By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This week’s parsha opens with the high ideal we are to live with: “Zos chukas haTorah, adam ki yomus ba’ohel.” The people whose souls are fused to Torah throw off physical mantles. They concentrate their lives on Torah and seek to shun activities that do not contribute to spiritual growth.
The first Rashi of the parsha quotes the Medrash Tanchuma, which states that the Soton and nations of the world mock us and ask for the rationale of this mitzvah. Therefore, says Rashi, the Torah spells out that Parah Adumah is a chok, a gezeirah min haShomayim, and we are not permitted to question it.
The nations of the world, and those who mock us and attempt to steer us from the path of our forefathers, question us and our practices. They say that the mitzvos are backward and without reason. We don’t answer them. We don’t try to explain it to them. We reinforce to ourselves that we are following the word of Hashem, which is a chok. This way, we are able to succeed and flourish in a world of sheker.
A lion once encountered a chicken and began to choke it. “Why are you trying to kill me?” the chicken called out to the lion. “I never hurt you. You don’t know me. Why are you doing this to me?”
The lion looked at the poor little chicken it held in its grasp and responded, “Do you know why I am doing this? Because I can!”
Thankfully, today the attitudes of many of our neighbors have changed and the Jewish people are afforded freedom around the world. But for centuries on end, the nations of the world treated us the way that lion treated the chicken. They tortured and tormented us. They doubted our loyalty and intelligence. They asked us many questions. The Torah tells us not to bother answering, and not to engage in debates. Their intent is only to mock us; we gain nothing by engaging them.
Additionally, Torah, as the ultimate wisdom, doesn’t operate with the conventional rules. The logic of the Torah defies explanation. We accept chukim as well as mishpotim, recognizing that we are bound to the chok, the bond of Torah living, which goes beyond reason and logic.
Torah greatness and fidelity aren’t born of brilliance, but of toil, purity and diligence. Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l would often quote from the sefer Sheim Hagedolim, which says that before Rashi set out to write his landmark peirush, he traveled extensively to ascertain whether a better peirush than he envisioned existed. It was only after he was unable to find any extant exposition explaining the Torah that he set out to write the classic peirush that has endured until this day.
As Rashi wrote his work, he fasted hundreds of taaneisim to ensure that his words would help propel people to the truth.
Rav Shach would weep as he would recount this, because to him, this anecdote represented all that is right and true about our mesorah. It underscores the fact that chochmas haTorah isn’t about reason alone, but also about humility coupled with commitment to the truth and mesorah.
Rav Aharon Kotler, in Mishnas Rav Aharon Ahl HaTorah (Parshas Korach), discusses the important role of shevet Levi in Klal Yisroel, separated for greatness from the rest of the klal, performing the avodah of the Mishkon and ruling on halachic matters, as the posuk says, “Yoru mishpotecha leYaakov veSorascha l’Yisroel” (Devorim 32:10). In order to perform their duties and maintain their lofty spiritual levels, they were not given land portions in Eretz Yisroel along with everyone else. This way, they were not encumbered with taking care of their property. For their livelihood, Hashem had the rest of the people give maaser rishon to the Leviim and 24 matnos kehunah to the Kohanim.
Rav Aharon asks that since this is the case, why were the Bnei Yisroel easily able to circumvent their terumah and maaser obligations? In effect, shevet Levi was at the constant mercy of their brethren. This could not have led to a calm situation, especially considering the fact that the reason for the terumos and maaseros – and that they didn’t own property – was so that they would not be worried about earning a livelihood.
Rav Aharon answers that since their role was to provide leadership in many areas, there was a danger that they would become haughty and view themselves as being on a different plane than everyone else. If they would be financially secure and not dependent on others, they would look down at others, which would cause them to be baalei ga’avah, detached from the people.
Since humility is a prerequisite for Torah growth, were they to become haughty they wouldn’t be able to achieve greatness. Additionally, in order to pasken properly, siyata diShmaya is required. Since Hashem detests those who are conceited, as the posuk states, “Toavas Hashem kol gevah lev,” they would lose their ability to properly understand Torah and rule on matters of halacha.
Therefore, they are provided for by the masses, but in such a way that forces them to maintain their humility. A person requires 48 levels of ethical perfection in order to succeed in Torah. Greatness in Torah is a gift from Hashem, conferred upon men of faith and humility. Torah is attained differently than any other knowledge.
Not only is greatness in Torah thought achieved differently than in other subjects, but communal leadership decisions are arrived at in a different way than they are in the outside world.
In the days of the czar, a dictate closing all chadorim and forcing all Jewish children to be educated in government schools was handed down. Many meetings were held to find solutions. At one such meeting, it was proposed for a delegation to travel to a minister who was born Jewish but had totally strayed from the path. He was involved in the passing of the edict, and it was suspected that he was actually the author of the new law.
One of the attendees at the meeting identified him as Minister Schapiro and noted that he hailed from a respected rabbinic family. “In fact,” said the man, “Rav Yaakov sitting here with us today is related to him. Perhaps he should travel to the capital and meet with the minister. He can remind the minister of his yichus and appeal to him to rescind the law.”
All eyes turned to Rav Yaakov, who wasn’t sure that it was the right course of action. “If I introduce myself to him as a relative, he might be receptive,” Rav Yaakov said, “but bringing up my grandparents might be a source of embarrassment to them, tying them with their offspring, this rasha.”
Everyone was silent until the Kuzmirer Rebbe responded, citing a posuk: “Moshe Rabbeinu sought to travel across the land of Edom on the way to the Promised Land. He reached out the Edomite king, a grandson of Eisov. He said to him, ‘Ko omar achicha Yisroel, so speaks your brother Yisroel.’ Rashi explains that Moshe told the king of Edom, ‘Achim anachnu, bnei Avrohom. We, as children of Avrohom, are your brothers.’ So we see that to prevent a crisis, it is permissible to cite a common relationship to a tzaddik.”
Rav Yaakov was convinced. He undertook the mission to his assimilated relative and succeeded.
The Ozherover Rebbe zt”l would cite this story as an example of the principle of daas Torah, always looking back and finding sources for a course of action, never relying upon one’s own logic.
A group of askonim had an idea to solve a crisis that their community was facing. They met with a communal leader, who told them that the idea sounded fine to him, but that he would consult with Rav Shach before providing a final answer.
When presented with the plan, Rav Shach immediately shot it down. He said, “I saw from the Chofetz Chaim that their solution is improper.”
The group was convinced that they had thoroughly analyzed the issue and arrived at a perfect solution. They were sure that it wasn’t explained properly to Rav Shach, so they arranged to meet with the Rosh Yeshiva and discuss their solution to the pressing communal crisis.
Rav Shach told them, “I will not debate your arguments, and for all I know, your thoughts might be correct. But Klal Yisroel is not led by conclusions and thoughts of smart people. Klal Yisroel is led by mesorah, tradition. If the mesorah from the Chofetz Chaim is that we don’t engage in something like that, then we don’t do it, no matter how smart it seems, for following our mesorah is the smartest course of action.”
Too often, we see people who think they are smarter than the Torah. We see people who are consumed by a problem and believe that they have the perfect solution. They fail to properly consider it, as they are convinced of their intelligence and leadership abilities, but they are wrong. They are conceited and therefore lack the siyata diShmaya required to arrive at proper decisions. They ignore the mesorah and how gedolim who came before them acted. They think that the times have changed and the methods of realizing goals are different. They disregard the way that the greats of the previous generations conducted themselves and how they dealt with similar situations in their respective eras.
None of us is qualified to think that he has the solutions to problems that face us. No one, as smart as he thinks he is and as pressing as the problem he faces is, has a right to present plans that differ with our mesorah. Doing so causes mayhem and fails to solve problems. The logic may be compelling, but it is still wrong.
People in our day are led astray by those who claim to understand the reasoning for different halachos and temper them to mesh with the times. Such thinking is what gave birth to the Conservative and Reform movements, which caused many to deviate from halacha and mesorah, leading millions of Jews astray. It sounds funny to us that they maintain institutions that they refer to as “yeshivos” and have halachic decisors who write so-called teshuvos in halacha, as if they are following the Torah.
Once you begin to rationalize the commandments and inject human understanding of them and their concepts, you begin compromising them and sullying the holy with a simple thought process.
There are those who assume that they have mastered Torah, and are therefore qualified to rule as they understand, ignoring precedent, and the impact of their ruling. Such people have failed in their leadership roles.
Critical thinking and analysis lacking yiras Shomayim, a sense of mesorah and humility result in individuals who destroy instead of build, obscure instead of reveal, and cause others to repel the Torah instead of drawing closer to it.
Our fellow Jews in the Open Orthodoxy movement, who follow in the path of the founders of the Conservatives, have fallen into this trap. Insistent as they are on being termed Orthodox, we must never stop denying their claim, because, in fact, they are not Orthodox in thought, practice, attitude or approach.
They inflict damage in the shuls and schools that naively hire their members, thinking that they are loyal to Torah and mesorah. We must persist in calling them out as the impostors they are. Their teshuvos and drashos mock tradition and halacha, and are fanciful attempts to have the Torah conform with current progressive thought, bearing little relation to the reality of Torah thought and interpretation.
Rav Elchonon Wasserman explained the posuk of “Tzidkoscha tzedek le’olam” (Tehillim 119:142) to mean that man cannot fathom the depths of Hashem’s justice, for society and its concepts are ever changing. What is considered just in one generation is viewed as unjust in the next. But “veSorascha emes,” the truth of Torah is everlasting. It neither changes for the times nor conforms to them.
Zos chukas haTorah. Torah is a chok. Torah is neither about impressive dissertations nor social welfare and contracting with a good PR firm. It is about following the will of the Creator as expressed in Torah Skebiksav and Torah Shebaal Peh. That’s just the way it is.
Chazal say (Taanis 30, et al), “Kol hamisabel al Yerushalayim zocheh veroeh besimchosah.” In order to merit enjoying the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, one must mourn its destruction.
Eis tzorah hee leYaakov. It is a dangerous time for our people. We witness the repeated wanton murder of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel and watch as the world blames us. We see women’s groups ply their fiction at the Kosel, wearing tefillin and reading from Sifrei Torah. These people, who publicly defile the Shabbos, enjoy non-kosher food, and ignore all the Torah’s commandments, promote a new agenda and threaten the spiritual holiness of Israel.
Last week brought new displays of the failings of the justice system in the United States, beacon of freedom to the entire world. The heads of the FBI and the Justice Department, the highest enforcers of the rule of law in the land, contorted to exonerate a former secretary of state who is the leading contender for the presidency, from serious charges concerning her handling of the nation’s security. With twisted logic that recognized her reckless carelessness, lies and potentially criminal actions, they failed to indict her. People concluded that apparently justice is not blind and not everyone receives equal treatment in this land.
Breakdown of law-and-order reached a new low, as police killed two black men and five policemen were murdered in retaliation in Dallas, Texas. The nation searches for leadership, as the current White House occupant and the two who aspire to succeed him are not trusted and loathed by large numbers of Americans.
When justice is man-made, there is always going to be inequality, mistakes, and feelings of division, for the system is inherently only as good as the mortals who formulate the laws, and enforce and adjudicate them.
Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson of Copenhagen wrote that when his travels took him to Lithuania, he found himself at an asifah headed by the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. The Chofetz Chaim addressed the gathering and said the following. In this world, Jews are divided into groups. There are Litvaks and there are Chassidim, and within each group, there are sub-groups. There is this rebbe and that rebbe, this yeshiva and that yeshiva, this derech and that derech. These divisions are outgrowths of the olam hasheker, he said, but in Shomayim, they aren’t interested in these divisions.
In Shomayim, he explained, there are five types of Jews: There are kochadike Yidden, boiling hot Jews; vareme Yidden, warm Jews; lebleche Yidden, room-temperature Jews; kalte Yidden, cold Jews; and derfroirene Yidden, frozen Jews.
No community or grouping has a monopoly on anything. In each one, you can find these five types of Jews. The task of every Jew is to be a kochadike Yid, a Jew who boils with enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos, and not one of the cold ones.
Zos chukas haTorah. Get fired up for Hashem. Be excited about Torah and filled with joy when you perform a mitzvah. Live life happily, seeking perfection and acting properly. Be warm towards others and towards yourself. Be warm with appreciation for the gifts Hashem has blessed you with. Accept the Torah and its laws with enthusiasm and joy. Don’t look to compromise on anything. Don’t seek explanations and understandings for those things that defy comprehension. Know that they are products of the infinite wisdom and kindness of the Creator. It is up to us to implement them and make the world a better, warmer and more hospitable place for ourselves, our brethren, and humanity at large, enabling us to welcome Moshiach, may he come in our day.