Parshas Chukas :
Mysterious Torah

By Rabbi Yehoshua Pinkus

This week’s Parsha begins with the words, "Zos chukas hatorah - These are the statutes of the Torah" (Bamidbar 19:2). As opposed to a mishpat, which is an understandable law with the authority of human moral justice, Rashi explains that a chok is a law that doesn’t have a clearly comprehendible reason. The Parsha then continues on to elaborate on the laws of the Parah Adumah - the red heifer used for ritual cleansing, which is the quintessential chok.

    Towards the end of this discussion is the law regarding a person who dies in a tent, "This is the Torah (teaching) regarding a man who would die in a tent" (Bamidbar 19:14). In Mesechta Brachos 63b, Chazal, in a homiletic interpretation of this passage, explain that Torah learning requires enormous, self-sacrificing dedication. In the words of the Gemara "The Torah will not be lasting except to those who kill themselves for it."

    Why does the Torah express this important idea specifically here in the portion of "Zos chukas hatorah"?

    I would venture to say that the obligation of Torah learning itself is a chok. In the field of human learning and endeavor, the achievement of growth through Torah learning is totally unique. Therefore it falls into the category of a chok because it is incomprehensible. It is this concept that the Torah is conveying here.

    Allow me to explain in greater detail. Most sciences and academics are studied for the sake of their practical applications. While this approach is paralleled in Torah learning, when one learns with the goal of understanding the methods of fulfilling the mitzvos, the obligation of learning Torah extends beyond this. While there are areas of academics that are studied for the sake of the knowledge itself, the Torah also covers fields that lack specific practical applications, and the obligation to learn Torah extends even to someone who has perfect knowledge of the entire Torah.

    Secondly, an individual’s advancement in secular knowledge is generally exclusively dependent on their intelligence and the amount of time and effort they dedicate to the endeavor. However, Torah has another requirement. As quoted above, Torah demands complete self-sacrificing dedication. This reality applies even to somebody highly intelligent who absorbs knowledge quickly.

    We see further a similar concept in Mesechta Megillah 6b. "to establish your learning requires heavenly assistance." Rashi translates "establishing your learning" to mean memory, not forgetting. Even a person with a fantastic memory still requires heavenly assistance to avoid forgetting.

    The Gemara in Mesechta Shabbos 88b further elaborates on the power of Torah learning. Chazal teach us that Torah has the power to affect a person tremendously. If a person of good character learns Torah properly, he will achieve considerable growth and development. Conversely, if one learns for the wrong reasons and has negative attributes, this will also be amplified. The person will grow more evil as a result of continued Torah learning. This is something that is unique to the study of Torah.

    There are countless other examples of this concept, but I will summarize by restating that the study of Torah is totally unique. It stands apart and above all other human knowledge and endeavor and does not function within the realms of ordinary human intelligence. Thus, it is referred to as a chok.

Published July 3,1998


Rabbi Yehoshua Pinkus learns in the Telshe Yeshiva Kollel and is a member of the Chicago Community Kollel night program.



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