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Parshat Chukas - Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1 - 22:1

Is Understanding a Prerequisite to Obedience?

by Shmuel ben Shlomi

There is a lot going on in this parsha which, in as few as three chapters, covers events that take place over a period of nearly forty years. The death of prominent leaders of the nation, wars, battles, victories, defeats, snake infestations and so much more … forty years crammed compactly into a few verses.

The very first thing covered in Chukas is something that is literally beyond human comprehension — The law concerning the Red Heifer (Cow).

This law is one of the primary laws and decrees of absolute necessity, and is totally outside of human logic or rationality; but one, according to Rashi, that is not to be questioned. Our sages all agree that this law is purely a product of HaShem’s Divine intelligence and outside the realm of human understanding.

The Law of the Ashes of the Red Heifer is one that is to be fully obeyed without the need or ability to ever fully understand its deeper eternal significance or purpose.

Of the Law of the Ashes of the Red Heifer, R. Yochanan stated,”It is not the corpse that causes contamination or the ashes of the cow that causes purity. These laws are decrees of HaShem, and man has no right to question them.”

Even wise King Solomon recognized the limits of human reason when it comes to certain decrees and laws of HaShem admitting that:

“All this I tested by wisdom, saying, ‘I resolve to be wise.’ But it was beyond me. What exists is out of reach and very deep. Who can fathom it?” (Ecclesiastes 7:23)

While the process for the ritual of the Ashes of the Red Cow are explained by HaShem to Moshe and the kohanim, the why and mystery of it all is never fully revealed.

Over the centuries our Sages of Blessed Memory have come to regard the Red Heifer as a symbol of spiritual atonement for Israel’s great past transgression of creating the image and then the worship of that image, The Golden Calf, during Moshe’s absence on Mount Sinai when he was receiving the Torah from Adonai Eloheynu.

There is so much more in this parsha. Miriam and Aharon die. Moshe strikes a rock with his staff instead of speaking to it causing him to be forbidden entrance into the Land of Promise — Eretz Israel. This act of striking the rock is looked at very closely by Rabbi Manis Friedman. Click the link below for his profound insight into this event found in this week’s parsha. LINK: “Moses Hit the Rock: The Whole Story Doesn’t Make Sense — Until Now!

Until next time — Shalom!

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