VOLUME 56 NUMBER 5
July 2nd, 2011
30 Sivan, 5771
The Cow Parsha
By Rabbi Raphael Leban
Parshas Chukas bears the distinct honor of being Gary Larson’s favorite parsha. It’s the cow parsha.
The parsha begins with the discussion of the red heifer, a cow which is so red, it has no more than two non-red hairs on its whole body. It’s clearly a very dear topic for Coloradoans. Imagine what an audacious pair of boots it would make.
This special prize cow is slaughtered and burnt along with several plants. The ashes are then mixed with spring water and can be used in the preparations for service in the Temple. The water is sprinkled on someone who has become tamei, as part of the process of becoming tahor again. That person is then allowed to enter the Temple, whereas before they were prohibited.
Now if that’s not fodder for a comic strip, I don’t know what is. How do sprinkled wet red-cow ashes help? What do they do exactly? What’s going on in this parsha?
The simple answer is, I don’t really know.
This mitzvah is called a ‘chok.’ It’s a type of mitzvah that is simply beyond us. It’s supra-rational, above the intellect of mankind to grasp. I would never have come up with it on my own, and I can’t explain why we do it.
So why do it?
Let’s take for a moment some of the more rationally based mitzvos. Like the prohibition of murder. When I don’t kill the guy in line in front of me at the checkout counter, is it because the Master of the Universe commanded me not to kill him, or because I personally think murder is unacceptable behavior, an all around bad idea? Probably few of us take the time to attribute the inspiration for our actions in such supermarket situations to G-d and His Torah. But ultimately we should. The real reason to do or not do something that’s a mitzvah, is because we are servants of G-d and He commands us to do it.
The red heifer is the perfect opportunity to do a mitzvah for the right reason, because G-d said to do it. There are no other possible explanations rolling around in your head. Just the commandment of the Commander. That’s a ‘chok,’ a decree of the King.
Many mitzvos we have fall into this category, not least of which being the whole area of Jewish life called Kashrus. If you can find me a rational reason not to have a cheeseburger, I’d love to hear it.
But even if you’ll think one up, the mitzvah of eating kosher food, and for that matter, every other mitzvah, is ultimately done for one reason and one reason only. G-d said so.
The Eternity of Mitzvos
By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
We live in a temporal world where everything is short lived, quickly outdated and constantly changing. Today’s gadgetry is tomorrow’s junk yard. Technology is advancing at a pace that far outstretches the ability of an individual to keep up with the information available or the tools needed to function efficiently. Whereas general knowledge was perhaps sufficient a generation ago, today every field has its many specialties. The sensation of permanence has been abandoned for the phenomenon of the here and now.
All of this relates to the physicality that we are so inundated with on a daily and even minute by minute basis. However, the world of mitzvos is totally and diametrically opposed to this false reality. Every mitzvah bears within its realization eternal value. As we know from the famed Vilna Gaon, every mitzvah in the Torah corresponds to a specific part of the body and upon completion of the mitzvah, that part receives its ‘energy’ that will nourishes its eternal existence. Indeed, a mitzvah is forever.
Rashi cites the Midrash that when Hashem commanded Moshe to take a red heifer to use to purify those who were defiled by contact with a corpse, He told him to take the red heifer for himself. That meant that his would be everlasting. All future red heifers that were used had to take a small amount of the ashes from Moshe’s in order to be utilized. Why was this necessary? If the same procedure was followed to prepare another red heifer, why wouldn’t it be as valid as the one that Moshe had made?
The objective of mitzvos in general and each one in particular is to elevate the individual and bring one closer to Hashem. That is the ultimate experience that one should aspire to achieve when performing a mitzvah. That goal is accomplished when the mitzvah is done purely and solely to fulfill the will of Hashem, without any ulterior motives involved in the action. However, any lack of selflessness when involved in doing a mitzvah will diminish the impact of that mitzvah upon the interior of the person, his soul.
The mitzvah of the red heifer epitomizes the character of our nation. We are a people that strives continuously and constantly to raise the bar. We are not satisfied with today’s accomplishments but rather aspire to achieve tomorrow on a superior plane and more towering plateau. Perhaps this is why the nations of the world challenge this mitzvah. It directly opposes their approach to life which is full of frivolity and arrogance. They relate to this world and live within its boundaries while we soar far above the restraints of the flesh and seek eternity.
Moshe embodied the quintessence of what we represent. His actions surpassed the bounds of this world and approached the mystical. The Torah refers to him as an angel and the commentators explain that he no longer functioned purely within the realm of mankind. His purity and essence far surpassed even that of the Patriarchs and it was befitting that his red heifer should be stored for all generations to witness. All future red heifers would only be consecrated for their purpose with the addition of the ashes from his. True purity far exceeds the confines of this world and its trappings. Therefore the introduction to the parsha states that this is the law of the Torah. This mitzvah truly captures our essence and spurs us forward into eternity.
Byte for Shabbos
G-d only revealed the secrets of the red heifer to Moshe. No one else knew it’s enigmatic underpinnings. The reasons behind the mitzvos of the Torah far surpass the limitations of this world, therefore only Moshe, who lived beyond the realm of this world, could understand the depth of this mitzvah.