Chukas 2005

The Parsha begins this week with the classic statement “Zos Chukas Halsrah” This is the decree of the Torah. The Torah proceeds to describe to us the laws of the red heifer. The ashes of this heifer were used to purify any person who had become ritually impure by becoming defiled to a dead body.

The fact that the Torah is calling this procedure a “chok” a decree is understandable. We don’t know how these ashes purify a person. More than that, the red heifer has the unique characteristic that the one who sprinkles its ashes becomes ritually impure, while those who it was sprinkled upon, who had been ritually impure, become pure.

What is strange, however, is the word after the Torah calls this a chok. Why is this law referred to as the “chok (decree) of the Torah?” This is certainly not the only decree of the Torah? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to call this the “decree of purity”, or “decree of the heifer”?

The Ohr Hachaim explains that when one observes the law of the red heifer, although we don’t know its reason, he or she is considered as if they had kept the entire Torah. Why is this? What is so powerful about this mitzvah?

The Torah examines the motivation behind observing a commandment. We have two types of commandments: a chok and decree for which we don’t know the reason, and a Mishpat- a commandment for which the reason is easily understood. For example, honoring parents is a mishpat; not wearing mixtures of wool and linen together is a chok. When one observes a mishpat, there is not a clear indication of a commitment to observe the whole Torah, perhaps only the particular commandment that one understands it being observed. This only shows commitment to do what I think is right. When a chok, however is being observed, there is no other reason for one to be doing this. Observing a chok is a sign of commitment to keep the entire Torah-to do the will of Hashem, whether we understand it or not.