THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT CHUKAT 5780

BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER

 

The Sefer Hachinuch begins his explanation of the first Mitzvah in our Parsha – Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer, with a rather unique introduction:

 

“Even though my heart has given me the resourcefulness to write hints of the basic reasons for all previous commandments, with the excuse that this work is to instruct my son and his young friends, may HaShem protect them, however on the commandment of the Parah Aduma, my hands are weak and I am afraid to open my mouth about it at all. But ultimately the love of the sacred, and the desire to understand the hidden, moves the quill to write.”

 

The reason for his trepidation – as the Chinuch himself articulates - is the inexplicable inconsistency embedded in this one Mitzva, which has become known as the “Mother of all Chukim”, referring to the definition of “Chok” as a Commandment with no apparent rhyme or reason. Why? Because the Red Heifer both purified and impurified. Cleansed and uncleansed. Fixed and broke. For on the one hand, the ashes of the Parah Aduma rendered a hitherto first-degree impure person into a totally purified individual, and yet those involved in preparing these powerful ashes, their very own clothes worn during this intricate process became spiritually impure. So irrational is this edict that the wisest of all men, King Solomon, admitted openly that this was beyond him. In fact, the Midrash relates that HaShem actually told Moshe “To you alone will I reveal the reason for the Red Heifer – but to no-one else.”

 

And yet we are commanded to adhere to this Mitzvah in spite of knowing in advance that we will never ever understand its rationale. How humbling is that?

 

The Netziv takes this even further. Not only Commandments which specify their reward, like Tefilin, or honouring ones parents etc, should be kept not for any personal gain or benefit but purely because HaShem instructed us to, but even totally logical and sensible directives are to be diligently followed not because they make total sense, or even because society could not possibly survive without them, but because, and exclusively because HaShem said so, and we never ever question HaShem, or try to second guess His mysterious motives. Now that is a really tall order.

 

Realistically, being but mere mortals, we (I) typically rationalise everything we (I) do, and yet it’s actually a mite refreshing to recognise that there are indeed some things (way) beyond our limited human understanding. Wearing Tzitzit, not wearing Shaatnez, keeping Shabbat and Kashrut, actually train us in this exercise.

 

Personally, I find that this mindset – itself the result of my very Jewish upbringing – actually helps me to accept the many inexplicable challenges HaShem throws my way.

 

Shabbat Shalom,