JUST DO IT – Khukas – Num. 19-22:1 – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
This week we will read a section that starts with what has been called the most mysterious of all Mitzvos. It is the law of the Red Heifer, a special ceremony to remove the contamination of touching a dead body. It defies human logic, as the rabbis discussing it protested: “It cleans up the contaminated and contaminates the clean ones!” Historically we are told that this rite was performed just 9 times in all the centuries, and it is predicted to take place a 10thtime only when the Messiah will arrive. Reading the account of this strange ceremony, we may well ask why we were commanded to do it.
The answer to that question gives this Torah reading its name: Khukas, from the word Khok,a statute. We learn there are three basic kinds of Mitzvah in the Torah. One is called Mishpatim – judgements. These are laws people could figure out for themselves, even if they were not written. For example, prohibition of murder, or robbery, or theft. Then we have Eydot – ordinances. These are rules of human conduct that might irk us, but are perfectly logical. They would include daily duties, from treatment of animals to observing the Sabbath to honoring people’s memories. In a modern society those ordinances would include traffic laws. It’s that third category of Khukim – statutes – that we cannot explain. Like the Red Heifer.
Studying Torah equips us to do the Mitzvos, and it should help us understand them. For many of our righteous forebears, it was enough. For us, maybe we need a little help. Today I’ll quote a lady named Chana Weisberg, editor of the TheJewishWoman.org. (And I know my wife will appreciate my quoting a female writer!) Chana Weisberg tells an entertaining story, and builds on it:
She calls her couple Sara and Barry, comfortably married, and facing a task that has to be done. It could be “a repair project, a special favor or a purchase for their home.” And they disagreed on how it should be done. With the result that usually Barry retired grumpily and the job was not done at all. “Then one day,” says Chana Weisberg, “Sara tried a different approach.” Instead of debating the alternatives, she smiled and said: “Honey, I know this isn’t the way you see it, but please, just do it for me!” To her surprise, Barry smiled and did it.
That was a khok– a statute of love. Some mitzvos fill that same spot. Maybe in our time not the Red Heifer, but maybe other Mitzvos don’t quite make sense to some of us, like keeping Kosher, or saying Kaddish, or, yes, monogamy in marriage. We can fulfill those Mitzvos, and bless the Divine in each of us, if we forego debate and – just do it!