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Parshas Chukas

Para Aduma - Statute of Limitations
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

This week's parsha discusses the mitzva of Para Aduma, the red heifer. We are commanded to slaughter and burn the para aduma. Afterwards the ashes are gathered, ready to be mixed with mayim chaim, spring water, to sprinkle and purify one who came into contact with a corpse, tumas hameis. In introducing this mitzva, the passuk is expressed in an unusual way: "Zos chukas HaTorah" - This is the statute of the Torah (Bamidbar 19:2). The Or HaChaim wonders why the passuk doesn't use the more appropriate phrase, zos chukas hatahara, purity, or hatemeiah, impurity.

He answers that when one observes a mitzva that he understands, it does not necessarily reveal that he is an oved Hashem, a servant of Hashem. If, however, one fulfils a mitzva, of which the meaning is not clear, and he still observes it in all its details, this indicates that he is an oved Hashem. Para aduma is the quintessential chok. More than any other mitzvah, we cannot fathom its meaning. The Sefer HaChinuch explains (Mitzva 397) that the main difficulty with para aduma is the law that those involved in its preparations contract tuma, yet the para aduma purifies one who is tamei. How can something which purifies, be the source of tuma? Therefore the passuk states "Zos chukas HaTorah"- This is the statute of the Torah, implying that one who observes this mitzva, is regarded as having fulfilled the entire Torah. The Or HaChaim concludes that perhaps this was the reason why Hashem transmitted this mitzva to us as a chok.

In his closing remarks, the Or HaChaim alludes to an important lesson which will lead us to another answer to his question. Rashi comments that the yetzer hara and the nations of the world mock us, saying - what reason is there for this mitzva? Therefore the Torah states that para aduma is a chok - one does not have the right to question it.

Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz zt"l, the Mirrer Mashgiach notes that this does not mean that there are no reasons for this mitzva, rather we lack the capacity to comprehend the rationale for para aduma. The wisest of men said concerning para aduma, "I said I will become wise, but it is beyond me." (Koheles 7:23). Chazal explain that Shlomo Hamelech toiled to comprehend this mitzva, but admitted that he could not. Shlomo realised that there is no deeper area of wisdom than para aduma.

The Or HaChaim said that Hashem chose to give this mitzva in this fashion. The Torah is the Davar Hashem. HaKadosh Baruch istachel B'Arrassa u'bara alma - Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world. The Torah is the blueprint of Creation. That we have the capabilities to understand the other mitzvos is not because they are more logical, the Torah was not given because of these reasons. On the contrary, Hashem shaped our minds and revealed these areas of the Torah to us. In reality these areas are also beyond our grasp. We learn this from para aduma. Hashem left this mitzva in its original form. Therefore the passuk states - Zos chukas HaTorah. This mitzva reveals that the entire Torah is a chok. Para aduma is the statute of limitations; it reveals our limitations of comprehending the depth and hidden meanings of the Torah.

Although reasons are given for many of the mitzvos, we must realise that the mitzvos are not dependent on these reasons (see Gur Aryeh Bamidbar 19:2). The Hebrew word for reason 'taam', also means taste. The purpose of these reasons is to make the mitzvos "palatable". They enhance our appreciation of the mitzvos and drew us closer to Hashem (see Pirkei Torah Vayikra 1:9). As was mentioned above, the Torah preceded creation. The mitzvos were already written before the reasons were in the realm of possibility.

Later in the parsha of para aduma, the passuk states - "Zos HaTorah adam ki yamus l'ohelů" - This is the law of one who dies in a tentů. The Sages expand the verse as follows: the words of Torah are only retained by one who kills himself over them (Berachos 63b).

It is fitting that the Torah included this lesson here. From para aduma we learn that Torah is beyond human capabilities, it is purely spiritual. The Maharal explains that man who is materialistic cannot fathom Torah. Man must drive out this drive for materialism and only then can Torah enter and remain a part of him.

The Chafetz Chaim explains that Chazal are also advising us concerning how to motivate ourselves to learn. There was once a wealthy businessman who was constantly involved in his business and had no time to learn. He barely even went to Shul. He was getting on in years and realised that he was not prepared for the next world. How would he defend himself on the Day of Judgement? He started to be meticulous with his shul attendance. He then began to learn. One morning he learned after davening for a few hours. His wife complained that there were many customers waiting for him. The next day he came home even later. His wife accused him of destroying his business and losing his customers. The man responded that if he had died, what would she have done then?

There are many pressing needs, we have to earn a livelihood, give a hand at home. But for some time during the day, one should be 'dead to the world'. When one leaves this world, there are no more phone calls, no more bills to pay. Let us utilise the time now while we still can, before our statute of limitations runs out.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper, provided that this notice is included intact.

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