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Parshas Chukas - Knowing & Abiding the Law    9 Tammuz 5782

07/08/2022 05:58:55 AM


In every system of governance, there are hundreds if not thousands of laws and regulations, and, thanks to the limited knowledge of those who made and later revised the laws and regulations, all of these man-made rules and laws are subject to revision and change over time.  The only set of rules and laws that are immutable are those within the Torah itself which was created by Hashem for mankind. Only God, who created man, knows how to create a system that is not limited by time or change; the laws of God are timeless – past, present, and future were all taken into account. Laws of the land experience continuous change based upon  human conditions and the world at large. Perhaps a seemingly  insignificant example was highlighted a few weeks ago. This incident demonstrated the exact point when even individual judges, referees and umpires who consistently review the everchanging rules are not necessarily completely versed in the new laws. Perhaps a more reasonable excuse for the indecision is based upon a lack of clarity in the law itself.

On June 17th the Yankees – Rays game had a sixteen-minute interruption as a question regarding allowing a pitching change to take place was debated. Without going into the minutia of the rule, the umpires did not know the rule and required the assistance of MLB ruling division in New York. Apparently, the managers of each team did know the rule, but the umpires did not. I understand the umpires not knowing or at least not remembering the pitching change rule, because the rules of pitching changes are constantly changing!  Personally, as a Rabbi I can appreciate not knowing or at least not remembering a halacha when it must be made on the spot. I can attest to the pressure and anxiety resulting from a halakhic ruling that is urgent; it must be made in the moment. This scenario took place in Shul during the reading of the Torah, but first I must share some backdrop in order to be able to fully appreciate what happened.

Dr. Bill Lapp brought me a mini handbook of laws on krias HaTorah - reading of the Torah. Every day between Mincha and Maariv we methodically and slowly made our way through this small but all important sefer. We covered laws and scenarios that I witnessed and other situations that inevitably will come up, albeit only rarely.  We had just reviewed a scenario whereby the Ba’al Korei/the Torah reader went past the stopping point, and we needed to figure out the precise starting point for the next Aliyah. I could have taken a few minutes to research the correct procedure, but during the morning minyan ‘time is of the essence’- a split-second decision is required. I made the decision, and Baruch Hashem I have a decent track record of getting the call right, although not one hundred percent of the time. Nevertheless, I was told by Rav Dovid Cohen Shlit’a that a Rov has a certain Siyata Dishmaya (Heavenly assistance) to make the correct ruling that can be relied upon with some authority. I believe I came up with the correct call and no one questioned it. Perhaps this was because everyone had already run out of Shul that morning (lucky for me)!

Every city, state and country have laws which each individual is required to know. These laws exist to protect and to guide each member of that society to be a totally law-abiding citizen.  While very citizen should, in actuality, know every law,  there are many obscure laws which are not necessarily commonly known. Nevertheless if caught breaking the law, the claim of ignorance won’t hold up in court. In essence, we must know the law, but we do not necessarily need to know the reason behind the law. This is congruous to the laws of Judaism found in the Torah itself.

In this week’s Parshas Chukas the Torah describes the Mitzva of Parah Aduma/the Red Hefer. The Para Aduma is the quintessential mitzva which describes what a ‘chok’ or statute contrasts with a ‘Mishpat’. The Para Aduma is a ‘chok’;  even Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, did not understand it. Rav Yosef Zvi Salant, in his sefer Be’er Yosaif (5769), quotes  a Medrash Rabbah 19:6 on the first words of the Parsha Bamidbar 19:2 "זאת חקת התורה"  -These are the statutes of the Torah. “Reb Yosi b”r Chanina said: “Hashem said to Moshe, ”To you I will reveal the reason of the mitzva of Parah Aduma – but after it will be a chok”. Rav Salant asks, ‘if there is a reason for the mitzva of the red hefer, why did God hide it from everyone, even from the wisest of men?’ In addition, it was explained that the red hefer came as an atonement for the golden calf. So we do know the reason! Therefore, why is it considered a chok? Apparently, the chok is regarding the difficult understanding of the purification process when the Tahor/the cleansed person becomes Tamei/defiled when performing part of the service. There is an important reason and lesson to be learned from the fact that we do not know some of the reasons. Hashem intentionally left out the reasons behind some of the commandments so that a person would become accustomed to performing the mitzva despite not knowing why. To perform a Mitzva that one fully understands and comprehends gives more reason for a person to do it and not necessarily because God commanded it. Perhaps if we knew the reasons behind every Mitzva we could come to rationalize and argue against its worthiness. This is the antithesis of what a true eved/servant to Hashem is. A true servant is someone who obeys, performs, and serves without question. There were times I have been challenged with this understanding, calling it  ‘blind faith’; the answer to that is, yes! It is blind faith. Unfortunately, in our day and age, in our society today there is a culture of all about me -  ‘my rights’, ‘my way of thinking’.. Yet there are mitzvos that we do understand, but those are typically mitzvos that we would probably think of on our own. Since they make sense we don’t challenge Hashem on those, only the ones we don’t understand.

Ultimately, if we can serve Hashem on a level which transcends understanding, we will root ourselves ever more deeply in our Emunah/faith in Hashem, reaching a profound level of understanding of the ways of Hashem. Chukim give us the protection that man cannot disagree with God, thinking  he or she can do whatever one’s mood dictates.

 L’Havdil, playing in a ball game, we must know all the rules of the game even though we may not understand them. Even if we disagree with the rule, we know every player still follows it or there are consequences. How much more so, when it comes to our heritage, our history, our people, our past, present and future.  We must be dedicated to knowing all the rules, laws and customs, even the Chukim that we may not understand or know the reasons why they must be observed.  They must be followed even if we disagree. Ultimately, this devotion to our laws including the chukim will strengthen ourselves, our families and our communities and bring us closer to our Creator.         

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Tue, October 3 2023 18 Tishrei 5784