This past week we read a double portion in the Bible: Chukat and Balak (Numbers 19:1-25:9). Here we focus on the first one.
Chukat – "the laws of" – "chok" – "law that has no logical explanation, you just do it."
This portion relates the laws of the red heifer and contact with the dead.
In this portion we learn that a red heifer is used as a sacrifice to purify those who have come into contact with the dead.
That God would want people to stay distant from a corpse makes sense; we know that the nations of the world practiced cannibalism and incorporated the dead into their rituals, in order to gain power.
However, the Torah is so specific about what a red heifer is, and the quality measures associated with a suitable red heifer for the purification ritual — that it’s biologically nearly impossible to find one.
That is one reason why the portion is called "chukat," or "the non-explained laws of…"
The deeper question: Why does God put such onerous requirements on us when it comes to a death purification ritual? Why demand a red cow that’s impossible to find? Why not just use a regular cow?
Further deep questions: If someone is messing around with the dead, is the problem really the purification ritual or is it the fact that they have turned away from God and toward paganism?
The answer to the question of the red heifer, of the law that "makes no sense," is that you aren’t going to get what you understand as an answer. There are times when you are required to work with the non-answer.
There are times when you simply cannot know.
The faith of the person who cannot know is the most beautiful faith of all.
This is not the person who is "lazy." This is the person who has done their best to comprehend, emotionally and intellectually, but who stops at the limits of human perception.
Numbers 19, Verses 1-2: "The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: This is the ritual law that the LORD has commanded: Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid."
Commentary, Rashi, on Verse 2: "Because Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel, saying, “What is this command and what reason is there for it?"
Here we have the link between satanism and the worship of science.
Science worshipers must always have a rational explanation; they must see tangible evidence; they must make argument based on the laws of this world.
They do not accept that God made science, and that God’s rules are over and above science.
Gedalia Litke calls attention to a further level of seeming "irrationality."
Litke notes that the ashes of the red heifer, or "parah adumah," appear to work in an illogical manner, in that they "have the power both to purify the defiled and also to defile the pure."
This is where satan steps in, not just to challenge, but actually to laugh at the Jews who dedicate ourselves to following the law.
It is a high level of faith to believe in God to the point where you enthusiastically follow laws that are commanded to you, but which you cannot humanly understand.
By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.