In examining this week’s parsha, one is struck by the inexplicability of
all of the subject matter in the parsha. From the most famous chok – a
rule without rational explanation to it – that of the red heifer, the
parah adumah, which serves as the beginning of the parsha, to the
shortcomings of Moshe in smiting the rock to bring forth water and his
punishment of not being able to enter the Land of Israel, one is troubled
by the mystery of it all. Why? If the Torah is meant to be studied and
intellectually analyzed by the Jewish people, if it is somehow within the
reach of humans to understand the Torah’s laws and values, then why this
onslaught of laws and events that defy any human logic?
It is obvious that the Torah is teaching us a very basic lesson. Not
everything in life is logical, understandable, rational or given to any
sort of human understanding. The Torah intends to teach us that its system
of values and behavior is oftentimes beyond human comprehension. The
ability to accept this difficult and oftentimes humbling assessment is a
test of faith and belief. And the Torah and Judaism generally rest upon
this basic foundation, if necessary even a form of blind faith and belief.
Understanding and studying Torah is a mitzvah – an obligation upon all
Jews. However, following and believing Torah even when we do not
understand and know its rationale is no less of a mitzvah.
The truth is that life itself in all of its manifestations is beyond our
rational abilities to understand or predict. We are regularly blindsided
by events that are unexpected and sometimes devastating. There is a
capricious nature to life and its events that forecloses any rational
explanations or logical theories. The very nature of life itself is purely
a chok – a type of commandment and/or occurrence that leaves us baffled
and without answers or explanations. On a small personal scale these
events may be viewed as fortuitous or tragic but they are all unexpected
and irrational. On a larger scale events such as the Holocaust are prime
historical examples of a chok in its ultimate form.
We do not understand the severity of Moshe’s punishment as recorded in
this week’s parsha. We also do not understand the reasons that led to six
million innocent Jews being destroyed. When such things occur, both on a
personal and national level, we are left bereft and perplexed. The Torah
records that Aharon’s response to the death of his two sons in the Mishkan
was silence. Silence translates itself into the realization that God’s
ways are beyond human comprehension.
We can only accept but never will we understand them. And that is why the
prophet stated that the basic tenet of Judaism is “The righteous live by
faith alone.” Chukat is the parsha of faith alone. This is why this parsha
is so important for us to appreciate and absorb. Faith is somehow the only
effective weapon against the mysteries of life that befall us.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com