Torah Study: Chukat and the Passing of the Cohort

WHEN JERRY GARCIA AND GENE Roddenberry died, I shed actual tears. Although I didn’t know either of them personally, they had both played important roles in my life — Jerry taught me to dance, Gene taught me to dream — and because of their role in the culture at large, their deaths were like the shutting of a communal door.

There’s a similar circumstance in this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, which notes — among other incidents — the deaths of Moses’ siblings, Miriam and Aaron, themselves beloved by their community. Think what it must have been like for the Israelites: smacked out of Egypt by the back of God’s miracle-hand, given a new constitution beneath a thundering mountain, then doomed by ingratitude to wander the desert for 40 years. Moses, Aaron and Miriam were all the leadership they knew: Moses the mysterious, whose face glows when he talks to God; Aaron, who loved peace so much he’d even tell fibs to achieve it; Miriam, the wise woman whose portable well enabled life in the desert.

And then Miriam died, and the water went away until Moses hit a rock and was cursed by God. Then Aaron — ardent peacemaker, inadvertent goldsmith, everyone’s best friend — died.

And they were alone in the desert with Moses and the pillar of fire.

They had entered a new era, but it only lasted a year before it too passed away. And they had to go on.

It must not have been very easy. Ending an era never is. Imagine walking through a corridor with a number of people — a cohort — all singing together; side doors open now and then, adding to and subtracting from the ranks so the number remains fairly constant. So does the conversation. Despite that over time the voices change, a few are strong enough to help the others keep up with the basic melody (one occasionally tries to drown out the others, but there are enough people to keep this from being too problematic). Some voices are so strong and clear that they echo long after their bearers pass through a side door.

Since the corridor and the singing and the people are ongoing, any “era” is really in the eye of the beholder. It begins when you enter and ends when you leave, but from the point of view of the song itself there’s neither beginning nor end — only singing.

Come join us for Torah study, and lend your ear and voice to the never-ending song.

Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, July 2, 2011, 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)
Haftarah (Supplemental Reading): Judges 11:1-33

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