“What will you Jews cook up next?”, they said. “You’re a strange people and you constantly invent new fantasies and insist that you’re more clever than anybody else!”
No wonder that the Psalmist said that “He that is enthroned in heaven laughs: the Lord has them (the nations) in derision” (Psalm 2:4).
The nations always gave Israel a hard time but in the end Israel always survived and they went under. Those who used to laugh at us don’t laugh any more; they can’t, because they have been swept away in the flood of history. What they have left behind is hinted at in the rabbinic version of the Biblical story of Korach (Num. 16).
Korach and company mocked at Moses and Aaron until the earth split open and the mockers were swallowed up… and the sages say that ever afterwards, travellers in the desert would come across the spot where this happened, put their ears to the ground and hear an echo from deep down that said, “Moses and his Torah are true, and we are liars!”
All this explains why the sidra begins, Zot chukkat haTorah – “This is the statute of the law which the Lord has commanded” (Num. 19:2). The red heifer was not a crazy Jewish invention but a Divine command.
The existence and survival of Israel was not some fluke of chance, but part of the Creator’s cosmic design. God will have the last laugh.