This week's Torah portion, Chukkat, (Num. 19:1-22:1) begins with the laws of the red heifer, continuing to recount the events of the first two years of the Israelites in the wilderness. Then, as chapter 19 ends and chapter 20 begins, we are projected thirty eight years into the future as we learn of the death of Miriam, Moses striking the rock and God's decree that because of Moses' lack of faith, he would not be permitted to lead the people into the Land, the death of Aaron and the perpetuation of the high priesthood through his son Eleazar. The final chapter of the parshah concerns further wanderings of the people, and skirmishes with the kings Sihon and Og.
After the laws concerning the red heifer, the Torah has nothing at all to say about the thirty eight years before the death of Miriam. Of course we know that after the incident of the spies, the fear and lack of faith that the Israelites showed caused God to decree that they would not enter the land until the last of the generation who had been slaves in Egypt had died. They were going to start afresh with the new generation, born in the wilderness. It is as if the Torah, which had lovingly described so many details of the lives of the Israelites, now loses interest in anything they do until the new generation is ready to take over. It is a time of preparation and strengthening for the time to come when God's promise will be fulfilled.
There are times in history when nothing seems to change much and there isn't much remarkable going on. Generally, these times precede momentous occasions of motion and upheaval. The former slaves ended their days in freedom. The new generation prepared for the occupation of the Promised Land to come, knowing that a greater burden would be upon them without the leadership of Moses. There are times in the lives of nations and in individuals when nothing may seem to be going on, but things are brewing under the surface.