Monday, July 02, 2012

Making Sense of the Non-Sensible

Torah's commandments subdivide into 3 classes. One class makes no common sense. The laws of the Red Heifer fall into this class. Its ashes purify the impure and make impure him who purifies.

Rules for the Red Heifer begin with this awkward introduction (Num. 19:1): "These decrees pertain to the Torah ... " - when it should have said "These decrees pertain to the Red Heifer ... "; Why should the term "Torah" replace the term "Red Heifer" when, in fact, the latter is the subject of the entire chapter?

Commandments that make common sense are pleasurable to obey. Nevertheless, commandments that make no sense have their own advantage: The observer of that commandment feels he does so only because God commanded him. He feels therefore, by doing it, bonded to His Creator.

Commandments that make sense often lack this aspect. For example, in respecting his parents, one may well be oblivious of God during his preoccupation with his parents. He enjoys the interaction and gets carried away or so involved that he easily could forget about God who commanded him to respect his parents in the first place.

Whereas, for a commandment that lacks common sense there's no other reason to do it EXCEPT BECAUSE God so commanded it.

This we know why the Torah writes "These are the decrees of the Torah ..." instead of the expected "These are the decrees of the Red Heifer ...". Torah thereby suggests that all of its commandments ought to share the uniqueness there is in the laws of the Red Heifer. Just like these commandments one should do because God commanded us, so too all of Torah's commandments we ought to do because God commanded us, irrespective of the rationale or apparent value behind them.

For example, in honoring one's parents, one should do it out of consideration of God's wishes - primarily. If then one gains satisfaction therefrom, so much the better, but the very first reason ought to be consideration of the divine will.

The name of this week's Torah portion, Chukat (חוקת) reinforces this same lesson. This Hebrew word, which means "decree", as in "These are the decrees ...", also shares its Hebrew root with another verb - "to engrave" (חקיקה). As, in fact, the Ten Commandments were engraved in stone.

Unlike something written on parchment, where ink and parchment are separable entities, words engraved in stone are part and parcel of the stone into which they are etched. The words and the stone are inseparable.

Similarly, all of God's commandments need to be inseparable from our bond to God. Whether it's an understandable commandment, such as "Don't kill", or whether it is "Keep My Sabbath", or be they the laws of the Red Heifer, God wants that we fulfil all His commandments as if they were engraved in out psyche because He willed it.

This is, after all, what Jews proclaimed and as a result of this proclamation they received the gift of the Torah; They said "We will [first] do, and [then] we'll try to understand!" (נעשה ונשמע) (Ex.24:7)

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