Parshas Chukas – The Statute of the Torah

By Avner Friedmann

According to Torah, the greatest level of ritual impurity occurs when a Jew comes in contact with the body of a deceased Jew. Any person who is in this state of impurity may not enter the Sanctuary or even the Courtyard of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, may it be built speedily, in our days. Now, there is only one way to become purified of this level of impurity…specifically through the ashes of a Red Cow, as it states in the beginning of this week’s parshah[1]: “HaShem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying: This is the statute of the Torah that HaShem commanded to say. Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take for you an unblemished totally red cow, upon which a yoke has never been laid.” The Torah then describes the processing of this rare cow: It is slaughtered, some of its blood is sprinkled facing the Tent of Meeting and it is then burnt completely, along with a cedar tree, hyssop, and crimson wool. The ashes are then mixed with water and sprinkled by the Kohen on the impure person to make him pure.

However, there is a paradox regarding the mitzvah of the red cow, which is beyond the understanding of human logical. On the one hand, a person is purified of this severe impurity through the sprinkling of its ashes, but on the other hand, whoever is engaged in its preparation and sprinkling becomes impure with a lesser degree of impurity. It is about this paradox that King Shlomo, the wisest of all men, exclaimed[2], “I thought I could become wise, but it is far from me.”

Now, impurity first entered Man as a result of the original sin committed by Chava and Adam. This Sin led to the need for us to go through the process of death, which serves as a step in the purification process. Chava and Adam sinned because they relied on their rational understanding of HaShem’s commandment not to eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One consequence of committing this sin was that it became Man’s nature to first want to understand and rationalize something before committing to it. In other words, accepting things that are beyond our grasp is a very difficult thing to do. As a result, our natural inclination is to search for logic and reason before committing to fulfill a mitzvah[3]. However, this tendency runs contrary to the overarching principle accepted by the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai when they proclaimed, “We will do and we will hear”. In doing so they placed the performance of the mitzvot before understanding their underlying meaning or purpose and even before knowing what the mitzvot would specifically be, they were committed to doing them.[4]

Now, to correct the above undesirable tendency, it is necessary for a Jew to negate his own rational mind before HaShem and His Torah. This is where the matter of the Red Cow applies. There needed to be at least one mitzvah which is completely beyond logic and reason; a mitzvah that would require a person to totally negate his own way of thinking and to sublimate his mind to the will and wisdom of HaShem. It would therefore be this mitzvah which would atone for and purify a person from the impurity of death which was brought on through eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil[5].

Without this, it would be very easy to fall into the tendency of performing only those mitzvot that make logical sense to us. In effect, that would actually be doing our own will, rather than HaShem’s will. However, by performing the mitzvah of the Red Cow, we demonstrate that in reality, even when we perform other mitzvot, we do so solely because they are HaShem’s will, rather than because they make logical sense to us.

Rashi states[6] that this is the reason why the Torah calls this mitzvah as “THE statute (חקה) of the Torah”. That is, it is the statute of the entire Torah, not just of the mitzvah of the Red Cow, as one would think it should be called. In other words, the word “statute” here not only refers to this mitzvah, but to all the mitzvot, because ultimately all the mitzvot should be performed as statutes, that is, simply because they are the will of HaShem, rather than because of intellectual considerations. Even the mitzvot between man and his fellow, such as not to murder, steal or give false testimony etc., which on the surface, seem to make sense to us, should ultimately be done because they are HaShem’s will.

Nonetheless, in His infinite kindness, HaShem gave us reasons for many of the mitzvot -טעמי מצות , which make them more accessible and pleasurable. Nevertheless, the ultimate reason of even those mitzvot is actually beyond our grasp, because they originate from an Infinite Source that is beyond our grasp. The Holy Zohar states[7] that HaShem gave human beings wisdom and understanding as tools so that they can think the words of Torah and perform His mitzvot. However ultimately, “No thought that grasps Him at all”[8].

It may be asked,[9] “Who says that everything must make sense and add up? Even if it seems sometimes that Torah negates our perception of reality, we need to have faith that HaShem is true and his Torah is true. As such, it is above our perception. Just as we believe that our senses were given to us by the Creator, so too we should believe that much, if not most, of existence is above our senses and beyond the parameters of our perception. We may perceive many paradoxes in our perception of reality, but through the power of Emunah (Faith) we can know that in reality there are no paradoxes.

Ultimately the secret of the Red Cow will be revealed with the coming of Moshiach. Then our eyes will be opened, like a blind person who suddenly received the gift of sight. In all of history, only nine cows have existed that could qualify as the “Red Cow” of the Torah. When the Third Temple will be built, may it be speedily in our days, the tenthand last Red Cow will be discovered and all Jews will be purified for good. At that time, the resurrection of the dead will happen, death will be no more and we will reach an even higher spiritual level than Adam HaRishon (the first man) before the sin. May we merit it speedily in our days, Amen.


[1] 19:1-2

[2] Ecclesiastes 7:23.

[3] Sefat Emet.

[4] Shabbat 88a-b.

[5] Ma’ayana Shel Torah, in the name of Sefat Emet.

[6] 19:2, from Tnchuma.

[7] Zohar Chadash 55b.

[8] Tikunei Zohar 17a, 121a, and b.

[9] BeLevavee Mishkan Evneh Part 9, perek 4.

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