June 20, 2024
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“This is the statute of the Torah that the Lord commanded, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and they shall bring to You a perfectly red unblemished heifer, upon which no yoke was laid” (Num. 19:2).

The opening commandment of this parsha, to bring an unblemished red heifer in order to purify an impure person, is a mystery. The introduction to this commandment tells us that this is a “chok,” or statute, a law that has no reason. Unlike other logical and understandable ones, we are told that this commandment is beyond reason and we should not search for any.

For generations, our sages and philosophers have discussed the reasons for both the obvious commandments and those with hidden meanings in a determined effort to understand them. Some questioned whether humans should even try to understand everything.

Maimonides writes: “It is appropriate for a person to meditate on the judgments of the holy Torah and know their ultimate purpose according to his capacity. If he cannot find a reason or a motivating rationale for a practice, he should not regard it lightly. Nor should he break through to ascend to God, lest God burst forth against him.”

Yes, we are given a challenge to learn as much as we possibly can, to search deeply for reasons, and to try and fathom the difficult-to-understand statutes, but we have to know when to stop. We are specifically warned not to belittle the value of those commandments that we cannot explain to ourselves: “He should not regard it lightly.”

Some things will always remain hidden, and we will never understand them.

We also find in this week’s parsha the following pasuk:

“And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and an abundance of water gushed forth, and the congregation drank as did their livestock.” (Num. 20:11)

For hundreds of years our commentators have been trying to understand what the big deal was about how the water came out of the rock. What difference is it if he hit the rock instead of talking to it—the main thing was that water gushed forth! For this, Moses was punished and could not enter the Land of Israel? Why did this mistake cause such a harsh reaction? It seems that this incident is meant to teach us something important about leadership, the people, and the entry into the Land of Israel. Also, it seems that the water is a metaphor for the Torah.

Rabbi Eliyahu Blumenzweig, the head of the Hesder Yeshiva in Yerucham, explains: In life a person often comes up against a “rock,” a wall that blocks your way and does not let you by. What now? You can hit it, but if you really want to get through to the inner strengths, to allow the water stored in the rock to flow out, then you have to speak. Your task is to speak, to explain, to convince, and to forge a connection. This is a more mature style of leadership. The Jewish people are about to enter the Land of Israel. The way to lead them is about to change and hitting is no longer of any avail. The same principle applies in our lives. The best way to lead is through education and explanation. We may see a stumbling block ahead of us, but living water stands right behind it. The way to access it is by using the correct language, not by hitting.

The two above ideas can be connected. We learn from the “chukim,” the statutes, that there are some laws we will never understand but that doesn’t exempt us from trying to delve deeper, teach and pass on to others that which can be understood, in the best communicative and gentle way possible.


Sivan Rahav Meir is the World Mizrachi scholar-in-residence and an Israeli journalist and lecturer.

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