Parashat Hukkat-- Numbers 19:1-22:1
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Questions for Young Children

• The Israelites have been traveling now for thirty-eight years. What’s the longest time you ever traveled somewhere? How do you think they feel?
• Miriam and Aharon die in this parasha. How are they related to Moshe? How do you think he feels after their deaths?

Questions for Older Children
• Read about the red heifer and the use of its ashes to purify the Israelites after they touched a dead body. Why do you think B’nei Yisrael were told to do this?
• If you couldn’t figure out a reason for a commandment, would you still do it if God told you to? Why or why not?
• Both Miriam and Aharon die in this parasha. What’s the same and what’s different about the ways the parasha describes their deaths?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• Biblical commentators cite four laws of God that have no clear reason and the law of the red heifer is one. Why follow a law that we don’t understand? What does it say about our connection to God?
• Do all the nations in the trans-Jordan area react the same to the Israelites asking permission to cross their land? If you were leading the Amorites or the Moabites, what would your response to this group be? Why?
• What do you think the impact of Miriam and Aharon’s deaths was on the Israelites? on Moshe? Is Moshe aware that he will soon die, too?
• Do you notice textual fragments in this parasha that indicate extra-Biblical sources?

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More red food!

  • Watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, cherries
  • Tomatoes, red pepper, red potatoes, ketchup, barbeque sauce
  • Paprika and ground chili



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Parashat Hukkat includes the mysterious red heifer.  Much of the parasha focuses on how to move from a state of impurity to purity. The complaints against Moshe and Aaron resume after the death of their sister, Miriam. The litany of complaints will sound familiar: why did you bring us here to die in the wilderness? There’s no water, there was better food in Egypt. When Moshe and Aharon seek help from God, God tells Moshe how to get water from a rock, but Moshe deviates from the directions. In the remainder of the parasha, Moshe and B'nei Yisrael encounter one tribe after another and, with each encounter, they ask permission to cross the territory. Throughout the journey, the complaints of the Israelites continue. God responds with miracles, but it doesn’t end Israelite complaints. The parasha closes with both Aharon and Miriam dead and B'nei Yisrael encamped on the lower Jordan plain in the land of Moab.

Find the food connection
פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה

—a red heifer (Numbers 19:2)

וּשְׁנִי תוֹלָעַת

—a scarlet thread (Numbers 19:6)

Red! We’re not barbecuing a red heifer or threading food with red string. Instead, I’m using the color “red” as the guide for a recipe this week.

The Side Dish

Are we there yet? We can all imagine how this group of ex-slaves felt after wandering and wondering. This parasha includes several new crises as well as the familiar one --lack of water and food. By chapter 20, thirty-eight years have passed since crossing the Red Sea. Are we there yet?

Sometimes the most difficult journeys are the most memorable. Does your family recite stories about immigrant ancestors who traveled by foot, cart, and in the ship’s steerage to get to the U.S? Where did they find the courage to continue their journey? Did they have leaders like Moshe? Did food run out, were they threatened? Did their belief in God sustain them?

When I’m in Israel I’m always interested in the stories of olim (immigrants). One of our relatives sailed to Palestine on a ship that was sunk in the Haifa harbor in 1940 by the Haganah. Although 267 died, our teenaged cousin made it to shore and then was imprisoned in Atlit by the British. If you take the time to talk to Israelis whether they came from Nazi Europe, the Arab countries, South America, or Russia, the tales rival the trials of the Israelites in the desert. All of us were not only slaves in Egypt, but we have been travelers harried in the desert as well.



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A Dash of Red and Archaeology
The seraph serpents may be a winged snake, like the Egyptian winged cobra. And what do these poisonous cobras look like—they have a red spot or stripes. A bowl with an image of the seraph was found in an excavation of the royal palace at Nineveh. Another archaeological find from 1200-900 BCE is a five inch long copper snake found near Timna, the copper mines in the Negev.

A Dash of Word Play
In Numbers 21:9 we read that Moshe made a copper serpent. By the time of the Exodus an ornament like the snake might have been made of bronze, an alloy of tin and copper that’s harder than copper. If you look at the Hebrew, you read nahash n’hoshet. Was copper chosen despite its anachronism because in Hebrew it has the same root as serpent? Ibn Ezra, the 11th century Biblical commentator believes so.

A Dash of Cartography
This is a good week to open up a Biblical map online or in a book to get a picture of the path of the Israelites from the Sinai peninsula through the trans-Jordan area north of the Dead Sea. You also might discuss the names of the tribal groups like Edom (descendants of Esau, word Edom is connected to adom, red), Moab (later we read about Ruth the Moabite), and Ammon (current Jordanian capital is Amman). If any of your Shabbat guests have been to Petra via the Eilat Crossing, they will have seen the terrain. Ask them to bring photos and enjoy viewing the red rocks.

A Dash of Spicy Talmud

The recipe for Thai Red Curry Soup is loaded with ginger. In Aramaic the word is zangvila, in Hebrew, zangvil. Zangvila appears in the Talmud, Yoma 81b dealing with the Yom Kippur fast and a category labeled “foods unfit for food.”
“But Rav Nahman has said that preserved ginger coming from India is permitted [during the fast] and the blessing...’who creates the fruit of the ground’ is obligatory [before eating it].”
Ginger was imported in Rav Nahman’s time (3rd-4th century CE) to Babylonia from India, but it may have traveled to Eretz Yisrael from the Arabian peninsula. We know the Talmud as a trove of Jewish law but there are also tantalizing bits of social history and even gastronomical history embedded within the volumes.

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Thai Red Curry Squash Soup
Pareve, vegan, and gluten free--serves 12 to16

Ingredientsrsz 06 hukkat thai red curry squash soup copy copy

  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil or spray
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger
  • 2 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste
  • 3 containers Trader Joes’s squash soup (3 quarts)
  • 2 cans (13 ½ oz.) unsweetened coconut milk --lowfat or regular
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 large stalk of lemongrass, smashed, and cut into 2” lengths or 1 Tbsp. lemon grass paste. (Available in a tube in the produce section in large grocery stores).
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. lime juice
  • salt to taste


  • ¼ c. oil
  • 1 cup slivered fresh ginger
  • 2 large scallions, thinly sliced


  1. In a large pot, heat the oil and add onion and ginger and cook over moderate heat about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring about 2 min.
  3. Add the squash soup, coconut milk, lime zest, and lemongrass.
  4. Cover and simmer 30 min.
  5. Discard the fresh lemongrass.
  6. Stir in the sugar and lime juice and season with salt.


  1. In a medium skillet, heat the oil until shimmering.
  2. Add the slivered ginger and cook until crisp, about 5 min.
  3. With a slotted spoon, transfer the ginger to paper towels to drain.
  4. Garnish soup with fried ginger and scallions.

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