Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger
Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger

Chukas: It is all in the Attitude

The seeming extraneous phrase which opens the parsha of parah aduma, "This is the 'chok' of the Torah" has become the intimidating gatekeeper for all attempts to explain this and similar mitzvos which defy human understanding. That introductory phrase according to Rashi, is intended to discourage all attempts at apologia regarding the parsha of parah adumah, even in response to the teasing of other nationals. Thus Rashi's comment on the pasuk reads, "Because the Satan and the nations of the world aggravate us saying what is this mitzvah and what is its reason, therefore [the Torah] wrote in this parsha "chuka" [to say] it is my decree and you do not have permission to question it". Apparently this category of mitzvos observed despite our inability to see its meaning, serves to strengthen our absolute allegiance to carrying out Hashem's will.

That is why it is so surprising to find but twenty two pesukim later that Rashi quotes many an insight tucked away in the parah adumah requirements, and gleaned from the writings of Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan. In this collection of short remarks, Rashi does not refrain from relating the parah adumah to the chet haegel and interpreting every detail from the involvement of Elazar Hakohen to the burning of the grasses, wood and red thread to the perfect redness of parah itself. Why did Rashi cast off the warning of the very first pasuk not to intellectually pursue or curiously peruse?

Reading the medrash quoted by Rashi carefully, one could fairly conclude that explaining the chukim of Torah is censured only when it finds its energy and encouragement from without. If we delve into the depths of a "chok' only due to the ridicule of others or even the "satan within us" - the anxiety that arises from expectations molded by contemporary culture and superficial spirituality - then indeed the intellectual journey is discouraged from the outset. However if one is driven and assured by the belief in the unending depths of Hahem's word that study will allow one to catch sparks of insight and inspiration, then perusing the incomprehensible becomes a refreshened and reenacted personal "Na'aseh venishma".

This distinction unlocks a puzzling discussion that takes place between Rabbi Yochanan and his students after a non Jew questioned the master regarding the parah aduma. Articulating that which is in the hearts of many a serious student he said, "That which you do, burning a cow, grinding its ashes, processing them, sprinkling two three drops and proclaiming one who is tameh as tahor, looks like magic." The master curtly responded, "No. Not magic, rather a "segulah" to chase away tumah ." Thereupon the students asked their teacher, "The gentile - you blew him away - but what are you going to explain to us?" To which Rabbi Yochanan responded, "Hashem said. 'I decreed and you cannot violate my decrees'". Here too it may be said that the students' curiosity had been piqued by the critical remarks of an outsider and thus were denied significant attention.

How different Rabbi Yochanan's response may have been had the students turned to him out of the unabating trust in the depths of every minutiae of Hashem's wisdom!

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