But Rabbi, Why Is it So?
Parshas Chukas By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber
The beginning of this week’s Torah reading discusses the laws of the Red Heifer. One who became impure from a deceased person, must be sprinkled with water mixed with ashes of the burnt Red Heifer in order to be rendered pure again. This procedure seems mystical and unexplainable. What do the ashes of a burnt cow mixed with water have to do with purity? In addition, ironically, while the person who is sprinkled by these waters is rendered pure, the person who did the sprinkling becomes himself impure (albeit not at the same level of impurity as the one being sprinkled.) This Mitzvah (commandment of God) does not seem to resonate well with logic. In fact, this is precisely why the Torah introduces this Mitzvah with the words, “This is “Chukas HaTorah,” the law of the Torah that God commanded [to Moses] to say.” Rashi explains that this introduction is meant to stress the following: This commandment is incomprehensible by the human mind. And although we will be challenged by others about keeping such a commandment, nonetheless we must follow its laws. It is the decree of God, and we have no right to second-guess its validity.
This concept is not limited to this particular Mitzvah. The Talmud says (Brachos 33b), “One who says [in prayer], “[You are so merciful as] you have mercy even on the bird’s nests,” should be shushed, because he is making the measures of God seem to be those of mercy, while in reality they are only His decrees.” Rashi explains that the man in prayer is referring to the Mitzvah of Shiluach Haken. One who wishes to take eggs from a nest, must first shoo away the mother bird as so to not pain her by the sight of her offspring being confiscated from her. The reason why this kind of prayer is out of line, explains Rashi, is because this kind of language makes it sound as if this commandment of God was given to us in order to “assist Him” in carrying out His mercy. However, this perception is a distortion of the true theme behind the Mitzvos. All of God’s commandments, whether we understand them or not, were given to us to prove our loyalty, by serving him and obeying His orders. Just as we must follow even those decrees which we cannot understand, so too, Mitzvos that are easily understood were given to us to perform for the sake of serving God by adhering to His word alone, without any other agendas.
Rabbi B. was once shopping in a mall, and a lady working behind the counter asked him, “Are you a rabbi?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“Could I ask you a question?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said.
“Why are we not allowed to eat meat together with milk?”
“That is a very good question!” exclaimed the rabbi.
“I know,” said the lady, “I have asked this question to many rabbis, and no one knew the answer.”
“Well I know the answer.” pronounced the rabbi,
“Lean over the counter, turn your head to the right [so that her ear would be opposite his mouth] and listen carefully.”
The woman complied and the rabbi gave her the answer, “Because God Himself said so!”
It took a moment for her to digest what he said, but the message hit home and she said, “Thank you, Rabbi. That is a very good answer.”
This is an adjustment that we all need to make in our minds. Naturally, without even being conscious of it, we tend to attribute various levels of value to our different responsibilities. We can find ourselves putting more emphasis on a particular Mitzvah more than another, based on how meaningful they are to us. We might even choose to be lax in a particular area, because we fail to see the significance of a certain Mitzvah. We must realize that our obligation to do what’s right is not dependent on our personal understanding of the meaning behind them. Whether a Mitzvah resonates well with us or not, we are just as obligated to fulfill it. For we are all subjects of the Great King, and we must follow all of His instructions – “Because God Himself said so.”