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This is the statute of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded saying: Speak to the children of Israel and they shall take to you a perfectly red cow which has no blemish, upon which a yoke has not come. (Bamidbar 19:2)
In this week’s parsha we learn about the para aduma. Rashi in the name of R’ Moshe HaDarshan explains the para aduma serves as atonement for the sin of the golden calf. This can be compared to the son of a maidservant who soiled the palace of a king. They said, let the mother come and wipe away the excrement of her child. Similarly let the red cow come and atone for the calf.
The commentators note that the para aduma is a called a chok due to our lack of understanding of the reason of this mitzvah and its laws. Most perplexing is the fact that the sprinkling of the para aduma water purifies one who was contaminated from corpse contamination; yet contaminates the kohanim who prepare and sprinkle the para aduma water. How can the same object which brings purification also bring contamination? Indeed, chazal tell us that even Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men failed to comprehend the depths of this Mitzvah. It is thus called chok which is translated as statute. This word has the connotation of a law that is beyond the comprehension of man. Furthermore, the Torah, by introducing the law of para aduma with the phrase “This is the statute of the Torah” teaches us that the para aduma serves as the prototype for all aspects of the Torah that we do not understand. Para aduma highlights that our performance of Mitzvos is not dependent on our understanding of the Mitzvos but rather as a fulfillment of the decree of Hashem.
The commentators note that the mitzvah of para aduma was given to the Jewish people when they encamped in Mara, prior to their sin of worshiping the golden calf. This fact further adds to our difficulty in understanding the purpose of the para aduma. Since the para aduma serves as atonement for the sin of the golden calf, how can Hashem give the Mitzvah of para aduma as a means of atonement before the Jewish people committed the sin?
One of fundamental principles of Judaism is our belief that Hashem knows what will happen in the future. However, this seems to interfere with our free will. How can man exercise free will if Hashem knows what will happen in the future? Hashem’s knowledge of the future forces us to choose one way or the other. Nevertheless, the Rambam (Avos 3:15) explains that Hashem’s knowledge of the future does not interfere with our free will. Although it is impossible for us to understand how this is possible, we acknowledge that Hashem operates with a different set of rules that are beyond our understanding. This is stated explicitly in the posuk “My thought are not like your thoughts.” (Yeshayah 45:8)
Homiletically we may suggest that a person who has never sinned may be called “pure.” Similarly, one who has sinned may be called “contaminated.” Indeed, Chazal describe children who have never experienced the taste of sin as “the pure ones.”
Perhaps, we may suggest that the reason the para aduma represents the quintessential chok is because it alludes to the above concept. Hashem’s knowledge of the future does not interfere with man’s free will.
The paradox of para aduma is that it contaminates the pure and purifies the contaminated. When the Jewish people encamped in Mara they had not yet sinned, they were “pure.” Hashem gave them the mitzvah of para aduma. Hashem knew that in the future the Jewish people would sin by worshiping the golden calf and thus need the para aduma to atone for their transgression. In Mara, Hashem prepared the antidote before the sickness. From the human perspective, the giving of the mitzvah of para aduma at this point revealed Hashem’s knowledge that in the future the Jewish people would sin. It would seem that Hashem’s knowledge of the future would affect the behavior of the now “pure” Jewish people to worship the golden calf and become “contaminated” with sin. The premature giving of the para aduma has thus set into motion a process where the pure would be contaminated. However, after the sin of the worshiping the golden calf, the para aduma would atone for the sin of the golden calf and thus “purify” the Jewish people form their “contamination.” The para aduma has thus purified the contaminated. This is the paradox of the para aduma. From man‘s perspective it contaminated the pure and purified the contaminated.
However, Hashem does not operate with our rules of logic. The paradox of para aduma does not present a problem because we acknowledge that His thoughts are not like ours. The para aduma is the quintessential chok. Through para aduma we acknowledge not only our lack of understanding of a particular mitzvah or a specific law but more profoundly, “My thought are not like your thoughts.”
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5763/2003