person who offered it are not allowed to eat. The red heifer!
- The body of those animals was burned outside the camp.
- The high priest brought the blood of these animals that were sacrificed into the sanctuary for sin.
There is only one such a sacrifice in the Torah, the red heifer!
Now notice what the text says:
“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.”
The place of the cross and the crucifixion was outside the gates of the city of Jerusalem. There is now an invitation for us, the disciples of Yeshua our Messiah and Savior, to also go outside the gate, outside the camp, in order to bear His reproach.
This teaching, my dear brothers, is so contrary to almost everything that is going on in the Christian evangelical camp. Most of the Christian camp is not seeking to bear Yeshua’s reproach or to pay the price of following Yeshua.
What most of the Christian evangelical camp is seeking is to be more like the world, to have no reproach or consequences of being a follower of Yeshua. The music, the teaching, the mental preparation is to have more of the world, more from the world, be more like the world, to be big, flashy, rich, and financially prosperous, like the best that the world has to offer, to enjoy now and instantly.
The book of Hebrews was written probably just before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Jews that received this book were on the edge of giving up hope and faith, and the writer of the book of Hebrews is writing this book to encourage them not to give up and not to drop their faith in Yeshua.
The writer’s encouragement is the opposite of what we would do today. Today the average church leader would say, “don’t worry, all will be just fine, you will regain what the locust has eaten double, shaken down, pressed down, 100% +…” The writer of the book of Hebrews says to us, “like Yeshua had to be sacrificed outside the gates of the city, so let us go out and join Him outside the gates of the city, because inside the gates there is nothing that can save us, and nothing that can forgive our sins, and no real future.”
The conclusion is:
“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Yes, today we are living in the aftermath of what happened in the year 70 AD – the fall of Jerusalem. Physical Jerusalem is built and being constantly rebuilt and growing. There are orthodox Jewish synagogues in Jerusalem, next to which the temple of Herod the Great would pale and look small. The luxury and wealth and opulence in a few of these synagogues is beyond description.
What I am praying for is that the younger rabbis will bring about a renewal and revival of the old paths and spirit of the Torah and the prophets. A spirit that will put to practice the social values of equality before the law, and care for the stranger and the foreigner.
As for Yeshua’s disciples in the land of Israel – we all need to on the one hand be willing to be outside the camp, where our salvation and forgiveness of sins is found, i.e. in Yeshua and with Yeshua. On the other hand we need to be in the middle of the camp promoting peace, equality, and charity toward all. We need to pursue peace and unity in the camp of the disciples of Yeshua in the land, and practice charity and kindness toward all, both Jews and Arabs, both secular and orthodox, and especially toward widows and orphans.
Yehuda Bachana: Yeshua Comes Before Tradition 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This Shabbat we read and study Parashat Chukat. This portion focuses on the red heifer and its ashes, which are mainly intended for the purification of those who have been made unclean by the dead, the most severe of impurities.
The Israelites’ Many Complaints and the Healing Serpent
After 40 years in the desert, we see the Israelites starting to draw near into entering the Land of Israel, and at the same time departing from the desert and from a life of wandering. They were even separated from some of their dear leaders, Miriam the prophetess and Aaron the priest.
In this parasha, there is a severe shortage of water, the people complained, and God told Moses and Aaron to speak to a rock as a solution. In actuality, Moses was very angry with the people, so instead, he hit the rock. As a result of this dismal affair, Moses was punished and was not allowed entrance into the Promised Land.
The people of Israel were already very close to the borders of Canaan and the Promised Land, and because of that the battles, wars, and conquests were starting to begin.
The people complained once again to God, and due to their bitter complaints, He sent snakes to bite the people. After their repentance and the prayer of Moses, God presented an interesting form of healing, a statue – a serpent made of bronze, that whoever looked at it would healed.
The New Testament used the concept of the serpent to explain Yeshua the Messiah, his salvation and redemption:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:14-16 [NIV]
The Serpent Exemplifies Salvation
These verses are the essence of the New Testament as well as the essence of Yeshua the Messiah. The entire idea of redemption is presented with wonderful simplicity.
The Messiah, like the serpent in the desert, must be lifted high, for everyone to see. For everyone who sees it will be saved. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, to give us eternal life.
It is important for me to emphasize Yeshua and his importance. Here at Netivyah, we receive many letters from believers, mainly of which are from outside of Israel. Often times, these individuals have read the Bible anew and want to draw near and try to keep the Sabbath.
They see the importance of the commandments of the Torah, and these believers complain about their churches, that they do not desire to draw near to the word of God during the feasts or during the Sabbath. So these believers usually leave the group and stop going to church. However, I think this is sad and unhealthy.
Even in Israel, the situation is not that much better. Many young Israelis are coming less and less frequently to their local congregations. Our answer must be, first and foremost, Yeshua. It is imperative to preserve our fellowship, for in doing so we keep one another accountable.
The Story of the Pastor and the Coal
I would like to tell a brief story. It is about a family that participated in the congregation regularly, until eventually they gradually stopped coming. One day the pastor went to visit them on a particularly cold day. The father of the family let the pastor in, prepared a drink for him, and they sat down to speak in front of the burning fireplace.
In the middle of the conversation, the pastor rose to the fireplace, picked out the hottest coal, took it out, and put it aside, and went back to listen to the father of the family.
The father complained that the congregation didn’t do enough, the lessons are this way and that, there are problems with other families in the community, they do not like their bad influence, and so on and so forth. The family decided to have a time of fellowship at their home, where they study and pray alone according to their own standards.
At the end of the conversation, the pastor got up to go home, the once hot coal was already cool enough for him to hold it in his hand, he threw it into the fire – and immediately it lit up again. At that moment the father of the family suddenly learned the lesson from the pastor.
The lesson is this: we are the coals and we heat up one another. If one of the coals is taken out of the fire, however, it grows cold. The congregation is designed to support, build, and help each other grow and be strengthened in Yeshua the Messiah.
Yeshua is in the first place, far beyond other things, even if they are important.
So I see fellowship among believers as the highest priority.
The Israelites’ Glorification of the Bronze Statue
Let’s go back to the bronze snake. In so many things we do, there is a fine line between good and evil, between a mitzvah and a sin.
Of course God knew that sick people would come, look at the serpent, and be healed. They may even want to thank the serpent by burning incense or giving it some gift, but nonetheless God asked Moses to create the serpent and also to encourage the people to look upon it.
Moses’ bronze serpent survived the entrance into Israel. Think about how great would it be if we still had this statue in our possession. On the other hand, it would probably turn into a real idol.
King Hezekiah understood that nothing remained in the bronze serpent remained the work of God, but rather it had become idolatry. Therefore, King Hezekiah decided to destroyed it.
“…He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)” – 2 Kings 18:4b [NIV]
We forgot that the statue was just a piece of plain bronze, and for some reason it was given power, influence and authority.
In the end we had to destroy that statue, which in its time God used to cure death and give life. Where am I going with this?
Yeshua Must Remain our First Priority
Our vision is to change the present situation and prove that we can believe in Yeshua as the Messiah and at the same time remain loyal to the Jewish people and be a part of Israel.
However, we must not fall into the trap of the bronze serpent, and give power to the tradition, to the prayer book, and even to the commandments and the Torah itself. We must make sure that nothing comes at the expense of Yeshua the Messiah.
We must remind ourselves again and again, as a community and as individuals: God and Yeshua the Messiah, they are the center of the community. They, and no other means or idea.
Some go so far as to say that Yeshua is the main thing and in fact the only thing. There is nothing else except for Yeshua.
On the one hand they are 100% right. True, there is no other way by which we can be saved. Indeed, Yeshua is the only way to the Kingdom of Heaven. Likewise, it is not by our power, or by our actions, but only from above.
Living Out Faith is More than Just an Obligation
As believers we are required to be righteous. To show that faith works in our lives.
Now how do I connect the two parts, Yeshua and the Torah?
I will give an example from the Bible:
According to the Torah, a husband is obligated to give his wife three things, “…food, clothing and marital rights.” (Exodus 21:10) Food, clothing (including a roof over her head), and marital rights (intimate relations).
Those are the three obligations. My question is: If a husband does only these three things, is he a good husband or even a good person? The correct answer is: No, far from it! A husband or wife, father or mother, is much more than that.
Emotion, support, love, listening, kind words, caring, appreciation. And that’s not all, there is also a touch – a loving caress, a hug. Quality time together, and a nice gift from time to time.
Food on the table and a roof over your head is perhaps the minimum, but certainly it doesn’t come close to what is desired. The same goes for us as believers. Yes, that’s my point. Now we must strive to live out our faith in Yeshua.
The Delicate Balance Between Yeshua and the Torah
We must be careful that He does not come at the expense of the Torah, but it is important to be even more careful that the Torah or more accurately, Judaism, will not come at the expense of Yeshua.
I would like to conclude with a prayer that the apostle Paul wrote at the end of Romans 8:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38,39 [NIV]
Please leave a verse in the comments below, that you think sums up, or adds to the discussion today.
Published June 24, 2018 | Updated July 11, 2019
Netivyah is an Israeli non-profit organization that teaches God's Word and helps those in need. We present the teachings of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, both in Israel and worldwide. We also feed the poor in Jerusalem, and invest in the next generation through youth programs and scholarships.