Rabbi Krieger's Parsha Sheet
In this week’s parsha, we learn about the famous “hok” of the Para Aduma. At the beginning of Parshas Hukas Rashi defines a “hok” as a decree of the king that has no reason whatsoever. The laws of Para Aduma, like other “hukkim,” seemingly have no logic behind them, and to an onlooker, the particular process of purification that the Para Aduma entailed may have appeared to be strange and at best ritualistic, devoid of any deeper meaning. This is in fact brought out by the Midrash in Bamidbar Rabba 19:8 that recounts how a non-Jew, after learning about the puzzling procedures of the Para Aduma’s unique purification process, actually challenged Rebbi Yochanan, claiming that the practice of using the Para Aduma as a means of spiritual purification was similar to witchcraft. When Rebbi Yochanan’s own students pressed him to explain this mitzvah, Rebbi Yochanan answered them that it was a “hok”, a decree of the King that is not fitting to be questioned. However, the Torah’s way of describing the laws of Para Aduma at the beginning of the parsha seems a bit strange. “This is the hok of the Torah…” In truth, Para Aduma isn’t the only hok in the Torah. A hok is really an entire branch of Jewish law. What is the special emphasis that the Torah chooses to use here which seems to imply that this is the only real hok in the entire Torah?
Rav Yaakov Kamenetzsky writes that if one learns the Sefer HaChinuch he will find himself enlightened and refreshed by the beautiful reasons and explanations brought to explain the essence of the mitzvos. Indeed, the Sefer HaChinuch gives dazzling illuminations even of the mitzvos that seem the most difficult to understand. The Sefer HaChinuch even gives reasons for all the hukkim. That is, all except one. When it comes to explaining the reason for the mitzvah of the Para Aduma, the Sefer HaChinuch apologizes profusely, thusly admitting his inability to completely actualize the purpose of his own work. Why specifically in regard to the Para Aduma is the Sefer HaChinuch at a loss for words? Rav Kamenetzsky claims that this is in fact the answer to our initial question. Unlike other hukkim that can be understood on some level, if one tries, Para Aduma is completely beyond human understanding. The laws of Para Aduma are famous for their illogical incongruences. For instance, while the ashes of the Para Aduma purify a Jew who is impure, a pure person who uses the ashes of the Para Aduma to purify another person becomes impure. There is no theme, vision, or pattern detectable in the mitzvah at all. This is why Para Aduma is the ultimate “hok.” The Para Aduma is a mitzvah just because Hashem said so and this, Rav Kamenetsky claims, is, ironically, the actual reason for Para Aduma. Para Aduma is the mitzvah that teaches us that although mitzvos should be done with a feeling of meaning and purpose, the main intention one should have when doing a mitzvah is that he is just doing what Hashem has asked of him. A fundamental understanding that we need to have in order to truly connect to Hashem is that we will never fully grasp the true loftiness of the mitzvos. The mitzvos are deeper than we can fathom and we must not limit the holiness of the mitzvos by imposing our own finite understanding on them. Instead, our main aspiration should be to do Hashem’s will, and although inspirational ideas can be used to boost one’s service of Hashem, we need to know that real spirituality and connection to G-d doesn’t come through philosophy. It comes through acting leshem shamayim and keeping Hashem’s mitzvos just because He commanded us to do so.
The Sefer Maamakim provides an additional insight to help us appreciate that the greatness of the mitzvos in of themselves and that we don’t need to search for the reasons of the mitzvos in order to relate to them. In the final analysis, mitzvos are what Hashem has given us so that we can have life both in this world and the next. In truth, the Torah shapes our reality just like the other necessities of life. Nobody asks why our lungs work, why medicine is effective, or why water rejuvenates our bodies. The fact is they just do. Similarly, Torah and mitzvos are just as real as any other natural phenomena that we take for granted. Through the mitzvos, we become holy, uplifted, and connected to G-d, paving the path of our existence for all eternity. What gives the mitzvos this unique ability is not necessarily something that can be fully appreciated by the power of reason. The Torah program just works. Furthermore, the Torah’s prescription for spiritual success is so effective that the Alshich says that the power that mitzvos, and specifically hukkim, have on Jews is so profound that even non-Jews can see the difference. When a person exerts himself to do Hashem’s will for no reason other than to do Hashem’s will, he is changing himself and elevating his whole being above the rest of creation. This is in fact the hidden secret of the prominence of the Jewish people that is so widely recognized by the entire world.
Furthermore, when one fully integrates the hukkim of the Torah into his life, they actually become a part of him. Rav Moshe Mendel was one such individual. He identified himself completely with every single mitzvah in the Torah and constantly pushed himself to focus on acting solely for the sake of Heaven. Rav Moshe Mendel was so in tandem with Hashem’s will that even his body was sensitive to it. When Rav Moshe became sick later in his life, he was forced to a hospital bed. He was hooked up to machines and IVs were inserted all over his body. However, the doctors were suddenly puzzled when they found that some of the medicines and nutrients that were being administered to Rav Moshe lacked the ability to enter his body. Amazingly, when the matter was investigated, it turned out that all the components that Rav Moshe’s body had refused came from non-kosher ingredients! Rav Moshe was so holy and connected to the Torah that even his body couldn’t tolerate forbidden foods! Furthermore, those who visited Rav Moshe were inspired to see that even when he was very sick he didn’t concern himself with his physical needs at all. When others urged him to eat and he was unable to do so, he would calm them, saying, “Just tell me some words of Torah. My body needs ruchnius.”
May we all be zoche to truly cherish and keep all the hukkim to get closer to our Father in Heaven!!!