[This shmuess was delivered at the Mashgiach's monthly
shiur on Shabbos parshas Chukas 5764 and was
recorded by someone in the audience.]
"Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying, `This is the
chukah of the Torah that Hashem has commanded saying .
. . ' " (Bamidbar 19:1). Rashi comments, "Since the
Satan and other nations taunt Yisroel by asking them what is
the meaning of this mitzvah and what is its rationale, the
Torah writes chukah—it is a decree from Me and
you are not allowed to seek its rationale."
What is the substance of the Torah's answer to other nations?
What bothered them in the first place and how did the answer
they received resolve that difficulty?
Surely, they were aware when they asked the question that
HaKodosh Boruch Hu commanded bnei Yisroel to
bring a poroh adumoh, and accordingly the answer did
not supply any previously unknown information whatsoever.
What is even more amazing is that the posuk, "For it
is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations,
who shall hear all these chukim and shall say, `Surely
a wise and discerning people is this great nation,'"
(Devorim 4:6) openly teaches us that Yisroel are
regarded as wise and understanding precisely because of the
chukim that are beyond human comprehension. Non-Jews
respect and think highly of the Jewish People because we have
such chukim, and not vice versa. On the other hand,
Rashi (whose source is the Medrash Tanchuma 7) writes
that other nations harass Yisroel with criticism because of
the chukim and they are the cause of their holding us
in contempt and thinking little of us.
But why is this mitzvah at all called a chukah and, "a
decree from Me and you are not allowed to seek its
Actually we find that Chazal in the Medrash (cited in
Rashi, Bamidbar 19:22) in the name of Rebbe Moshe the
Darshan, and see also Droshos Ibn Shuiv and the
yotzer of parshas Poroh) explicitly offer the
following reason for the mitzvah of poroh adumoh:
"HaKodosh Boruch Hu commanded bringing a poroh
adumoh to atone for the episode of the eigel (
Shemos 32). This can be explained through a parable to a
maidservant's son who dirtied the king's palace. The king
said: `Let its mother come and clean up the stools.' Likewise
HaKodosh Boruch Hu said: `Let the poroh come
and atone for the episode of the eigel.' "
In addition, Chazal infer from the posuk, "Speak to
bnei Yisroel and they shall take to you a completely
red heifer," various allusions to the cheit ha'eigel.
"`Take to you'—since bnei Yisroel demanded
creating the eigel from their gold, now they should
take [the poroh adumoh]. `To you'—since Moshe
Rabbenu prayed to Hashem for bnei Yisroel, they must
bring the poroh adumoh to him. `Red'—since the
gold of the eigel was red. `Completely'—since
they did not follow the Creator with a complete heart."
In several other places, Chazal clarify and specify how every
detail of the bringing of the poroh adumoh atones for
the cheit ha'eigel point by point. Since our Sages
unambiguously point out the reasons for the poroh
adumoh, why is it considered, "a decree from Me and you
are not allowed to seek its rationale?"
It is, however, impossible to interpret the above
Medrash using its obvious meaning. Rashi in
Shemos (15:25, 24:3) writes on the posuk,
"There He established for the nation a decree and an
ordinance, and there He tested it," as follows: "Shabbos,
poroh adumoh and dinim were given to them at
Moroh." Hashem gave bnei Yisroel the mitzvah of
poroh adumoh at Moroh, and that was immediately after
splitting the Red Sea which was definitely before the
What Rashi writes stands in sharp contrast to the above-
mentioned Medrash. It teaches us that HaKodosh
Boruch Hu gave the parsha of poroh adumoh
to atone for the cheit of the eigel, whereas
Rashi writes that bnei Yisroel were given the mitzvah
of poroh adumoh before they sinned with the cheit
ha'eigel and not after.
The Or HaChaim (19:2) raises yet another point. Why
concerning the mitzvah of bringing a poroh adumoh does
the Torah write, "This is the chukah of the Torah"?
Instead, the Torah should have written that the pesukim
relate the chukah of that particular mitzvah,
such as, "This is the chukah of the
Pesach"(Shemos 12:43). In our case it could have
written, "This is the chukah of tumah," or
"This is the chukah of taharoh." Why does the
posuk relate poroh adumoh to the entire Torah
— "the chukah of the Torah"— and not just
to its particular mitzvah?
Furthermore, the Or HaChaim (s.v. Asher tzivoh) asks,
why does the Torah need to write the word "saying"
(leimor) twice in the posuk, "Hashem spoke to
Moshe and to Aharon, saying. This is the chukah of the
Torah that Hashem has commanded saying . . . ?" After the
Torah writes that Hashem spoke . . . saying, it is apparently
superfluous to write, "This is the chukah . . .
saying." With Hashem's help this will all be explained later
To better understand this matter, it is necessary to first
introduce a salient principle that previous gedolei
Torah [elaborated upon in the Beis HaLevi of HaRav
Yosef Dov Soloveitchik ztvk'l on parshas Ki
Siso] have bequeathed us. This principle clarifies our
obligation to study Torah that Hashem gave us as a positive
mitzvah, and explains how it should properly be carried
In birchos Krias Shema of Shacharis we daily
implore Hashem, "to implant in our hearts to understand and
shed light on, to listen, study and teach . . . all the words
of Your Torah's teaching with love." Let us now define and
delimit what is meant by "understanding and shedding light
upon" our Torah study.
"R' Yitzchok said: Why were the reasons for the Torah's
commandments ("Why is it forbidden to wear shatnez,
eat pork and the such"—Rashi) not revealed? It is
because two pesukim of the Torah revealed their
reasons, and prominent people stumbled because of these
"It is written, `And he shall not have too many wives, so
that his heart not turn astray' (Devorim 17:17).
Shlomoh said, `I will have many wives and will not turn
astray.' However, we know that it says (Melochim I,
11:4), `So it was that when Shlomoh grew old his wives swayed
"The Torah writes, `Only he shall not have too many horses
for himself, so that he will not return the people to Egypt
in order to increase horses' (Devorim 17:16), and
Shlomoh said, `I will have many horses and will not return
the people to Egypt.' And the posuk (Melochim I, 10:28-
29) however writes, `The source of Shlomoh's horses was from
Egypt and Keveh . . . A chariot went out of Egypt for six
hundred silver and horses for a hundred and fifty.' "
The gemora is showing us how dangerous it is to know
the reasons behind the mitzvos, and this knowledge is,
chas vesholom, liable to endanger those who know
(The Maharsha (ibid.) explains that the Torah reveals
the reasons for these two mitzvos to teach us other
issurim: through the Torah forbidding a king to marry
many wives because it causes his heart to go astray, we
understand that he is forbidden to marry even one wife who
has the capability of causing his heart to stray.
Furthermore, through the Torah forbidding a king having many
horses so he will not return the people to Egypt to purchase
horses, we infer that it is a mitzvah not to return to Egypt
even not for the purpose of buying horses.)
For this reason our gedolei Torah distanced themselves
from philosophical probing and searching after esoteric
reasons for mitzvos. They refrained from delving into these
reasons not only for the valid reason that this is
inadvisable since this knowledge is secondary to other Torah
knowledge. Esoteric reasons usually do not provide a firm
clarification of correct Torah outlook and they lack any
halachic implications (as publicly stated by eminent roshei
yeshivos). The real reason is that employing such a method
presents unquestionable risk to loyal Torah observance, as we
clearly see in the gemora.
Rabbeinu, my uncle the author of the Michtav
MeEliyohu, used to relate that he heard from Maran the
Rov ztvk'l (HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the rosh
yeshiva of Ponovezh Yeshiva), that he remained overwhelmingly
grateful to Maran HaRav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk
ztvk'l, who taught him that when studying Torah one
should not ask "why" (the reasons behind a mitzvah) but
rather "what" (just clearly defining the mitzvah itself)
(Sefer HaZichoron Michtav MeEliyohu II, pg. 31). Maran
the Rov remarked that this Torah principle is worth all the
wealth in the world! (The Rov's trip from Telz to meet HaRav
Chaim of Brisk in fact cost him a small fortune.)
Maran Rabbeinu Yeruchom zt'l, the Mirrer Mashgiach,
elaborates about this all-important principle: "The Torah
knowledge that Osniel ben Kenaz restored through his
pilpul did not consist of new concepts formulated
through reasoning, but was actually a restoration of the old
and the accepted. The same is true with studying the
pshat of the Torah. Even though it can be comprehended
only through profound study, its true comprehension cannot
come solely by applying our intelligence. Not all our
conclusions, even those based upon valid logical thinking,
are to be considered truthful according to the Torah. Our
thoughts are not those of the Torah!
"Before attempting to comprehend the Torah, we need to purify
and refine our thoughts and make them conform to the Torah's
measures and standards. We must continue adapting ourselves
until our nefesh imbues within it the way the Torah
thinks. Only through the radiance of the Torah will we see
the real light. Only through daas Torah will we
actually know the real truth, and every other truth is
worthless. This daas Torah is obtained through
tradition, from our rav, and our rav obtained it from his
rav. Only from their waters do we drink and only their
teachings have any value. Also, the tanna Rebbe
Eliezer commented (Sotah 28a) about himself that
he never said anything not previously heard from his rov. Can
we, who do not even approach his level of Torah learning and
tzidkus, possibly act differently?
"`R' Yitzchok said we have a tradition passed down to us
through the generations that each of the meraglim (the
spies sent in the Sinai Wilderness to spy out Eretz
Yisroel) were named according to how they would act, but
we grasp the meaning of only one . . . ' (Sotah 34b).
Doubtless our Sages could conceive of various implications to
the other names, but they said only what they had in
"This is what Hillel taught the non-Jew who demanded to be
converted only on the condition that Hillel teach him the
Written Torah without the Oral Torah. Hillel converted him.
One day Hillel taught the new convert: `Alef, beis,
gimmel.' The next day he reversed their order. The
[amazed] new convert remarked to Hillel: `Yesterday you did
not say it to me that way.' Hillel replied: `Do you not
realize that you rely on me? So too you should rely on the
Oral Torah' (Shabbos 31a).'
"Hillel instructs us in the necessity to follow our
tradition. Both, the study of the Ma'aseh Merkovoh,
one of the most arcane matters of the Torah, and beginning
the study of alef beis, the basic foundation of
knowledge that is taught to all children, are all from
Hashem, and nothing can be attained without relying on
Shlomoh Hamelech, the wisest of all men (Melochim I,
5:10) teaches us: "All this I tested with wisdom; I thought I
could become wise, but it is beyond me" (Koheles
7:23). Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 19) explain that Shlomo
Hamelech, who knew the whole Torah, assumed that he knew all
the reasons for the mitzvos until he reached parshas
poroh that was beyond his comprehension. He could not
grasp how the poroh adumoh could be both
metamei the tehorim and metaheir the
temei'im. This difficulty resulted in Shlomo
Hamelech's drawing the conclusion that we not only are unable
to comprehend the reason for poroh adumoh but likewise
we are unable to comprehend the reason for all other mitzvos
of the Torah.
Although initially Shlomo Hamelech thought, "I could become
wise" in reference to all mitzvos, the mitzvah of poroh
adumoh eventually convinced him that the wisdom of the
whole Torah "is beyond me." [All of the mitzvos of the Torah
are interlinked and lacking understanding for one of them
shows a lack of understanding for them all].
The above is undoubtedly true about us. No matter to what
extent we imagine that we understand the Torah, its hidden
reasons are much more profound than what is revealed to us.
The Torah is, "longer than the earth and wider than the sea"
(Iyov 11:9)—much more lofty than the limited
capability of a mortal's comprehension. [Accordingly, even
when it appears reasonable to us that some change should be
made since the reason for a certain mitzvah or issur
has ceased to exist, we should nevertheless not stray an iota
from the Torah's laws.]
End of Part I