May 15, 2024
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May 15, 2024
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“Because I said so…” The words we hated hearing growing up, and swore we’d never say to our kids… and yet, somehow, during moments of weakness, we do so anyway.

Fundamentally, we realize that being told to act in a certain way without an explanation is extremely challenging. Our instinct is to refuse, or at least argue with, such a request. That is why we hated that phrase as kids and resolved never to use it as parents.

And yet, in this week’s parsha, we are confronted with what seems to be an example of God telling us to a mitzvah “because I said so.”

Mitzvot can typically be divided into two categories. Mishpatim are commandments that are logical in nature- such as the prohibition to kill or steal. In contrast, chukim are mitzvot whose reasons are not intuitive, such as kashrut or sha’atnez.

Perhaps the most well-known chok is the mitzvah of parah adumah. Any person who becomes impure through contact with a dead person or animal must go through a seven-day purification process, during which he is sprinkled with the ashes of the parah. Our parsha introduces this mitzvah with the phrase: “zot chukat haTorah—this is the ‘chok’ of the Torah,” implying that the Parah Adumah is the quintessential chok, the hardest to understand.

Given the above raised frustrations we naturally feel when we receive instructions without explanation, why would Hashem command us to do mitzvot that we don’t understand?

This question is compounded by the opinion of Rashi. In a few places, Rashi describes chukim as “a decree from the king, and we have no permission to challenge them.” According to this position, not only are chukim beyond our comprehension, but we also aren’t even meant to try to understand them, rather to observe them as heavenly decrees, without question!

In essence, God is telling us to do these mitzvot “because He said so1” Why would He command them in such a way?

Rashi in Megilla 25a explains that the purpose of chukim is “to show that we are His servants, and that we obey His commandments.” One of the ways that we relate to Hashem is as our King. When a King decrees, his servants obey, without question. In order to develop this submission to Hashem’s authority, He commands us to do certain mitzvot that make no sense to us. When we do these mitzvot regardless, we concretize our complete deference to Hashem as our King and Ruler.

In summary, there is great reason for God to command us to do mitzvot “because He said so!”

Given the critical role that chukim play in establishing Hashem’s authority over us, we might be tempted to require similar obedience from our children. After all, there is a clear hierarchy between parents and children; children are meant to view their parents as authority figures. And yet, we must realize that our relationship with our kids is fundamentally different from the relationship between God and Man. As parents, our role as an authority figures stems from the fact that we have more life experience to share, and a deeper understanding of what is good for the child and what is detrimental. This is why the authority that we have over our children wanes as they get older, because as they gain more knowledge and life experience, they become more equipped to make their own decisions. We will always be their parents, and a certain level of kavod and yirah will always be appropriate and commanded, but our role as authorities over them fades.

Therefore, even at times when we do function as authorities over our children, we should recognize that our relationship with them is fundamentally different from our relationship with Hashem. We are not looking—at least we should not be looking—for our children to submit themselves to our authority, to obey us without understanding. Rather, we should strive to cultivate a relationship based on communication, trust and respect. We should communicate to our children the reasons for any rules we place on them, or any expectations we have of them. We must also create space for a genuine conversation surrounding these standards or expectations. Ultimately, they may not agree with our decisions, but, at least, they will appreciate that our conclusions are based on sound logic and reasoning, rather than arbitrary whims.

There may be moments, where we don’t have time to explain ourselves to our children, or where a proper explanation is beyond comprehension at their age. During those moments, when challenged, we may be tempted to simply respond, “because I said so,” in order to assert our authority, and save time and mental energy. Yet even then, a better reaction would be to explain that said rules are for their own well-being and benefit, even if they don’t fully understand it. Such a response relays a message of love and care, rather than authority and power.

Our relationship with God is multi-faceted. Among many other roles, He is both our Father and our King. Our mitzvot are fashioned to highlight both of these roles in our own lives. Chukim are specifically designed to highlight our relationship with Hashem as our King, by tasking us to submit ourselves to His authority. At the same time, as parents, our relationship with our children is totally different—and we should, therefore, strive to avoid asking them to listen to us simply “because we said so.”

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!

Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and placement advisor/internship coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at: [email protected]

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