This week’s parasha begins with the famous mitzvah of the Para Aduma, the red heifer, which is used in the purification process after contact with a corpse. The Torah describes the mitzvah as a “Chok” – which is explained to mean: a type pf mitzvah which is ‘ a decree of the king’ whose reasoning can transcend human intelligence. Conversely, there are mishpatim which are mitzvot that are rational and perhaps we would have thought of them even without having been commanded – like not killing and not stealing etc. Although there are other examples of chok-type mitzvot in the Torah – such as Shaatnez and elements of Kashrut, Para Aduma is known as the quintessential example of a “chok”, as the Torah says “ this is the chok of the Torah”. Indeed Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, was able to scuba dive into the depths of every mitzvah and discover its reasoning and meaning. His wisdom was so great that he was able to illustrate the meaning of each word of Torah with as many as 3000 parables and cite 1005 different reasons for every word of the sages. Yet despite his genius, when he attempted to plumb the depths of the mitzvah of the Red Heifer, he found that it was beyond him, and not only that, but he realized that all that he had thought he had understood, was only the tip of the iceberg of the Torah’s infinite wisdom.
One could ask however, what is the point of mitzvot that we are unable to understand? Surely the greater the understanding we have of a mitzvah the greater connection we will be able to forge with its observance and with Hashem through doing it. Why are ‘ decrees from the king’ which are intellectually beyond us needed in our avodat Hashem? The paradox of the Para Aduma holds the answer.
As mentioned ,the Para Aduma is a chok, yet despite the seeming incomprehensibility of this mitzvah, Rashi gives a stage by stage explanation for each detail of the Para Aduma! Citing the Midrash which links the Para Aduma to the Sin of the Golden Calf and in doing so seems to give it logic and reason:
“The palace maid’s baby son dirtied the floor of the palace. They said ‘let the mother of the child come and clean up her son’s mess’ .”
The “mother” is the Para Aduma which comes to “clean up the mess” made by the Golden Calf – the “baby” in the parable.
This is most bizarre. Rashi himself states emphatically at the beginning of the parasha that this Red Heifer is beyond reasoning and then goes on to give reasons! And what of Shlomo HaMelech? Was he not aware of the connection of the two cows? Furthermore, how does the Red Heifer serve as an atonement for the Golden Calf, ‘cleaning up it’s mess’?
To understand how the red heifer comes to ‘clean up’ the mess of the golden calf we must return for a moment to the motivation behind building the calf in the first place. The Rishonim explain how the golden calf was at first an attempt to replace Moshe. Moshe had gone up on the mountain and was seemingly late in his return. In a panic thinking their leader had died, some amongst the people made a move to replace Moshe. The core issue there was a desire to connect to something tangible. They needed something they could see and comprehend as their intermediary between themselves and G-d. Moshe was their tangible, comprehensible vision of spirituality, easier to connect through than an intangible invisible G-d. Hashem is not tangible, not graspable, and not definable. You can’t see Him with your human eyes, nor touch Him with your human hands. He does not fit into any definable box – He is the Infinite, beyond our grasp – that is why He is G-d! But they yearned to connect to something ‘this worldly’ that they could fit into their minds. The yearning to connect to something that we can fit into tangible, measurable limits is an issue in every generation. When one takes the infinite Hashem and tries to squash Him into our finite intellect – where if it doesn’t make sense to me, then it doesn’t make sense. When a person thinks they can and should be able to understand everything, including everything about G-d and His Divine wisdom – and when it doesn’t make sense to them they reject it.
The Beis HaLevi explains that the para aduma as the quintessential example of the “chok”, the incomprehensible law, atones for this core problem of the Golden Calf, namely, the slavery to the intellectually rational. It comes to ‘clean up the mess’ by teaching us to let go a little, and not to need to understand everything. This beautifully answers our question on Rashi – how can Para Aduma simultaneously be a chok and be explained to be an atonement for the calf? It’s very incomprehensibility which calls for us to suspend our ego’s need to understand, is how it atones.
The chok therefore comes to teach us that we aren’t always going to be able to grasp and intellectualize. That so much is way beyond us, and we need to humbly submit ourselves to Hashem’s Knowledge. It also teaches us that just because we don’t know the reason, doesn’t mean there is no reason. We ask valid questions of Hashem: ‘how could this happen’, ‘this makes no sense’, ‘how can there be free will and Divine providence at the same time’ ,’ how can He, the Creator of all, truly want to have a relationship with little me’ , ‘ how can Hashem truly forgive me for what I have done, impossible’ but we are not willing to accept the answers unless it ‘fits’ our intellect and especially not if the answer is that ‘it is beyond human grasp’. One must be careful, as sometimes when we think there needs to be an intellectually satisfactory answer to everything, that Hashem has to ‘fit’ in our minds, then we end up pushing Hashem out of our lives. We become the lonely ‘wise’ ones in Rebbe Nachman’s famous story of the ‘Tam and the Chacham’ who think we understand everything, but really we are the furthest from understanding. The King invites us to a meet him , but we intellectually reject why such a Great King would want to meet little old me?
Despite our penetrating, rigorous intellectually stimulating focus on learning and questions, a Jew also needs to know when a little simplicity is needed. When Hashem says I want to connect to you and I am looking after you – just accept it, don’t question Hashem’s motives, just open yourself up and embrace. When you don’t understand, don’t dismiss, don’t reject, just take the invitation to meet the King. Access to the palace requires a transcending of one’s natural limits.
Spirituality is transcendent, Torah is transcendent. It transcends the limited, measurable boundaries of the physical and takes you to something indefinable, but much more real, much more beautiful, the realm of Gan Eden even while in this world, the realm of the infinite, the realm of the King. We just need to embrace it.
 Rashi Vayikra 18:4
 Rabbeinu Bachayei explains a chok as a mitzvah whose ‘reasoning is not known to man, and one may wonder about it’ – note that he doesn’t say that there is no reason, rather he says that it is not known to man – but to G-d it is known.
 Rashi ibid gives the prohibition to eat pig as an example of a chok.
 Gemara Eruvin 21b
 See Ramban and Rashi on parashat Ki Tisa who explain that the people were trying to replace Moshe – not Hashem. See also Meshech Chochma.