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Parshas Chukas - Just Do It!!!   8 Tammuz 5781

06/18/2021 11:25:35 AM

Jun18

This week’s Torah message is Sponsored by Bill, Steffi, Breana and Ethan Retin in honor of Rabbi & Leah Bogopulsky and the entire Beth Jacob community for welcoming us so warmly 21 years ago and making us feel like family ever since.

An interrogative word or question word is a function word used to ask a question, such as what, which, when, where, who, whom, whose, why, whether and how. They are sometimes called wh-words, because in English most of them start with wh- (compare Five Ws).

The question children persistently ask their parents is the proverbial, ”Why?”. The curiosity, wonder-filled searching of reasons for seemingly everything  is evident when innocent, inquisitive children, growing ever more aware of the world around them, ask the question, ”Why?”. I believe, with full confidence, that everyone falls into this category of questioning why. Whether we, throughout our childhood repeatedly asked our parents reasons for everything  or now, as parents on the receiving end of our children’s repeated questions of why, the most common answer is typically, ”Because”. So often, the answers to the questions presented by an innocent, curious child in a manner which is both age-appropriate and satisfying are difficult to frame appropriately. Of course, some answers can be modified and broken down to a child’s level, but other times they cannot. When a question cannot be explained, especially when the child follows up with another question of “but why”, the only ‘reasonable’ answer is simply “because”.  This simple escape-hatch  ‘because’ answer is likely the result of  one of two reasons:  because we cannot break a response down to a level the child will comprehend, and the second is simply out of frustration. When we reply with “because” due to the first scenario, it is a response given in a loving, compassionate manner. But when we reply “just because”, it is most likely tinged with frustration and a sense of losing patience thanks to the repetitive bombardment of questions from the wide-eyed, curious child.

These ‘why’ questions are generally broken down into two age groups: the younger, innocent children, and the older children who have typically reached the age of rebelliously challenging authority. I do not, Chas V’Shalom/Heaven forbid, mean children who are literally rebelling against their parents, but rather children who are at the age of feeling their oats by asking the for justification for whatever may have been told to do. At this stage of life, the line of questioning typically goes as follows. “Why do I have to do it if my sister does not have to” and vice versa. Or…”Why does our family have to do ’that’” when the family down the block does not do it?”” Why do I have to go to sleep so early when my friend Charlie does not even have a bedtime?” “Why do I need to make my bed if I am only going to mess it up when I go to sleep at night?” “Why do I have to clean up my toys if I am going to take them out again tomorrow?” And on and on. And one of my favorites: “If dinner consists of a protein, starch, vegetable, and dessert, why can’t I have dessert first and the main meal afterwards?” And, of course, we can’t leave out the most common question all children ask”  ”Why is the sky blue?” As Jews we recognize that these questions which begin with “why” are not exclusively asked in secular matters; they apply to religious areas of discussion and affairs as well.   

After all is said and done, an older child may feel the answer is inadequate and does not want to listen. Nonetheless, in my humble opinion, (and you know I am not so humble)- at least not when it comes to answering my children’s questions) I feel that at a certain point a good parent should follow up by not just saying “because” but by adding,  “Don’t like it? Well, that is just too bad, you still must do it.”  Kids have rules which they need to learn must be obeyed even though they do not necessarily understand or agree with.  Even though they would prefer not to do something they have been asked to do, they still must do it.   This holds true with regards to the physical, mundane parts of life and also with the physical, spiritual component issues of life. We as parents need to  realize that we can ask but also require our children to learn, daven, do chessed, by making clear that rules are rules – it is expected that they will do, obey what we clearly expect that they do.  After all, we are the parents – that is our job. It goes without me saying we must treat and teach and guide every child according to their specific needs, abilities, and ways, maintaining realistic expectations based upon each child’s level of understanding, with love and clear firmness.

Now, this may seem all good and dandy, but we must also be aware that if WE are not doing those same things that we are telling our children to do, then they will turn around to us and ask, ”Why aren’t you doing it?” Keep in mind, children may not need to actually verbalize this internalized justification so many words, but they are no doubt thinking it in their minds. And yes, with younger children, we may force our will upon them, but as they grow physically, mentally, and intellectually stronger, they will clearly see the double standard. My advice, my message is, ”Do not be self-contradicting”! Whatever we ask from our children, we must also be prepared to do no less than they are being told to do. This lesson is not pulled from some sociological book on parenting or raising children, rather the message and lesson is loud and clear from the Torah itself.

 In this week’s Parshas Chukas the Torah in Bamidbar 19:2 states: "זאת חקת התורה אשר צוה ה' לאמר, דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה תמימה אשר אין בה מום אשר לא עלה עליה על"  “The following is declared to be the Torah’s decree as commanded by God. Speak to the Israelites and have them bring you a completely red cow which has no blemish, and which has never had a yoke on it”. The red hefer is the quintessential “chok” or statute. We know some of the obvious mitzvos referred to as Mishpatim;  here the Chok which we would not necessarily know on our own. The Gemara Yoma 67b summarized this beautifully. “Our Rabbis taught: My judgments/mishpatim you shall fulfill, i.e., such commandments which, if they were not written [in Scripture], they should by logic have been written. These are: [the laws concerning] idolatry, adultery and murder, robbery and “blessing” the Divine Name. And My statutes you shall observe, i.e., such commandments to which Satan objects, they are [those relating to] the wearing of sha'atnez, the chalitzah [performed] by a yevamah, the purification of the metzora, and the he-goat that is sent away on Yom Kippur. And perhaps you might think these are empty acts, therefore the Torah says: I am Hashem, I have decreed it and you are not permitted to criticize it.

In essence, Hashem is commanding us by both the Mishpatim that we understand and by the Chukim that we do not necessarily understand to just do it because ‘I am Hashem’. We may not like it, but we still need to do it. For some reason we all appreciate the adult or parent at a certain point just saying “you still have to do it” in mundane life matters. The two lessons merge: the authority at a point can require reasonable things without giving a reason to it. So, too, in the Torah world we, the children, must follow and just do it because our Father in Heaven commanded us to “JUST DO IT”!!!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782