Parshat Chukas is being sponsored by Ron and Rena Rosenberg of Ramat Beit Shemesh, dedicated Lilui Nishmas for the recent Yahrtzeit of Rena’s Father, Baruch Yecheskal ben Yaakov HaLevi. To the Rosenberg family, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.
Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.
Our Parshat opens:
“Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying: This is the decree of Torah, which Hashem has commanded…” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 19, posukim 1-2 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash, page 839)
R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, in the new Hirsch Chumash (pages 398-399) provides an even more powerful rendering of our opening posukim and comments:
“Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying: This is a basic statute of the Teaching that Hashem has commanded.”
This mode of address to Moshe and Aharon indicates the importance of the subject matter that follows…
…Chukas HaTorah [This basic statute of Torah] — This expression occurs in only one other place in Scripture: in Sefer Bamidbar Perek 31, posuk 21 [Elazar, the Kohen, addressing the men of the army which had gone to war] (New Hirsch Chumash, page 636)
Rav Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text” on Sefer Bamidbar (page 179) begins his Parshat summary by expressing what seems to be the paradigm chok of our opening posukim:
Parshat Chukas opens as Hashem commands Moshe and Aharon concerning the mysterious ritual of the Para Adumah (red heifer), designed to effect the purification of an individual contaminated by close proximity with a human corpse.
These opening posukim of our Parsha introduce the laws of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heffer whose ashes purify those who had become tamei (contaminated). However, in reality, the chukim of Torah; of Halachot whether regarding the Parah Adumah (the Red Heffer) and it’s purification qualities, Bassar V’Chalav (separation between meat and milk), tumah and taharah (impure or contaminated and pure), or Shatnes (not to wear fabrics with a mix of wool and linen), and even not to mix fish and meat, are but a few of the Halachot for which we don’t possess a deeper understanding and rationale. We are told that at a human level of understanding, the Chukim represent a distinction between spiritual and the mundane, Holiness vs profane. We learn that Chukim are to be accepted as expressions of faith, even though we may not understand, or possess a full understanding of them.
A few years ago, this author received by email a D’var Torah for Parshat Shelach written by a Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel which can be seen as thoughts applying to our Parshat Chukas as well, and which bear repeating. Rabbi Kaniel is Associate Director for Religious Affairs and Manager of Operations at B’Ahavat Yisrael in Israel.
R’ Kaniel writes these powerful words:
It is said about the latter day Torah luminary R. Yaakov Kamenetsky that he was very exacting in adhering to the customs of his father and teachers. A story is told that his son once inquired why he did not eat cheese on Friday, to which he responded, “Because my father did not.” When his son pressed on as to why his grandfather did not eat cheese, R. Kamenetsky replied, “Probably because his father did not.”
Just the fact that his father had a given custom was enough for R. Kamenetsky to continue that custom – whether he understood the reason or not. He relied on his father’s understanding and intelligence and accepted that as good enough reason to follow in his footsteps, even though it could be argued that he outshined his father in his level of erudition (see Yonason Rosenblum, Reb Yaakov, pp. 358 – 359).
R. Kamenetsky understood that his father was intelligent enough that if he did something, then there must have been a good reason and, even if he did not know it, it was good enough for him to accept. All the more so, should our ancestors in the desert have come to such a conclusion when it came to something related to them by Hashem Himself. Tragically, however, that was not the case. Our ancestors were tripped up by their emotions and egos in the desert and suffered the consequences.
After seeing that the people He guided and led as if on the “wings of eagles” did not exercise enough discretion to trust in Him, Hashem responded, “Have it your way.” Choosing then to follow their own thoughts and feelings rather than simply accepting the eminently thoughtful guidance of their Father in heaven brought them eventually to their “undoing,” so to speak.
Ignoring Hashem is obviously infinitely more severe, but, in each case, pitfalls can be avoided if one has the proper approach. Let us not pamper our egos or emotions at the expense of our intellects and common sense. Let us learn our lesson from the Torah and those who uphold it such as R. Kamenetsky and other Torah greats like him over the generations who showed great respect for their parents’ beings, actions and thoughts, even when they eventually outshined them. Let us not seek to have it “our way.” Let us only seek the “right way.” Let us seek proper counsel and let us truly respect that counsel. Let all of us learn to show the requisite sensitivity and respect, as well as gratitude and appreciation, to our parents and all the more so to Hashem, and may we all merit, thereby, that “your days will be lengthened” , enjoying fulfilling and thriving lives – without pitfalls that could be avoided.
So, just as R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky carried on the mesorah (traditions) of his Father and passed them on to succeeding generations based on the understanding and intelligence of his Father, and just as other Torah luminaries have carried on the traditions of their Fathers, this story of R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky accepting his Father’s tradition even as he inquired of his Father about not eating cheese on Friday, serves as a parable teaching us about acceptance of all Torah laws as Chukim — laws whose ultimate reasons are known only to Hashem.
Rabbi Moshe Weissman, in his sefer, “The Midrash Says,” writes regarding Parshat Chukas (Sefer Bamidbar, pages 245-247):
There are numerous examples of chukim…. Since they contain apparently contradictory elements, they are liable to be ridiculed by a rational thinker. The Torah advises the Jew to tell himself, It’s a chok; I have no right to question it.”
Nevertheless, chukim are not “laws without reasons”; rather their logic is Divine. The greatest among our people were able to understand some of them.
Thus the rationale behind the laws of the Para Adumah were Divinely revealed to Moshe.
On the other hand, King Shlomo, who researched the reasons behind the mitzvot and found explanations for all of the others, professed that this mitzvah was incomprehensible.
Shlomo…. confessed, “I thought I would get wisdom, but it (the mitzvah of parah adumah) is far from me. (Koheles 7:23) to appreciate his words fully…:
“And Hashem gave Shlomo very much wisdom and understanding and breadth of knowledge like the sand that is on the sea shore.” (1 Melachim 5:9)
Rabbanim and commentators, throughout the generations, have indicated that at their deepest levels, all of Halacha could be viewed as Chukim which we humans don’t fully understand at their most Divine levels.
Bearing all of the above in mind, Rav Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text”, Sefer Bamidbar on our Parshat (pages 181-185) asks and discusses fundamental questions regarding the Para Adumah — among the deepest mysteries of Torah:
What is the significance of the red heifer [Para Adumah] and why do its ashes, mixed in a solution with spring water, effect purification?
Why does the Para Adumah solution defile the pure even as it purifies the defiled?
Are we consigned to accept the ritual of the Para Adumah as a commandment without rational basis or can lessons be learned even from this “magical” Mitzvah?
Rav Goldin cites Rashi (on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 19, posuk 2):
Knowing full well that the nations of the world will challenge the Jews concerning the unfathomable laws surrounding the Para Adumah, the Torah introduces these laws with the phrase “Zot chukat HaTorah.” “This is the statue of the Torah. This is an edict decreed by Me, and you have no right to question it.”
Rav Goldin then discusses various Rabbinic opinions regarding the value of intellectual analysis regarding the chok of the Para Adumah, and of all chukim:
[There are] those authorities who insist that chukim must be viewed not only as laws beyond our comprehension but as edicts that have no individual intrinsic purpose. The primary role of these laws, as a group, is to develop man’s loyalty to Hashem through the cultivation of unquestioning obedience to His will.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are those scholars who insist that each of Hashem’s laws is uniquely purposeful and that he search for meaning within all mitzvot is not only allowed but encouraged. Man should make every effort, these authorities believe, to determine the fundamental reasons for each Mitzvah. Such study can only help us attain a more complete understanding of Hashem’s will.
Intermediate positions along the spectrum of rabbinic opinions maintain that, while every mitzvah has a reason, blind obedience to the commandments represents the highest level of relationship with the Divine. Only those unable to relate to Hashem on this elevated plane, these scholars feel, should engage in rational investigation of the mitzvot.
Even those scholars who encourage rational examination of chukim… recognize the potential dangers of such a search. Failure to determine the reason for a specific commandment, they emphasize, should never lead us to treat that mitzvah lightly. We must also recognize that any rationale that we do arrive at may or may not be accurate, given the limitations of our own intellectual abilities.
…With issues related to biblical constructs of tumah and taharah we must overcome the problems presented by the terms themselves…. No appropriate English translation exists for the Hebrew words tumah and taharah. The commonly suggested translations “pure and unpure” or “clean and unclean” carry value judgements that are not necessarily applicable.
As the rabbis focus on the core issues of the Para Adumah, their comments naturally reflect the range of opinion concerning logical analysis of the Divine law in general.
At one extreme are those scholars who not only acknowledge the inexplicable nature of the Para Adumah, but view its mystery as a commentary on the Torah as a whole.
…The Chassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev is among those who note that the Torah does not introduce the laws of Para Adumah with the statement “This is the statute of the red heifer,” but rather, “This is a statute of the Torah”: “In principle, the reasons for the Torah and its laws are hidden from mankind. Man must perform and observe [the mitzvot of] the Torah simply because Hashem commands us to perform them. The truth is hinted at in the phrase ‘this is the statute of the Torah.’ The entire Torah and its Mitzvot are to be considered by us as Chukim.” (Rav Goldin citing Kedushat Levi, Bamidbar, Chukas)
Another Chassidic master, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, goes a major step further, maintaining that “belief does not require the concurrence [per dictionary.com: accordance in opinion; agreement] of rational interpretation. Instead, rational interpretation requires concurrence of belief.” To support this point, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech notes that the Talmud uses a Torah phrase to prove that an object with a three-cubit circumference also possesses, by definition, a width of one cubit. At face value, this Talmudic exercise seems superfluous. Why should a fact easily verified by physical measurement require scriptual proof? Because, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech argues, the Torah does not require logical support. Logic, however, requires the support of the Torah. ((Rav Goldin citing Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, as quoted in Nachshoni, Hagot B’Parshiot HaTorah, Volume 2, page 644)
….Other scholars struggle to find rational meaning in this strange ritual.
The Artscroll, “Stone Chumash”, in its commentary at the beginning of our Parsha (Perek 19, page 838) explains:
It is axiomatic… that since all of the laws of Torah are the products of Hashem’s intelligence, any human inability to comprehend them indicates the limitation of the student, not the Teacher. As the Sages expressed it, there is nothing meaningless or purposeless in the Torah, and if it seems so, it is only a product of our own deficiency. (Rambam)
The placement in Torah of the Parah Adumah, and its qualities of purification from tumah, in our Parsha Chukas raises questions as to why it and it’s Halachot are mentioned here in our Parsha; only after the Affair of the Spies, Korach’s rebellion and after the continued murmuring of the Am against Moshe Rabbeinu, after the plague which killed thousands only ending with Aaron’s carrying an incense pan amongst the people (upon Moshe’s instruction), and after the story of the rods.
“Rabbi Artscroll” presents one answer to the “why” of Torah’s placement of the Parah Adumah with a brief commentary in The Stone Chumash ( Artscroll, “Stone Chumash”, Parsha Chukat, Perek 19, posuk 3, page 839) on the words at the beginning of our Parsha:
“…Speak to the B’nai Yisrael, and they shall take to you a completely red cow, which is without blemish, and upon which a yoke has not come.’”
The answer speaks of the symbolism of the Parah Adumah (the Red Heiffer) coming to atone for the sin of the Eigel Zahav (the Golden Calf) “… as if to say let the Mother come and clean up the mess left by her child…”
The Artscroll, “Stone Chumash”, in its commentary at the beginning of our Parsha (Perek 19, page 838) notes:
…The Torah states that it [the Parah Adumah] is a decree of the One Who gave the Torah, and it is not for anyone to question it. (Rashi)
Back in Philadelphia, in the “Old Country”, Rav Moshe Ungar would render a similar explanation to the Stone Chumash: that the phenomenon of the Parah Adumah as a Tikkun given B’nai Yisrael after the Eigel Zahav was to be an eternal rectification of the tumah, the defilement of the Eigel Zahav. In other words, the Tikkun only later revealed in Parsha Chukat, tells us that, like a doctor treating an ill patient, that the remedy for illness generally precedes the illness itself; that the means of rectification of a Chet precedes the Chet itself.
We have seen the adage of the remedy preceding the illness itself play out throughout our history; that the means, or potential, for rectification or salvation of B’nai Yisrael precedes the Chet or danger itself, as with Esther HaMalka in place, and Mordechai’s foiling of the poison plot against the king written in the annals prior to Haman’s evil plot against the Jews.
The existent remedies brought about Haman’s downfall and hanging and the salvation of B’nai Yisrael.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nearly five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.