Chukas: Of Wonder and (Divine) Will

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A quick and profound thought – based on a conversation with David Sacks: 1. The Parah Adumah is the ultimate chok; the paradigm unknowable law, transcending the most iridescent of human minds1. A famous line by Shlomo HaMelech as expounded by Chazal clearly expresses this notion [Bamidbar Rabah, 19:3] "... I thought I would understand it (after penetrating analysis); but I see that it is far removed from me". [Koheles 7:23] Solomon meant: All these I have fully comprehended, but as regards the section dealing with the Red Heifer, I have investigated and inquired and examined: ’I said: I will get wisdom; but it was far from me.’ 2. Of the 11 primary Torah categories of ritual impurity (avos hatuma’ah), the Parah Adumah necessary only for the removal of the impurity emerging from human death. All the others types of ritual impurity [zav, sheretz, nidah, metzora, yoledes, etc.] can be removed within one or seven days by immersion in a mikveh or live spring. Nothing but death require the Red Heifer Ergo, something in the red heifer is needed to reverse the process of human death – but we can’t know what it is – since the red heifer is ultimately unknowable. 3. Our tantalizing conundrum has another piece: Parah Adumah is also a tikkun (corrective) for the sin of the Golden Calf: [Bamidbar Rabah, 19:8] A handmaiden's boy polluted a king's palace. The king said: ' Let his mother come and clear away the filth.’ In the same way the Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘Let the Heifer come and atone for the incident of the Calf!’ Leading us to ponder this formula as well 4. Mortality came into the world after Adam/Chava’s primordial sin. Until that point, man is to live forever. Less well known is that Bnei Yisrael regained immortality and reclaimed their Paradise Lost at Har Sinai: [as for] the Israelites who stood at Mount Sinai, their zohama (besmirched nature) ceased …R. Aha son of Raba asked R. Ashi. What about proselytes? Though they were not present, their mazal was present
1

Cf. Sefer Hachinuch, the classic expositor of rationale for mitzvos who writes: "I am afraid to explain the reason for this command..."

Alas, it was short lived, for the Golden calf reintroduced mortality into the world.
5. It follows that the Parah Adumah accomplishes two very related tasks:

a. It reverses the sin of the Golden Calf b. It undoes some aspect of mortality … 6. Wherein the equation? 2 suggestions:
1. Golden calf and the primordial sin shared a common thread: We know better. a. Rambam teaches that Adam ate from the tree to make the yetzer hara challenge a more

substantial one; a means of raising the spiritual bar of accomplishment. [Its no big deal to be frum in Boro Park, let me move to Kalamazoo] b. The Golden Calf was [according to many] an effort to relate to God in a more tangible manner. It was not a recognition of another deity – it was a means of interfacing with Hashem. Both sins elevate human intellect over Divine dictate. Complex man, with his myriad calculations must learn to serve God as He wants – not as we feel. Parah Adumah’s tikkun then is that it requires a complete submission to the Divine will. 2. Knowing something in totality is wearying. The student moves from grade to grade. To repeat a course is annoying/insulting and tiring. An apprentice moves on. The child becomes a parent, the parent a grandparent, etc. Nothing more to gain spells the death knell of a relationship. Ironically, our lack of knowledge concomitant with a the desire to know serves to sustains and fire a relationship. One who can anticipate a spouse’s every move [many think they can] will grow tired and disinterested. Precisely the wonder, surprise, and dynamism keeps the sparks [the positive ones - protons] flying. When wonder and surprises ceases, disinterest and the death of the relationship follows. Indeed, loss of a will to live is often a great predictor of imminent death Therefore in the Parah Adumah’s ultimate unknowability and in our search for its meaning, the twin values of Divine submission and constant surprise serve as vehicles for ultimate immortality. May our lives be filled with constant wonder and may we have the requisite humility to realize that precisely in our submission to Divine dictate, we forge an ultimate connection to the Master of the Universe.

Good Shabbos – Asher Brander

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