web analytics
August 2, 2015 / 17 Av, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »
PARSHAH NOTES

Chukkat: How Far Can our Understanding of Torah Reach?

How can that substance which purifies the contaminated also render impure the uncontaminated priest who prepared it?
A red heifer is sacrificed, burnt and its ashes, mixed with water, are sprinkled on Jews who contracted the impurity of a dead person.

A red heifer is sacrificed, burnt and its ashes, mixed with water, are sprinkled on Jews who contracted the impurity of a dead person.

By Howard Zik

Parshat Chukkat dealing with the sacrifice of the red heifer is often alluded to as representing the upper limits of our capacity in understanding Torah.

The Midrash relates that Solomon himself despaired of any understanding of it (Num. R:19:3) and some commentators have used it as an example to demonstrate that some Torah decrees have the status of being impossible to understand, capturing this notion in the very meaning of the term chukim or decrees, while at the same time professing that their observance elevates one spiritually.

Yet the Talmud and the history of Jewish ideas reveal that the quest to acquire some understanding of these decrees goes on. This conflict raises the crucial question How far can our understanding of Torah reach? I believe that a response to this question can be provided which speaks to the value of the relevance of a philosophy that is rooted in distinctly Jewish sources.

The paradox of the red heifer resides in the fact that the ashes of this burnt animal are mixed with fresh water to purify one who came in contact with the dead, while at the same time the preparation of these ashes renders impure the priest who concocts them.

How can that substance which purifies the contaminated also render impure the uncontaminated priest who prepared it? The difficulty in resolving this paradox is often joined with the claim that following such seemingly absurd decrees show the virtue of our humility, recognizing the limitations on our reason.

This then raises the question of whether humility requires a complete abandonment of reason and the human capacity to acquire insight.

It would be of value to note that there are degrees in understanding in all realms of knowledge. In the sciences, for example, theoretical physicists are still struggling to develop a comprehensive theory that encompasses what we know of minute matter and the galaxies, bridging quantum physics (more suited for micro matter) and relativity (better when dealing with the galaxies).

In Guide to the Perplexed, Maimonides prefaces his logical demonstration of the existence of God as the first cause, by reminding the reader that certainty is impossible in this area (while his demonstration is professed to be only more likely than the alternatives).

This, however, does not in any way preclude knowledge in such instances, but rater allows that knowledge can be partial, and, even more significantly, places us in a created universe where such knowledge can become more complete with the passage of time.

Moreover, the underlying concept of the Oral Torah in Jewish thought is particularly well suited to this scenario, as the Oral Torah represents an ongoing interpretation, which, as the contemporary scholar Norman Cohen points out, represents the boundless potential for rendering the Torah “understandable in the generation in which it was given and to all subsequent generations.”

In this sense it is truly as the rabbis described it “like black fire written on white fire.”

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Chukkat: How Far Can our Understanding of Torah Reach?”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Inside of the home burned in the Prce Tag attack in the village of Duma.
In the Wake of a Lethal Arson Attack
Latest Indepth Stories
Inside of the home burned in the Prce Tag attack in the village of Duma.

Reports of a dead baby, a devastated family, and indications of a gloating attacker.

Silhouette of "hilltop settler."

“Yesha” and Binyamin Regional Council leaders said the attack “is not the path of Jews in Judea and Samaria.”

Schwartz-073115

The occasion? The rarely performed mitzvah of pidyon peter chamor: Redemption of a firstborn donkey.

Rabbi YY Rubinstein

American leftists have a pathological self-inflicted blindness to the dangers of political Islam

Hillary should THANK Trump; By dominating the news he’s overshadowed the implosion of her campaign

Hard to remember when Jewish youth were so hostile to their heritage as they are on campuses today.

Names of the enablers of Iran’s Nuclear weapons will be added next to Hitler’s on the list of infamy

By most accounts, the one person with the political muscle to swing enough Democratic votes to override a veto is Sen. Schumer.

The next day, in a speech in New York to the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Kerry substantially upped the ante.

In Israel, the judiciary has established itself as superior to ALL other branches of the government.

The Fifteenth Day of the month of Av became a day of national rejoicing. The moment that had seemed hopeless became the moment of Redemption.

I think the melodies in our religious services have a haunting sound to them that just permeates your guts and gets into your soul. If you have any musical inclination, I think they inspire you to compose.

Cavalier analogies to the Holocaust are unacceptable, but Huckabee’s analogy was very appropriate.

Pollard was a Jewish-head-on-a-pike for all American Jews to see and to learn the explicit lesson.

More Articles from Guest Author
Pres. Rivlin and PM Netanyahu with the justices of the Supreme Court

In Israel, the judiciary has established itself as superior to ALL other branches of the government.

.

On the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’av, a reflection on the dangerous deal with Iran

Peace garnered by appeasing terrorists last because they will hunger for more victims.

A year after Operation Protective Edge, the Lone Soldier Center continues its care of these soldiers

Under-12 Israel National Baseball Team will compete in Italy in a great international competition

Foreshadowing occurs in real life too when the Omniscient cracks open a window for us to the future

Swim4Sadna is an annual event benefiting Sadna, an integrative special-ed community in Gush Etzion

Jewish Voices for Peace’s 2015 Haggadah is a blatant anti-Israel screed crying, “L’chayim to BDS!”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/chukkat-how-far-can-our-understanding-of-torah-reach/2013/06/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: