July 13 | Chukat
July 20 | Balak
How well does your child have to behave to capture your complete love? How much loyalty does your spouse need to commit before you can feel true love toward them? Isn’t everything in the world based on giving and taking? How can you have a true commitment to someone who will never be able to repay you for your selfless devotion? Those questions vanish once we understand the Torah portion Chukat.
Chukat begins by discussing the quintessential decree of the Torah, the red heifer. After a person becomes ritually defiled through coming into contact with a corpse, they can regain their spiritual purity by being sprinkled with water containing ashes of the red cow.
The laws of this divine commandment are simply paradoxical. On one hand, when the mixture is sprinkled on the impure person, they become cleansed. However, those involved in the preparation of this process become impure. Even King Solomon, the wisest of all people, declared, “All of the Torah’s commandments I have comprehended. But the chapter of the red heifer, though I have examined, questioned and searched, I thought to be wise in it, but it is distant from me” (Koheles 7:23) (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:5).
This commandment transcends our mortal comprehension, and that’s precisely the point because real love surpasses all understanding. You don’t love your child because they are smart, kind or for any other noble virtue they possess. You love your child because they are you and your commitment to them transcends all rational understanding.
Many commentaries observe a difficulty in the introductory sentence of Chukat: “This is the decree of the Torah … speak to the Children of Israel and they shall take for me a red, perfect cow.” It should have stated, “This is the statute of the red heifer.”
The priests appointed to prepare the red cow may rationally argue, why should we become defiled for the sake of those who were negligent to avoid contact with a corpse? That argument superficially appears to be valid and just. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains this mitzvah is inherently irrational because G-d is teaching us that our sacrifice toward another Jew has to be deliberately inexplicable and must transcend all logic. True love and commitment mean we are prepared to upset the comfortable status quo because another Jew’s plight becomes our very own.
That is the meaning of the introductory word. Our Torah portion, “This is the statute of the Torah,” is a lesson for all of our commandments that affirms that our dedication, love and commitment to each other simply and hopefully shouldn’t make any sense.
Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann is executive director at Chabad of Columbus and the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center.