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The Peculiar Mitzvah of the Red Heifer

זֹ֚את חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר דַּבֵּ֣ר | אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֣וּ אֵלֶ֩יךָ֩ פָרָ֨ה אֲדֻמָּ֜ה תְּמִימָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֵֽין־בָּהּ֙ מ֔וּם אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹֽא־עָלָ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ עֹֽל:

This is the statute of the Torah which the Lord commanded, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid. (Bamidbar 19:2)

This week we read the 3rd of the 4 Parshiot, Parshat Parah - the Red Heifer - which is always read after Purim.

The commandment to sacrifice the Parah Aduma (red heifer) is peculiar with no obvious rationale. This is known as a “chok” - a commandment that is beyond human understanding and is therefore observed purely out of obedience to God. This would be similar to the laws of Shatnez, which forbid the mixing of linen and wool fibers.

The Midrash Tanchuma for Parshat Chukat explains that the wise Shlomo HaMelech was unable to understand the Parah Adumah ritual, and because of this, he realized that he did not fully understand any of the other mitzvot!

This serves as a reminder that some of our mitzvot are beyond human comprehension, and that God’s wisdom and the wisdom of the Torah are hidden from us. We must accept that there are parts of the Torah that we do not, or cannot understand today. But when the Mashiach comes, it will all be explained to us.

This is another example of “Naaseh V’Nishma”, that we will do and then we will listen, as Bnei Yisrael exclaimed after the Torah was given at Har Sinai. The people were ready to accept the Torah without even knowing everything that was included. It’s about faith in God and acceptance of the Torah.

This, of course, does not negate the need to study Torah and ask questions. We constantly strive for understanding. We go over the Parsha every week, we learn Mishna, Gemara, and other classic Jewish texts - ideally in a shiur (class) or with a Chevruta (study partner).

Limud Torah is a cornerstone of Judaism, whether you are learning the chukim like Parah Adumah, or the more basic stories of Sefer Breishit or Yetziat Mitzrayim.

Shabbat Shalom!



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