Birth and death are truly the great mysteries of life. Regardless of how
advanced our scientific and medical knowledge, the secret of life remains
a secret. We can initiate the process of life and we can end it. We can
with increasing frequency help a struggling or damaged life to heal and
become viable. In the last 50 years science has unlocked more technical
aspects of the life process than ever before in human history. Yet, the
granting and taking of life is as mysterious as ever before. It is the
ultimate “Chok” (decree).
Immediately following Korach’s rebellion and soon after the disaster of
the Miraglim (spies), the Torah focused on the laws of the Parah Adumah
(Red Heifer). Classified as the quintessential Chok, the Red Heifer
confounds rational understanding as to the manner of its efficacy. Rashi
(19:2) quotes the Medresh Tanchumah, (G-d states) “It is a decree before
me and you do not have permission to question it.” The message is clear,
whether we understand or not, whether we think we understand or not, the
entire Torah, not just the Parah Adumah is a decree that we must accept
The fact is that our obligation to do G-d’s commandments is mandated
solely on the basis that we believe that G-d gave the Mitzvos. Individual
understanding or initiatives are secondary to the simplicity of
performance. Rashi is teaching from the Tanchumah that our attempt at
understanding all the other non-chukim (non-decrees) assumes permission
from G-d to do so. If G-d did not grant permission to question the
reasons for His Mitzvos we would not be allowed to do so!
When it comes to understanding the Mitzvos there are two types of
A) Questions that are focused on the how and when.
B) Questions focused on why the when and how.
Take Kashrus as an example. The Torah clearly states why G-d separated
between Kosher and non-Kosher animals. (Vayikra 11:45) “…Be holy
because I am holy.” (Eat only kosher because it separates you from all
others just as I am separate from all.) We understand why G-d commanded
Kashrus. We understand how to keep Kosher. We do not know why G-d
designated certain animals to be Kosher and others to be not Kosher.
The same is true with Parah Adumah. We know how to do the process of the
Parah Adumah. We know when G-d commanded us to do the process of Parah
Adumah. We do not know why the process works the way it does to
accomplish removal of Tumah (impurity).
In truth, it is the same for all the Mitzvos. We know the how, and when,
and we attempt to know why the process of each Mitzvah works; however,
after all is said and done we do the Mitzvos because G-d so commanded.
The Parsha begins by presenting the ultimate Chok of Parah Adumah. It
reflects on the passage of life and the need for the living to go on
living. Daily, humanity experiences the mystery of life and death, and
yet, we are no closer to unlocking its mystery. The mystery remains while
life continues. The process continues even though there are no answers. So
too with all the Mitzvos. Whether we understand them or not, whether we
will ever understand them or not, the process continues even as does the
(Note: The deaths of Miriam and Aharon. Hitting the Rock, and
accomplishing what appeared to be G-d’s intent; yet, being wrong. Bilam
and Moshe – the mystery of free-will and prophecy.)
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.