A Chok or decree is a commandment that a human cannot find a reason for, as opposed to a Mishpat, which is a commandment that a human can understand and might even think up himself. To not murder, for example is a Mishpat. One reason this Parsha is called Chukat is because it deals with the ultimate Chok, the Parah Adumah - the red heifer.
One interesting paradox in the laws of the Parah Adumah: Its ashes purify people who have become contaminated; yet those people involved in the preparation of the ashes become contaminated.
This is why Parah Adumah is considered the quintessential Chok of them all - beyond human understanding. Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), who was said to be the wisest person who ever lived and expert in every realm of knowledge, even he did not penetrate the secret of the Parah Adumah and could not rationalize the seeming contradictions in this commandment.
It was regarding the above paradox that Shlomo Hamelech exclaimed, "I said I would be wise, but it is far from me," [Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 7:23]. In other words, he is saying that he thought he would become wise enough to fathom the secret of the Parah Adumah, but "it is far from me." The words "Vehi rechokah," (..it is far from me), is numerically equivalent (441) to the words "Parah Adumah."
The Red Cow in History
These cows don't come along too often.
There were altogether nine Red Cows from the first one in the desert to the destruction of the second Bait Hamikdash.
The first was that of Moshe and Elazar.
The second was burned by Ezra Hasofer (the Scribe).
Two by Shimon HaTzaddik.
Two by the Kohain Gadol (High Priest) Yochanan.
The seventh was burned by Eliyahu Hanavi (the prophet Elijah).
The eighth by Chanamel the Egyptian, and
The ninth by Yishmael, son of Piabi.
The tenth one will be burned by the Anointed King (Moshiach) who will be purifying all of the Jewish people that will have become defiled by their sins.
The Talmud says in Tractate Kiddushin (31a):
Come and see what a certain Gentile in Ashkelon - Dama Ben Nesina - did for his father. The Sages came to visit, wanting to purchase from him a precious stone for the Aifod (the apron worn by the Kohain Gadol).
The key to the box where the stone was kept was under the pillow of his sleeping father, and the son refused to fetch the key so as not to disturb his father. Hashem rewarded him, for the next year a red heifer was born in his herd. The Sages came, and Dama ben Nesina told them, "I know that you will give me any sum I ask, but I am only asking the sum that I lost (last year) because I honored my father.
Why did Dama ben Nesina deserve a red heifer as a reward for honoring his father?
Answers the Admor of Kotzk ("Emes V'Emuna") that when this gentile so distinguished himself in the mitzvah of honoring one's father, a strong accusation was heard in heaven against Bnei Yisroel. "It was not a Jew but a gentile who was willing to make a great sacrifice to fulfill this mitzvah!"
As a reply to this accusation, the Holy One arranged that a red heifer be born in the same gentile's herd. Out came the Sages of Israel, prepared to pay ANY PRICE in order to fulfill Hashem's mitzvah - one that is a Chok, having no apparent reason or sense to it. By contrast, the gentile only had been prepared to make a great sacrifice to fulfill a mitzvah that is easy to understand - honoring one's father.
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Page last updated - 06/26/2022