Para 2006

This week we read a special maftir at the end of the weekly Torah portion, called Parshas Para. Parshas Para tells us of the law of the Para Adumah - the red heifer. During the times of the Temple, before Passover, all Jews who were ritually impure had to purify themselves in order to bring the Paschal lamb. Who was considered ritually impure? What had to be done to purify them?

Any person who came into contact with a dead body could not enter the Temple or eat from a sacrifice (including the Paschal lamb) without going through a special purification process. This process involved sprinkling the ashes of a red heifer onto the person who had become ritually impure. This law is called a chok – a decree, for which we know no apparent reason.

When the Torah gives the instructions for this commandment, it says Zos Chukas Hatorah – this is the decree of the Torah. Why is the introduction for this commandment given calling this the chok of the Torah? Wouldn’t it be more correct to call it the chok of the Tumah (impurity) or of the Tahara (purity)? The Torah contains many decrees! Why is this introduced as the chok of the Torah?

The law of the red heifer stands as an example of a law that not only makes no sense, it actually seems to be contradictory. The person who the ashes are sprinkled upon becomes pure; the person who sprinkles the ashes becomes impure; This represents a total decree, with no apparent logic for us to understand.

When a person observes a commandment, that doesn’t automatically prove their loyalty to Hashem. Perhaps they think that this particular commandment is meaningful, is significant, or has some special value. When it comes to a different mitzvah whose logic they don’t understand, they may decide to just leave it, or to ignore it. When a person observes a commandment with absolutely no understanding of why we are told to do so, but purely because Hashem has instructed us to do so, that is a true sign of loyalty to Hashem; that is a chok Hatorah – a chok that shows loyalty to the entire Torah. Certainly Hashem has a reason for every commandment that He has given us. The reality that we are human beings with human intellect, who can’t pretend to outsmart our Creator is something we must recognize. Whether I personally like the laws of Shabbos, appreciate what it means to keep kosher, or care enough to practice kindness – ultimately I must observe the commandments that He has given us. This recognition is the beauty contained in the chok of the Torah.