Combined Parshiyot: Chuqat / Balaq

We read two Torah portions this week so we can get through the entire Torah by the end of the year

Chuqat (Decree), Numbers 19:1-22:1
This parshah lays out the procedure for the Parah Adumah, the "red heifer", an unblemished, completely red cow that is slaughtered and completely burnt. The ashes are used as part of a ritual for purification after contact with a dead body. Miriam dies, followed by a shortage of water because (according to Rashi) a well followed the people because of Miriam's merit but went dry at her death. G-d told Moses to ask a rock for water, but in his anger he struck the rock to get the water and for this Moses and Aaron were not permitted to enter the Promised Land. Aaron dies later in the parshah. The People have various conflicts on their travels in the Wilderness with the Emorites, the Canaanites and the Amorites.

Balaq (Balak (a name)), Numbers 22:2-25:9
This is the popular story of the gentile prophet Balaam and his talking donkey. Balak, King of Moab, was worried about the approaching Israelites and sought the prophet Balaam to put a curse on them. On the way, an angel blocked the path and Balaam did not see it but the donkey did and stopped. G-d told Balaam not to curse the Israelites, and to say only what G-d told him to, and when the time came, instead of cursing Israel, he blessed them, and part of his blessing is a standard Jewish prayer, Ma Tovu. But after all that blessing, the parshah ends with the people suffering as many people attached themselves to a local god.

The haftarah is for Balaq, Micah 5:6-6:8. It connects to the Torah portion because it mentions (6:5) the story of Balak and Balaam.