Parshas Chukas opens with the enigmatic words, “This is the decree of the Torah… and take unto you a Parah Adumah – a Red Heifer…” (Numbers 19:1) The obvious question is why does the text preface the commandment regarding the Red Heifer with those puzzling words – “This is the decree of the Torah…” It should have simply stated, “This is the decree of the Parah Adumah – the Red Heifer..”
But herein is a very profound teaching. Even as the laws of the Parah Adumah, which can simultaneously purify and contaminate are beyond our human comprehension, similarly, all the laws of the Torah (even mishpatim – those laws that appeal to our human intelligence), have elements that are inexplicable.
King Solomon was the wisest of all men and he proclaimed “All this I tested with wisdom; I thought I would become wise – but it is beyond me.” Solomon was not only speaking of the laws pertaining to the Red Heifer (which he could not grasp – rather, he stated that all of the Torah is above man’s reason. And that is precisely why it is Torah – the Word of G-d. We finite beings cannot possibly hope to understand the infinite.
In Hebrew, reasons for the commandments are called “Ta’amei HaMitzvot – which literally translated means “taste” for the mitzvos. Through our probing, through our studying we come to better appreciate the majesty, the sanctity, and the blessings of the Torah, but we must at all times bear in mind that the definitive reason for the mitzvos are beyond our reach.
Ultimately, our relationship with G-d, our observance of the Commandments, and all of Judaism is based on faith. Most of life is baffling; death, illness and sorrow – the ups and downs of our daily existence are like the Red Heifer – beyond the scope of our understanding, but our faith sustains us and keeps us going. Even as a toddler cannot comprehend why his parent takes him to a physician, makes him go to sleep, and disciplines him, we cannot possibly know why certain things befall us. Next to G-d, we are not even toddlers. But despite this lack of understanding, the toddler trusts his parent implicitly and would panic if he/she was absent. Similarly, should we not have as much trust as the toddler – should we not place our faith in our Heavenly Father? It is faith that is the basis and the foundation of our Covenant. At Sinai, we accepted the Torah and proclaimed “Na’aseh V’nishma” – “We will do and listen.” – and this unequivocal declaration laid the foundation for our total faith in the Almighty.
This requirement of faith is evidenced throughout the parsha – Miriam the Prophetess and Aaron the High Priest die, and Moses, the loyal shepherd of the Jewish people is denied the right to enter the promised land. Our human reason might rebel against these apparently harsh decrees – but who are we to question the Will of G-d? The entire Torah is like a Red Heifer – inexplicable, but through our unswerving faith, we find direction.
This teaching is especially relevant to our generation, for while we pride ourselves on our intellectual acumen, we fall pitifully short on faith. We lack spiritual stamina and at the slightest crisis collapse, become angry, bitter, and feel alienated – and we close the door on our only source of help – G-d.
We are fast approaching the tragic days which led to the destruction of our Holy Temple. We observe the fast day of Shiva Osor B’Tamuz which ushers in the three week period of mourning culminating in the tragic day of Tisha B’Av when the Holy Temple was destroyed. It was our lack of emunah – faith, that brought about that catastrophe, and it will be through intensifying our faith that we will bring redemption to our people and see our Temple rebuilt.
By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis