Parashas Chukas

This week’s parashah begins with the law of the red heifer, a classic example of a chok – a Torah law whose reason is hidden from us, and which we must simply accept as a Divine edict. The Torah introduces the topic by stating (Bamidbar 19:2): “This is the law (chok) of the Torah, that Hashem commanded, saying ….” The Maggid brings out a key lesson about the chukim.
If we were sufficiently discerning, we would understand the benefit behind the Torah’s directives and would readily adopt them. Just as the body keenly recognizes what is good for it and what causes it harm, so, too, the man whose heart is pure and attuned to matters of the soul is acutely aware of what is good for his soul and what harms it. This is why Hashem did not present the Torah to our forefathers as a mandate that they must follow – the holy forefathers, in their profound spiritual understanding, knew on their own what they needed to do to care for their souls. They kept the Torah’s laws without a direct mandate from Hashem because they understood how these practices were essential to their spiritual well-being.
In later generations, however, we were not as wise and pure of heart, and therefore were less aware of the regimen required to care for our souls. Some of the Torah’s laws we could grasp on our own, such as the prohibition against theft and the like. Other laws we could not possibly have come up with ourselves – laws such as tzitzis, tefillin, mezuzah, lulav, and so on. Accordingly, Hashem saw that the time had come for Him to tell us what to do, and so He gave us the Torah. As David HaMelech puts it (Tehillim 119:130), Hashem’s Torah provides light to guide simpletons. Hashem’s giving us the Torah is like a doctor giving his patient instructions. Although Hashem presented the Torah to us as a set of edicts, we should realize that they are for our own good.
In this vein, it is written (Iyov 28:27): “Then He saw it [wisdom] and recorded it; He prepared it and probed it.” The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 40:1): “Then He saw it and recorded it – at Sinai. He prepared it – at the Tent of Meeting. And probed it – at the plains of Moav [where Moshe reviewed the Torah in depth before the Jewish People].” The passage in Iyov continues (Iyov 28:28): “And unto man He said: ‘Behold, the fear of Hashem is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” Although we accepted Hashem’s Torah out of great terror, for Hashem held Mount Sinai over us like a barrel (Shabbos 88a), in truth the fear of Hashem is wisdom – simple common sense dictates that we fear Hashem, follow His directives, and turn away from what He tells us is evil. We should not view the chukim as an aberration. On the contrary, were it not for the chukim, Hashem would not have needed to give us the Torah, and thus the chukim represent the Torah’s very essence.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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