Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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9 Tammuz 5759 - June 23 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
"And It Is Distant From Me"

"This is the statute of the Torah -- I have enacted a statute and you have no permission to question it" -- (Rashi).

This is a reminder, says the Chasam Sofer, that the entire Torah is, in effect, far beyond human comprehension. We study Torah and attempt to understand it. We may sometimes believe that we have succeeded in grasping something, but we must never forget that the Torah is no mere book that is no more profound than the human mind that composed it. The Torah is, after all, divine.

King Shlomo, wisest of all men, admitted, when confronted with this portion, "I thought I would be wise, but it is distant from me." In his humble opinion, says the Chasam Sofer, King Shlomo thought that he was able to understand the reasons, the divine rationale, behind all of the commandments. But when he reached the portion of poro adumo, he realized that it was beyond him. At this point, he was forced to admit that there was yet a deeper level which he would never be able to fathom.

Surely there was a reason for this commandment, since the Creator would not trouble His people with senseless orders. The reason, then, must be extremely deep, beyond human capacity to understand. And from this conclusion he inferred that all of the commandments were so beyond human grasp, that they were all, in effect, statutes, as far as our understanding was concerned. We could never begin to fathom the divine intellect behind them.

"This is why he said: I thought I would be wise -- in the reasons of the Torah, but when I reached the laws of poro adumo, it was far removed from me. He meant that at this point he realized that the entire Torah was also far removed from his understanding. This is the meaning of: This is the statute of the Torah: the entire Torah is in the category of chuko."


We tend to set ourselves up as `experts' on the Torah, for we delve and try to understand it. And as such, when we reach the portion of the red heifer, it seems strange and inscrutable. How, we ask, can the selfsame thing be purifying and also contaminating? The real question we should ask ourselves is how we can presume to understand the rest of the Torah, as well? It is a divine Torah, the product of the divine wisdom. How can mortals audaciously think they can fathom it?

The Maggid of Dubno draws our attention to this point and illustrates it with a parable: A cunning matchmaker thought of an idea which, at first glance, seemed simply preposterous. The town rabbi had a son of marriageable age and was `in the market' for a shidduch. In this same town lived a very coarse man who had a very lowly, disrespectful profession; he was a person that others shied away from. He had a daughter who was the opposite of her father: refined, accomplished, modest, respected and liked, a paragon of virtue. Ostensibly, on her own merits, she could make a very suitable match for the rabbi's son.

But who could possibly bring the two together in matrimony? The very idea of uniting the two mechutonim was ludicrous and preposterous. Besides, it would be totally disrespectful to the rabbi and his position.

The matchmaker was a match for this challenge and he decided to try his luck since, as far as the two in question, the idea was most suitable. And so he went to the rabbi and proposed his idea, point blank, without beating around the bush.

The rabbi was an aristocratic person, an exalted figure of pure motives who truly wanted the best for his son: a wife of exemplary character. And when he heard the praises of the person in question, he overlooked the negative aspects and told the matchmaker to go ahead, regardless of `what people would say.' And so it was that the shidduch proceeded to fruition, to everyone's satisfaction.

As time went by, the girl's father noticed that the rabbi was acting coolly towards him. He no longer engaged him in polite conversation; he did not tell him of the interesting cases that appeared before him in the beis din or present the difficult questions that he encountered in his study. The layman felt slighted and approached the rabbi in indignation. "Why have you been ignoring me lately? Why don't you talk to me any more?"

The rabbi was taken aback. "You dare ask questions like that? Do you really think that I should associate with folk like you? What can we possibly have in common? We are worlds apart! The question to be asked is whatever brought us together in the first place? Not why we don't keep company and converse like friends!"

The lesson is clear, writes the Maggid in his work, Ohel Yaakov: Hashem formed a relationship with a very lowly creature, a flesh-and-blood mortal, and gave him His divine Torah. The Jew peruses the Torah and when he chances across something he does not understand, he is puzzled and asks: Why didn't Hashem make this matter clear? Why does He talk in riddles rather than in plain talk?

The answer is forthcoming: Man is operating under a misunderstanding. He thinks that the two sides of the match are equal and fitting. And if he finds difficulty in something, it behooves Hashem to make it clear. But the situation is not like that at all. On the contrary, the glory of Hashem lies in what is hidden, concealed. The tie between them lies in what is unrevealed, what is obscure, and must remain so.

This is the statute of the Torah which Hashem commanded, saying . . . And man must not presume to inquire, ask or demand explanation and reasons. Man must make peace with the fact that things are far beyond his keen, for he is a mere mortal who cannot ever hope to understand the divine logic. How, indeed, could he ever dream of possessing such a treasure as the Torah -- and fully grasping its worth?

Parshas Chukas, therefore, constitutes an important reminder, especially to those who delve and toil in Torah and seek to understand it.

The obligation remains for us to dig deep and to search for what lies hidden in Torah. But let us not delude ourselves into feeling `heimish,' (comfortable,) akin and `at ease' with it. However hard we toil, it shall always remain far beyond us. "I sought to be wise, but it is distant from me."

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