Parshat Chukas 5780: The Mystery of the Ritual of the Para Adumah

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Chukat is being sponsored by Dov and Bracha Moses of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for a refuah shleima for Rachel bat Chaya Perel, Shmuel ben Rivka and Avraham ben Rivka. To the Moses family, many thanks for your sponsorship and continued kindness.

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 (or as the case may be, co-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.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
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Parshat Chukas 5780: The Mystery of the Ritual of the Para Adumah

by Moshe Burt

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 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.

Rabbi Goldin now provides questions and discussion regarding the mystery surrounding purifying the defiled and defiling the pure which occurs during the ritual of the Para Adumah (ibid, pages 181-182, 184-185):

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?

Rabbi Yitzchak Arama… lists various possible approaches to Mitzvot, in general, including the approach of rational search. He concludes, however, that the highest level of Torah observance is reflected in Rabbi Yochanan’s response to his students concerning the Red Heifer: “By your lives, the dead do not defile and the waters [of the Red Heifer] do not purify. Rather, the Holy One, Blessed Be He has decreed ‘I have forged a statute and enacted a decree and you have no right to transgress My Decree.'”

….The very inclusion of Chukim in the panoply of Mitzvot, Rabbi Arama argues, is designed to convey this lesson and to apply it to the entire Torah. Just as we observe Chukim without comprehending them, soo to, we should observe all Mitzvot, even those we think we understand, specifically because we are so commanded by Hashem and not on the basis of any supposed rationale. (Rabbi Goldin citing Akeidat Yitzchak, Sefer Bamidbar, sha’ar 99)

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 the 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 and observe them. This 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.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Kedushat Levi, Sefer Bamidbar, Parshat Chukat)

Another Chassidic master, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, goes a major step further, maintaining that “belief does not require the concurrence [per 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 scriptural 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)

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 188):

No scholarly exercise within our tradition more clearly showcases the relationship of the Jews to the totality of Torah law than our age-old, continued struggle with the ritual of Para Adumah.

Both those who accept this mysterious rite with blind obedience and those who strive to pierce its mysteries view this difficult section of Torah text as relevant to our lives, transmitting lessons concerning our relationship with Hashem, our world and ourselves.

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 thrice 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, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half 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!!!

Chodesh Tov and Good Shabbos!
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.