Parashas Chukas

This week’s parashah begins with an account of the law of the red heifer, a classic example of a chok – a Torah law whose rationale is hidden from us, and which we must simply accept as a Divine edict. It is written at the beginning of the parashah (Bamidbar 19:2): “This is the law (chok) of the Torah, that Hashem commanded, saying ….” The Midrash relates (Bamibar Rabbah 19:1): “Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: ‘I have legislated a statute and issued a decree – and you are not permitted to contravene My decree.’” The Maggid offers several commentaries on this topic. We previously presented some of these commentaries; we now present another one.
The Maggid brings out the idea with a parable. A certain uncouth commoner had exceptional success in business, and became rich. Because he was so wealthy, he decided to propose a match between his daughter and the son of the local chief rabbi. He called in the matchmaker and asked him to suggest the match to the rabbi, promising the matchmaker a handsome fee if he succeeded in arranging the match. The matchmaker went to the rabbi’s house and discussed the match with him. Initially, the rabbi considered the proposal extremely far-fetched, for he never even spoke with men so lowly. But eventually the matchmaker succeeded, with his smooth tongue, in convincing the rabbi to accept the proposal. In the days following the wedding, the commoner noticed that the rabbi did not talk to him at all, and he was very surprised. He expressed his wonder to his friends: “How could such a thing happen, that the parents of a married couple become so estranged from each other that the husband’s father refuses to talk to the wife’s father?” Word got to the rabbi of what his new daughter-in-law’s father had said. He sent a messenger to the man, instructing the messenger to explain his conduct as follows: “He is looking at the situation the wrong way. He thinks that the match is appropriate from the standpoint of both sides, and he therefore is puzzled that I do not chat genially with him. In truth, it is the other way around. It is quite fitting that I do not talk with him. What could I possibly have to do with such a coarse person? He should instead be puzzled over why I agreed to the match in the first place, for this is truly something to wonder about.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem forged a bond with lowly, mortal man, and gave him His treasured Torah. A Jew may find, as he reads the Torah, that it contains laws he does not understand, and be surprised by this state of affairs. He may wonder: “Why doesn’t Hashem explain all these laws clearly, rather than leaving them as riddles?” But he is looking at the situation the wrong way. He thinks the relationship he has with Hashem is appropriate from the standpoint of both sides. He therefore is puzzled over why Hashem declines to explain the Torah’s laws in a way that enables us to understand them fully. But the truth is just the opposite. Hashem’s ways are beyond us. We should not be puzzled by the fact that He does not explain all His ways to us, but rather by the fact that He formed a relationship with us, for this is a true enigma.
Thus it is written: “This is the law (chok) of the Torah, that Hashem commanded, saying ….” It is a chok – an inscrutable mystery – that Hashem decided in the first place to transmit commands to us. What merit do we mortals have, that we should be given Hashem’s Torah, that this precious guidebook should be handed to us? We thus have no right to scrutinize Hashem’s commands and insist on reasons for them; instead, we should simply accept them.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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