Parashas Chukas, Part 2

The Midrash relates that Shlomo HaMelech tried to discern the reason behind the mitzvah of the red heifer, but was unable to do so (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:3). The Midrash links Shlomo’s unsuccessful quest with the following passage (Koheles 7:23-24): “All this I probed with wisdom; I thought I would become enlightened, but it is far from me. It is as far as before: It is very deep – who can discover it?” [The phrase “it is as far as before” is a homiletical rendering of the Hebrew phrase rachok mah shehayah, which literally means “that which existed is beyond grasp.”] The Maggid compares Shlomo’s investigation to someone who attempts to travel by foot to the end of the world. No matter how far he travels, he never gets significantly closer to his destination than he was when he started – it remains essentially as far from him as before.
The Maggid elaborates further on why Hashem withheld from Shlomo an understanding of this mitzvah. He brings out the point with a clever parable. In a certain major city there was a large and splendid inn, the front door of which bore a sign saying that the inn provided any sort of food and drink that anyone could want. A traveler entered this inn and ordered venison. The innkeeper told him: “I am sorry, but we don’t have venison.” The visitor exclaimed: “But the sign on your front door says you offer food and drink of all types!” The innkeeper replied: “True. But recently a government order was issued not to eat venison. So there is no point for me to stock it, since no one will ask for it.”
The parallel is as follows. In Melachim Aleph 5:9 it is written that Hashem granted Shlomo wisdom “like the sand of the sea.” The Midrash we quoted above, Bamidbar Rabbah 19:3, explains that Shlomo was granted wisdom in correspondence with the entire Jewish People, who are compared to the sand of the sea (Hoshea 2:1). The meaning of this, says the Maggid, is that Shlomo was granted all the wisdom needed to be able to answer any question that any Jew would ask him. But the Torah proclaims the mitzvah of the red heifer to be a chok – a statute that we must accept without seeking its reason. Hence no Jew would think to ask about the reason for this mitzvah. And so there was no need for Hashem to reveal the reason to Shlomo, for he would never be faced with a question about it.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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