The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 23 June 2018 / 10 Tammuz 5778

The Paradox of the Para Aduma

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
Library Library Library

The command of the Para Aduma (Red Heifer) is called the “chok” of the Torah, a statute of the Torah. A chok is defined as a commandment which has a reason beyond the grasp of human understanding. Although this type of command may appear illogical to some, the fact that it emanates from G-d is reason enough to obligate us to fulfill it. In the future messianic era, when the knowledge of G-d will become more revealed, even these commands will become comprehensible.

Of all the chukim recorded, the Para Aduma stands out as the quintessential chok of the Torah. Even the great King Solomon, the wisest of all men, who knew the deepest secrets of the Torah, could not fully understand this mitzvah. He said, “I will attain wisdom,” and yet in the end was unable to fully understand this mitzvah, and he said that wisdom was far from him.

Questions: 1) Perhaps the greatest difficulty regarding the Para Aduma is that it both purifies the ritually impure and makes those involved in its preparation ritually impure. How can contact with the same thing render opposite results? Does fire burn some people while cooling others? 2) Another difficulty is that the Para Aduma was prepared outside all of the Jewish camps, unlike the other Temple services, which were performed on holy ground. Why the difference?

A Lesson for Life

Just as the Para Aduma, which was prepared in a place of impurity, contained within in it the possibility to both purify and contaminate, so too in these times of exile and Divine concealment we have the potential to become contaminated or purified, to build or destroy.

Outside the realm of holiness, the forces of evil can cloud and confuse a person’s judgment, allowing misuse of the tools which G-d provides. When one finds himself outside of G-d's Temple and the Jewish camp, he will see many opposites existing together. The same bulletin board can be used to advertise a Rabbi’s class ― or an ad for a new movie that glorifies murder, robbery, greed and lust. One can use clothes to dress modestly or to do the opposite. This idea applies to a person’s attributes as well: Love and pride can be expressed in a pure and wholesome manner, or can become distorted and used for completely selfish motives.

When G-d's countenance is hidden from us, we are faced with contradictions from all sides. There are things that we can use to come closer to G-d. If, however, those very same things are misused, they become the very vehicle to take us away from Him.

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