Parshat Chukas 5782: Another Take on Comprehending Chukim

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Chukat is being sponsored by Matis and Marla Sklar of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated Lilui Nishmas the first Yahrtzeit of Matis’ mother Devorah bas Yisroel. To the Sklar 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
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Chukas 5782: Another Take on Comprehending Chukim

by Moshe Burt

The first words of the second posuk of our Parshat read:

“Zot Chukat HaTorah…” “This is the decree of the Torah…” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 19, posuk 2 rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash)

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides context on this posuk in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text, Sefer Bamidbar (page 181):

With the [above] phrase… Hashem introduces the laws surrounding the purifying ritual of the Para Adumah, the red heifer.

Rabbi Goldin now presents comments from the Rabbis concerning “logical analysis of Divine law in general:” (ibid, pages 184-185):

Rabbi Yitzchak Arama… concludes, …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.'”

Blind obedience to Hashem’s law without the need for rational explanation represents the pinnacle of religious devotion. The very inclusion of Chukim in the panoply [per a wide-ranging and impressive array or display] 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)

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.

This author relates to Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky’s not eating cheese on Friday. Growing up, this author heard that certain non-Jews refrained from eating meat on Fridays. Upon reading of Rav Yaakov’s following his father’s custom of not eating cheese on Friday, it seems to this author that the custom of Jews was to be contrary to the non-Jew — to show our difference, our distinction from the non-Jew. If the non-Jew did not eat meat on Friday, but ate cheese, i.e. dairy, than the Jews would eat meat, and not cheese on Friday.

We return to the words of Rabbi Shmuel Goldin who writes regarding Parshat Korach, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Bamidbar (pages 149-151):

In a powerful exposition by Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, the Rav maintains that Korach’s rebellion is best perceived as “a ‘common sense’ rebellion against Torah authority” — an attack on Torah law based on man’s limited logic.

The Rav explains that Korach’s error lies in his failure to appreciate the two levels of intelligence involved in the application of Torah law. While the path of Halacha is partly guided by da’at, basic intelligence and practical judgement, it’s primary determinant is chochma, specialized knowledge and scholarship. The primacy of chochma in the determination of law, says the Rav, rises out of another basic truth. While inner religious experience is a critical component of Judaism’s religious practice, the concrete act of a Mitzvah’s performance is primary. The Divinely inspired Mitzvot have intrinsic value, independent of their effect upon those who perform them. The development of these Mitzvot, therefore cannot be left to the subjective common sense of “everyman.” Only those possessing chochma — trained in the intricacies of Torah Halachic thought and scholarship — can determine the path of the law.

What we learn in our Parshat Chukat seems to this author to relate with Rav Soloveichik’s definition of “chochma:” specialized knowledge and scholarship. Chukim are to be accepted as expressions of faith, even though we may not understand, or possess a full understanding of them. Not being a great scholar, this “chochma,” as the Rav explains it, seems to this author to be one’s striving for the deeper meaning of Halacha, although man may never reach the ultimate level of Hashem’s Divine reasoning for the formation of the Chukim — the body of Halacha.

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, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he is now in his second year at home in Eretz Yisrael. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May 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 seven 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. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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.