Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin

To Know That You Don't Know

Koheles (7:29) notes "indeed Hashem created man yashar - perfectly upright, but they sought many intrigues." The Chasid Yaavitz, in his commentary on Avos (5:7) which lists the 10 miracles that occurred in the Beis Hamikdash, asks why did Hashem need to display open miracles? He suggests a most intriguing answer, namely to demonstrate that ideally there is a perfect harmony between Torah, man and nature.

In Chapter 2 of Breishis we read of the Garden of Eden that Hashem planted in this world. The Medrash presents a utopian existence in that environment, whereby man's spiritual existence is primary and his physical necessities are cared for from On High. Lest one doubt the feasibility and reality of such an existence, the supernatural miracles present in the Beis Hamikdash on a constant basis was a clear reminder of that perfect harmony between Torah and nature. When the Torah commands (Vayikra 6:6) that "the fires on the Altar shall remain aflame, it shall not be extinguished," nature responds in kind, and a heavy downfall of rain does not extinguish the fires on the mizbeyach.

After Cain kills Hevel, Cain is afraid for his life and exclaims, "whomever meets me will kill me" (Breishis 4:14.) Who, you might ask, is Cain afraid of? After all, the only humans alive are his family, and while his parents might have "wanted to kill him," they would not literally do so. The Ramban answers that Cain was afraid of the animals, who were so upset at Cain for having disturbed the perfect harmony between Torah and nature. The Torah prohibits murder, and by man committing murder he polluted the environment and thus Hashem had to place a sign on his forehead, warning the animals not to kill Cain. Ideally, there is a perfect balance.

With this background I believe we can understand and appreciate the insight of the Be'er Yosef who cites the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:6) that Hashem revealed the reason for the enigma of the Parah Adumah - red heifer exclusively to Moshe. The wise King Solomon said, "I thought I could become wise, but it is beyond me" (Koheles 7:23.) The Medrash understands this verse as an expression of the frustration of the wisest of all men. If, as the Medrash continues, in the future, in Messianic times, the reason for this mitzvah will be public knowledge, why did Hashem conceal its rationale from us? The above enigma, simply stated, is that the ashes of the red heifer mixed with water are sprinkled on an individual who is impure as a result of contact with a dead body, or under the same roof as a deceased. The sprinkling of the ashes by a Kohen on the tamei individual on the third and seventh days of his purification process was essential in removing his tum'ah and his becoming tahor, while the Kohen who expedited this transformation became tamei.

The Be'er Yosef suggests that participating and engaging in a mitzvah that is beyond our comprehension but clearly Divinely legislated can help us respond to and accept circumstances and happenings that are equally difficult to comprehend. In Parshas Ki Sisa (33:13) Moshe asked, "to see Hashem." This is understood by the Talmud (Brachos 7a) that Moshe was requesting to understand Hashem, specifically why righteous individuals suffer and not-yet good individuals prosper? One utilized the ashes of the parah regularly. Every time one went to a funeral, sat shemira, or participated in the chevra kadisha they became tameh - impure. The frequent utilization of these ashes, "helped the medicine go down." Just as one cannot understand the mitzvah of the parah adumah so too, one often cannot understand the circumstances and timeliness of the cause for this mitzvah. Just as we accept the chok - statute of the parah knowing its Divine origin, so too do we accept circumstances and situations knowing they too are Divinely ordained. Thus, in the imperfect world that we now live in we need the eifer parah as a kind of catharsis to aid our spiritually challenging wounds.

The Be'er Yosef z"tl continues in this vein and discusses the two giants of their times, Moshe Rabbeinu and Rabbi Akiva. The Talmud (Menachos 29b) relates that when Moshe ascended Har Sinai he found Hashem adorning seven letters in the Torah with crowns. When Moshe asked why, he was told that there would be a great scholar Akiva ben Yosef who would reveal multitudes of laws from these crowns. Moshe was so intrigued that he asked to see him in action. Hashem played the projector of the future and Moshe sat in the eighth row of Rabbi Akiva's shiur and was most frustrated as he did not understand the presentation until he heard one of the students ask for a particular source and Rabbi Akiva responded that it is a halacha l'Moshe miSinai - a law given to Moshe without our understanding. This assuaged Moshe's feelings. Thus, even Rabbi Akiva, who revealed so many secrets of Torah, even he, needed to know that there are areas we just don't know and can't understand.

The Gemara continues that Moshe asked to see what the end of Rabbi Akiva's life was like, and was shown his being tortured to death, with Shema Yisrael on his lips (Berachos 61b.) Moshe immediately burst forth with "is this the reward for Torah?" Hashem responded that he be silent this is that which emanated from His Divine thought beyond man's comprehension. Thus, just as Rabbi Akiva accepted halacha l'Moshe miSinai, so too, it was easier for Moshe to accept the Divine plan. Just as in the Torah there are laws beyond our comprehension so too in the Divine governing of the world, there are happenings we cannot fathom or comprehend.

What emerges ultimately from the parah adumah is the bolstering of our emunah. While we cannot understand all, we submit to His higher authority. This is most crucial all year long, but especially as we approach the holiday of Pesach. The parah adumah humbles us, which helps us put Him at the center of our universe, and not ourselves. Thus I pray that our reading and studying of Parshas Parah will not only be a fulfillment of "unishalma parim sefaseinu - let our lips substitute for bulls" (Hoshea 14:3), i.e. that it be looked upon and considered as if we actually brought the parah adumah, but may it inspire us to greater bitachon to know that we don't know, but He does!

More divrei Torah and shiurim from Rabbi Yudin

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