This week’s parsha contains within it one of the most fascinating mitzvoth in the Torah- Parah Aduma. The entire process of the Parah Aduma is exceptional in many ways, which we have already discussed, in earlier shiurim (see http://www.midreshetharova.org.il/KiTesa5761.htm). In this shiur I would like to focus on the actual concept of a “chok”. We are used to the classification of the various commandments in the Torah. We have Mitzvoth, Chukim, Mishpatim, Torot , etc..I call your attention to R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s monumental work Horeb that is divided down along these lines. We generally contrast Hukim and Mishpatim, but what is the distinction between these two types of mitzvoth.
The popular view is that mishpatim have reasons behind them while chukim do not. The Rambam in his introduction to perkei Avot, the Shmona Perakim, further develops this idea. The Rambam writes that that in the category of mishpatim are not only the mitzvoth that the Torah has clearly stated the rationale, such as not accepting converts from Amon and Moav because of the insensitivity that they displayed when they met us as we left Egypt, but as well this category includes all mitzvoth that after I am told what the reason is I can make the connection between the reason and the mitzvah. On the other hand chukim do not have a reason described in the Torah and even for those mitzvoth that do have a reason the connection between the Mitzvah and the reason remain unclear and it is not obvious how the goal is to be achieved by this particular action. This bifurcation of the world of mitzvoth is well designed for the modern man and western thinker. We tend not to do those things that we do not identify with and have trouble committing ourselves to that which we deem to be irrelevant. This attitude however, is the antithesis to the attitude of the Torah. We are commanded to keep ALL mitzvoth regardless of how warm and mushy they make us feel. Our commitment to God is one that involves just that, a commitment to God in whatever manner He has deemed worthy.
We are not to be the judges of what as a good idea and what is not. The very fact that we have been instructed by God to do the mitzvoth is significant and binding upon us. The well known debate as to whether it is better to be volunteering for a mitzvah or fulfilling an obligation was decide in favor of the obligatory fulfillment. “Gadol hametzuve veoseh m’she ano metzuve veoseh” “Greater is the one who is commanded and fulfills than he who is not commanded and fulfills” This statement takes into account the tremendous respect for those who are exempt from a mitzvah and yet feel it necessary to do as much as they can in the service of God. Their excitement and freshness is inspiring. Yet Chazal have taught us that it could be that the “luke warm” fulfillment of the “commanded” is even greater. It is the command itself and the subservience to God’s will that elevates the observance to a plane of higher nature. Many of you have learned the shmona perkim with me and I would like to remind you all of an idea that we advanced in the shiur. Not all mitzvoth fit neatly into the categories that we have set up. Many of the mitzvoth have elements of chok while other elements are more precisely defined as mishpat. For example the mitzvah of kibbud av veam respecting one’s parents. On the surface it would seem that this mitzvah is one of the most logical mitzvoth in the Torah. As R. Moshe Fienstein describes it – a mitzvah of appreciation to those that spent so long taking care of you and are responsible for your very life. On the other hand R. Moshe explains that the extent of the mitzvah extends beyond pure hakarat hatov, we are obligated in an extensive manner that does not necessarily have a rational background.
This idea is present in many other contexts such as the example that the Rambam uses, Arayot- incest. In almost all societies today the moral corruption of incest is held as a universal more, however what defines exactly which relationships are prohibited? It is in this way that we see even in some of the most logical Mitzvah we have “irrational” elements that we must follow as a function of our sheer commitment to God and the Torah. I would like to add on an idea that some of our freshest Bogrot learned together with me last week in the introduction to the “Chovot Hatalmidim”. He, in a very Chasidic thought, describes a mishpat as a mitzvah that one can involve ones emotions in, a mitzvah that one can get excited about and utilize all of one’s faculties in fulfilling it. On the other hand chukim are those mitzvoth that not only can we not understand, but also because we cannot understand them we have trouble getting excited about it. If we are not excited then we lack a full connection to the mitzvah.
In our observance of Mitzvoth we must be diligent in keeping of all of the mitzvoth and with the excitement and fervor knowing that we are fulfilling Gods wishes and becoming closer to him with each and every one.