Chukat – Acknowledging a Gift
“It is therefore said in the book of the wars of God: The gift at the Reed Sea and the rivers of Arnon. And the rapids which turn at the settlement of Ar, close to the border of Moab.”(Numbers 21:13-14)
These verses are especially challenging to translate, and I’ve taken assistance from both the Artscroll rendition as well as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah. These verses are followed by a note about the well whose water quenched the thirst of Israel. A short song of praise about the well follows. The Midrash relates that this was actually a song of thanksgiving for a miraculous intervention by the Almighty, unbeknownst to the Israelites while it was happening.
The Midrash explains that there was a narrow passage between two mountains which the people were to walk through on their journey. The local tribes prepared an ambush, hiding in the rocks and caves above the narrow pass. Their plan was to roll large boulders and hurl projectiles down at the Israelites while they were defenceless and had no escape. God caused the earth to move, bringing the upper two cliffs together, thereby crushing the forces hiding in the crevices and cavities of the cliffs.
The Midrash continues with the tale. After it was done God said, “Who will inform my children of the miracle?” After the Israelites passed, the cliffs returned to their previous position and the well of water accompanying the nation spit out the blood and remains of the ambushers. The realization of what happened then prompted the people to sing God’s praises.
The Midrashic explanation raises an obvious question. Why did God need to “inform” His children of the miracle? Do Jewish parents need to remind their children how much they sacrificed to raise t