The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tammuz 7, 5766/July 3, 2006

"All this have I tried by wisdom; I said: 'I will get wisdom'; but it was far from me."
(Koheleth - Ecclesiastes 7:23)

These are the words of King Solomon, the wisest man that walked the earth. Our sages tell us that what "was far from" him was an understanding of the laws of the red heifer. For all his wisdom, Solomon could not comprehend the ordinance which at the same time could render the impure pure while also rendering the cohen ministering the purifying ashes, impure. The statute of the red heifer, the description of which opens this week's Torah reading of Chukat, (Numbers 19:1 - 22:1), is held up as a symbol of the type of Torah mitzvot known as chukim. Chukim are those commandments whose meaning cannot be derived from human reason or moral imperative. This is precisely because these commandments are an aspect of the perfect, highest will of the Creator and thus their explanation is outside  the realm of human comprehension. Although we can understand certain dimensions of meaning, we can never fully comprehend the true nature of these ordinances. Another example of a chok are the laws of kashrut - the determination of which animals can be eaten and how they must be prepared.

What was King Solomon expressing when he admitted, "... but it was far from me?" Disappointment? Dejection? Rejection? Quite the opposite. Ironically, in a fashion that imitates the very conundrum of the red heifer, the ultimate inability to intellectually grasp the essence of the chok of Torah doesn't distance us from G-d, heaven forbid! On the contrary, this very built-in failing, as it were, brings us closer to G-d than any intellectual platitude ever could. For we live by the chok - the incomprehensible statute - not out of reason, or even intuition or faith, but out of love. As the children of Israel said at the foot of Sinai: "We shall do and we shall hear: " We fulfill G-d's command simply because this is His will.

True, this may sound unusual to modern ears. For we in the western world are treated to a daily barrage of messages, all of which boil down to a simple: follow your own desire; your will is king! Yet love - true love - is setting aside your own will, in order to fulfill another's. Every individual reaches a point in his service to G-d where his reason, (his intellect), can no longer keep pace. The resulting distance that King Solomon refers to is inversely the measure of one's closeness to G-d. Love, in the end, outflanks reason, every time.

To learn more about the mystery of the red heifer, with a special emphasis on how these fine philosophical points relate to what is happening in Israel today, listen to this week's TEMPLE TALK broadcast, with Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven. Also discussed are the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, and the true Torah response to the taking of a hostage by the enemies of Israel.

Click to hear:

Part 1
Part 2