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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Chukas

Chok and Mishpat

(Birkas Mordechai by Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rosh Yeshivas Ateret Yisrael, Jerusaelem, v. V.)

This is the Chok (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. (Bemidbar 19:1)

Rav Yosi b'rabi Chanina said, "Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to Moshe, I will reveal the reason of the Para to you, but to everyone else it is a Chok. (Bemidbar Raba 19:6)

The Rambam, Hilchos Me'ila, 8:8 writes:

It is appropriate for a person to meditate on the judgments (mishpatim) of the holy Torah and know their ultimate purpose according to his capacity. If he cannot find a reason or a motivating rationale for a practice, he should not regard it lightly. Nor should he break through to ascend to God, lest God burst forth against him. One's thoughts concerning them should not be like his thoughts concerning other ordinary matters.

See how severe the Torah rules concerning misappropriating sacred property. Now if wood, stones, earth, and ash become holy because the name of the Lord of the world was called upon them through speech alone and anyone who treats them as ordinary articles violates the prohibition against me'ilah and even if he acted unknowingly, he is required to secure atonement, how much more so with regard to the mitzvot which God ordained for us should a person not treat them derisively, because he does not understand their rationale. He should not conjure up matters that are not true concerning God, nor should he think about them with his mind as he would ordinary matters. For Vayikra 19:37 states: "And you shall guard all My decrees (chukim) and all My judgments (mishpatim) and perform them." Our Sages commented: This adjures us to guard and perform both the decrees and the judgments. The meaning of "performing" is well known, i.e,. that one should observe the decrees. "Guarding" means to treat them with caution and not think that they are any less than the judgments.

The judgments are those mitzvos whose motivating rationale is openly revealed and the benefit of their observance in this world is known, e.g., the prohibitions against robbery and bloodshed and honoring one's father and mother. The decrees are the mitzvos whose motivating rationales are not known. Our Sages said: "I ordained decrees and you have no license to question them." A person's natural inclination confronts him concerning them and the nations of the world challenge them, e.g., the prohibition of the meat of a pig, milk and meat, the calf whose neck is broken, the red heifer, and the goat sent to Azazel. To what degree did King David suffer because of the heretics and the idolaters who would issue challenges concerning the decrees! As long as they would pursue him with false retorts that they would arrange according to man's limited knowledge, he would increase his clinging to the Torah, as Tehillim 119:69 states: "Willful transgressors have stacked falsehoods against me, but I guard Your precepts with a full heart." And ibid.:86 states concerning this matter: "All of Your mitzvos are faithful; they pursue me with falsehood; help me."

All of the sacrifices are in the category of decrees. Our Sages said: "The world exists for the sake of the service of the sacrifices." For through the performance of the decrees and the judgments the righteous merit the life of the world to come. And between the two of them, the Torah gave precedence to the command for the decrees (chukim), as Vayikra 18:5 states: "And you shall heed My decrees and judgments which a person will perform and live through them."

What is the difference between a mishpat (a logical law) and a chok (an inexplicable decree): total deference to Hashem's command. Mishpat permits input from our understanding. A chok, on the other hand, sanctions no participation on the part of the people. It is totally and absolutely Divine decree. It is simply Hashem's will.

When Hashem declared to Moshe Rabbeinu that he was the only one to be privy to understanding the Para Adumah. With this He let it be known that not only this law, but all the laws ultimately have a rationale behind them. There is Divine logic in the entire Torah.

Hakadosh Baruch Hu, however, removed from our view the rationale of the Para Adumah in order to turn it into a Chok. This teaches us the fundamental lesson that the performance of all the mitzvos should be with the same attitude as regarding a chok: total submission to the will of Heaven. One shouldn't make calculations or add his own logic. Rather it should be pure compliance with the Divine will. This is the secret to proper performance of Torah and Mitzvos.

This is what the Midrash means that Hashem told Moshe, "To everyone else it is a dry Chok." Hashem was saying, I have hidden and concealed its deep secrets and logic and left it a chok. Why? Why couldn't the Ribono Shel Olam let us in on the secret? This was to teach us the proper attitude: this is what Hashem wants, pure unadulterated performance of the mitzvos as if everything is a chok.

* * *

"And you shall gather in your grain" (Devorim 11:14). What is the meaning of this verse? Being that it states, "This Sefer Torah shall not depart from your mouth..." shall we take this literally? But doesn't it also state, "And you shall gather in your grain?" [If we are busy farming, how can we be learning constantly? In order to resolve this seeming contradiction, we have to interpret it thusly:] Conduct with [the study of the Torah] a manner of worldly enterprise (Derech Eretz - ãøê àøõ). [One should study, but also have some form of income to support oneself.] These are the words of R. Yishmael. R. Shimon bar Yochai said, Is it possible for a person to plow at the time of plowing, plant at the time for planting, harvest at the time of the harvest...? What will become of the Torah!? Rather [the resolution of the contradiction between the two verses is] when Yisroel do the will of the Almighty, their work is done by others.... But when Yisroel do not do the will of the Almighty, their work must be done by themselves, as it says "And you shall gather in your grain." (Berachos 35b):

This gemara is bewildering! That's called not fulfilling the will of the Ribono Shel Olam!?

Let us study the second parsha of Shema for a second, where the Torah declares that "and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil."

And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Devorim 11:13)

The possuk "you shall hearken to My commandments" is described in the gemara Brachos above as relating to "when Yisroel do not do the will of the Almighty." How can these two statements be uttered in the same breath? What could be more "following the will of the Almighty" than "hearkening to His commandments"? What could be more "following the will of the Almighty" than "to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul"?

Tosfos on the gemara in Brachos explains that "not following the will of the Almighty" means "not following His will totally as they were not pure tzaddikim." However, the Tosfos do not explain to us what we have to do in order to warrant being raised from tzaddikim to tzaddikim gemurim - total tzaddikim.

Along comes the Maharsha to shed some light on Tosfos' enigmatic statement. In this second parsha we find the "with all your money" is missing. The first parsha describes loving Hashem with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your money. The second parsha, on the other hand, states simply, "to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul"; "with all your money" is left out.

This is telling us that this person has fulfilled with total dedication everything incumbent upon him concerning "and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul." He is willing to sacrifice his life for Hashem. He is truly a tzaddik.

However, he cannot yet stand up to "and with all your money." He loves his money more than himself (see Pesachim 25a). Therefore he is willing to sacrifice his life for his Maker, but not his money!

He is considered a tzaddik, but he has not yet entered the category of tzaddik gamur - a total tzaddik. And in order to merit the pinnacle of "their work is done by others," one must be a tzaddik gamur. But one who is just a tzaddik will have to work himself.

However we are still in a quandary. If he has not fulfilled his obligation of mesiras nefesh - self-sacrifice, why is he called a tzaddik? And if, in his situation, he wasn't obligated to sacrifice his money, why should that interfere with his attaining the title tzaddik gamur?

This is coming to teach us!

The "will of the Almighty" is beyond "hearkening to My commandments." It is even beyond "with all your heart and with all your soul."

"Doing the will of the Almighty" is very simply exactly what it says. Every "doing" is performed only and absolutely because it is the "will of the Almighty." No other motivation takes part in this "doing." Not one's understanding, and not even one's agreement. It is done with total submission. Not just willingly, but with joy at the opportunity and privilege of being able to submit to the Creator of the world and His commandments.

This submission, this total surrender of one's will to the Creator and His Torah, is what brings about the submission of the entire Creation, the entire Universe, to perform this person's personal needs. Everything now stands ready to serve him and supply the necessities of the one "who does the will of the Almighty."

His work is performed by others.

This is the ideal situation of perfection of fulfilling the Torah and performing the mitzvos: Chok!

This is the Chok, the statute of the Torah: doing the will of the Almighty.

* * *

Let us develop this idea a bit further.

A person whose personal understanding contributes to his performance of mitzvos is potentially setting a trap for himself. He is creating within himself the habit of making everything dependent upon his own understanding, his own genius, and his personal consent.

Thus when he doesn't understand or agree to something, then, who knows, perhaps he will give his approval to overstepping his limits.

Or perhaps his personal thoughts and understanding will prevent him, Heaven forbid, from fulfilling his obligations. There's no guarantee.

The concept of chok is the guarantee. It will keep the person on the right track as he journeys through his life.

Chok breaks through a major barrier that impacts a person: his individuality. This is the drive that etches out the egoism which encourages him to act only when he approves.

Therefore, even the mishpatim, even though we are encouraged to study and analyze and delve into the depths of their logic and rationale, still, this is only in so far as we are studying the Torah. Regarding the performance of the Torah, however, we are obligated to approach mishpatim with the same total submission as by chukim.

* * *

And the days of David drew near that he should die; and he charged Shlomo, his son, saying: … And, behold, there is with you Shimi ben Gera … who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Machanaim, and he came down to meet me at the Jordan, and I swore to him by the Lord, saying, 'I will not put you to death with the sword.' And now hold him not guiltless, for you are a wise man, and you will surely know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his hoary head down to the grave with blood."

And the king sent and called for Shimi, and said to him, "Build for yourself a house in Jerusalem, and dwell there, and do not go forth here or there." And it shall be, on the day (that) you go out, and you pass over the Kidron Valley you shall know for certain that you shall surely die; your blood shall be upon your own head…. And it came to pass at the end of three years, that two of Shimi's slaves ran away … And Shimi arose, saddled his ass … and Shimi went, and brought his slaves from Gat. And it was told to Shlomo, that Shimi had gone from Jerusalem to Gat and had returned… And the king commanded Benayahu ben Yehoyada, and he went out and fell upon him, and he died; and the kingdom was established in the hand of Shlomo. (Malachim I, chap. 2)

This incident is an excellent example of how a person can hear perfectly and yet….

For three years Shimi ben Gera didn't budge from Yerushalayim. He was compelled to abide by the king's command. For if not he will face certain execution on charges of rebellion against the king. He had been explicitly warned of this.

And in spite of all this Shimi fell into the trap. He "interpreted" the king's command. With his brilliance and genius it was 100% clear to him that Shlomo's restriction did not include this specific case. He had no doubt, at least so he thought, that even the great king Shlomo would leave Yerushalayim to retrieve such a valuable loss.

This was the profound wisdom of Shlomo who understood very well that with all due respect to the remarkable genius of Shimi ben Gera (he was great enough to be the rebbe of Shlomo, the wisest of all men) there was a weakness. He would certainly perfectly abide by all his obligations, with all the adornments, but only as far as his intellect, his understanding, and his wisdom, would permit. He weighed everything before he could do anything.

He had no submission; he was not constrained to pure "obedience." Therefore it was impossible not to fall into the trap of reading into the royal command. There was no way he could not fall into the trap of "interpreting," of reading between the lines. This was Shlomo's wisdom. He delved into the deep recesses of his rebbe's greatness and he picked up on his weakness. And so Shimi fell into the trap that he had laid for himself: "I take that to mean…"

Where did Shlomo see this weakness? He learned it from Shimi's curse. If Shimi would have been obedient and worn the yoke of submissiveness to Hashem's word, or had unconditional obedience to the eternal kingship of Dovid Hamelech, how could he open his mouth against Hashem's anointed one?

How is such a thing possible?

There is no doubt that with the tremendous breadth of genius that was present in Shimi's mind, he grasped the concept of kingship in its entirety and clearly poskined that it is possible, yes, very possible, and perhaps necessarily so.… And so Shimi decided, that for the moment the laws of kingship do not apply to Dovid Hamelech with everything that comes with it.

This was the pitfall of "I take that to mean…" This was the trap.

He fell into his own trap. He tripped himself up. He was the one that sunk the sword into himself.

This was the profound wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech.

It seems that everything was perfectly obvious even to Shimi that there was absolutely no reason that would permit his leaving Yerushalayim. He understood that this was not a simple whim and impulsive caprice of Shlomo Hamelech. And yet he allowed himself the liberty of thinking, in spite of everything, this time I won't fall into the trap of my "interpretations."

If he was so aware of all this, how is it that he wasn't careful? This teaches us that a person can be very, very careful, and yet he will slip on the slippery peel, of "I take that to mean…"

Why? Lack of deference! Lack of submission to the Divine command, Hashem's will alone, without adding any reinforcement from one's personal understanding and intellect. Simple listening to the will of the Ribono Shel Olam.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rosh Yeshiva
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.

Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood).

If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him: or 732-325-1257

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