Understanding the Law
The halachos (laws) of the Parah Adumah (the Red Cow) are introduced to us
as a ‘chukim’, the type of mitzvah whose reason is hidden from our
understanding. The Parah Adumah is often used as the defining example of a
chok. In fact, Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men, alluded to the
difficulty in understanding these halachos with the stirring
words, “Amarti achkimah, v’hi rechokah memeni; I thought I could become
wise, but it is beyond me.” (Koheles 7:23).
One of the aspects of the Parah Adumah that is difficult to understand is
the fact that it is ‘metaher temeim and metamei tehorim’ (purifies those
who are ritually impure, while making tamei those involved in the process
of taharah). However, aside from this particular halachic component of the
Parah Adumah, there is a great deal that we do understand about the Parah
Rashi (Bamidbar 19:22) quoting the Midrash, explains that the Parah (a
fully-grown cow) was offered to repent for the egel hazhav (which was a
calf); similar to a mother who was called into a palace to remove stains
left by her child. Rashi (19:22) offers additional insight into several
aspects of the Parah Adumah.
* The Jews needed to contribute to the cost of the Parah to do
teshuvah for the fact that they eagerly rushed forward to donate their
jewelry when the egel was formed.
* The Parah was red to remind the Jews of their sin (see Yeshaya 1:18)
* The Jews removed the ‘yoke of Hashem’ when serving the egel;
therefore the Parah was not permitted to have ever been under a yoke (see
Rashi and Midrash for other pointers)
WHY, THEN THE TERM ‘CHOK’?
The Beis Halevi points out these comments of Rashi and wonders why, then,
is the Parah Adumah listed as the quintessential ‘chok’? We have a clear
message that the Parah is being offered as repentance for the Egel. That
is quite logical. Why is this mizvah listed as a ‘chok’?
He follows this with a more powerful question. Why does it say a general
term, “Zos chukkas HaTorah; this is a chok of the Torah (Bamidbar 19:2)?”
It should say that this is the chok of the Parah Adumah? The general term
chukkas haTorah seems to imply that this is the chok of all of the Torah.
What is the deeper meaning behind the Parah Adumah, and why does it occupy
such a prominent role as the defining chok of the Torah, he asks.
A PROFOUND MESSAGE
The Beis Halevi answers these questions by offering a profound
understanding of Hashem’s mitzvos – His legacy to the B’nei Yisroel.
Hashem created the world – the heavens and the earth. Each mitzvah that a
Jew performs brings meaning to Hashem’s world and fulfillment to creation.
What if one could understand the workings of Hashem, asks the Beis Halevi?
Could he construct his own mitzvos? Surely not!! The Beis Halevi maintains
that this type of flawed thinking resulted in the sin of the egel. When
the Jews thought that Moshe did not return from Heaven, they wished to
create their own intermediary to Him – with tragic results. Their goal was
well-intentioned, but their desire to create their own intermediary
resulted in many other deviations from the path of Hashem.
REPENTING – AND GROWING
Therefore, the perfect teshuvah (repentance) for the egel, which resulted
from well-intentioned deviation from the commands of Hashem, was for the
Jews to perform a mitzvah whose reasons are so hidden from us. The Beis
Halevi points out that all the comments of the Midrash note similarities
of the Parah Adumah to the egel – but do not offer us insight into the
This is perhaps what Shlomo Hamelech alluded to. “I wished to become wise
(and understand the meaning of the mitzvos), but it is beyond me.” Shlomo
realized from the example of the parah adumah and its connection to the
sin of the egel, that although we can and should delve into the meaning of
the mitzvos, we can never think that we are able to tinker with their
This would explain the phrase “Zos chukah haTorah” – for in fact, this is
an overarching theme of the entire Torah. We accept all the mitzvos of
Hashem – some are understood on some levels, and some are hidden from us.
All must be followed as we seek to become worthy of our role as Hashem’s
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Torah.org.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.