The purification process of the Parah Adumah (red heifer) is considered the quintessential “chok” – a mitzvah which seems to defy human logic and which we perform only because Hashem commanded us to do so. The apparently counter-intuitive nature of this mitzvah is based on the fact that the impure person upon whom the ashes of the Parah Adumah are sprinkled becomes pure, yet the pure person who sprinkles them becomes impure in the process. The reasoning behind this mitzvah was even hidden from King Shlomo, the wisest of men.
What can possibly be the logic behind this apparent paradox? Furthermore, why did Hashem intentionally give us a mitzvah that is impossible to ever comprehend (as the Torah itself attests)? This is not the only puzzling mitzvah either. The prohibition of shatnez (wearing a garment made from wool and linen) and the prohibition of eating milk and meat together, among others, are more examples of mitzvos that seem to not be based on comprehensible logic.
How can we ever find the strength to follow mitzvos that make no sense to us and seem like they shouldn’t make a difference?
A Kiruv (outreach) Rabbi once received the following email, which will lend an important insight into answering our question:
It’s Jake. Last week I emailed you asking why Hashem cares if I keep kosher or not? What harm can it possibly have if I eat a ham-sandwich? Furthermore, I was once told that eating even a morsel of non-kosher makes a big difference to the world and to my soul, but how can that be? I consider myself a smart guy and an independent thinker, and therefore must ask - How can I possibly adhere to a rule that makes no sense to me?
You never responded to my email. I guess the great Rabbi has finally been stumped.
The Rabbi responded as follows:
It’s nice to hear from you. I actually took a lot of time to write you a response email shortly after receiving your question. In it, I went into great detail explaining that this world was created by the word of G-d, that His Torah is the most powerful tool in the universe, and that every mitzvah He gave has cosmic consequences. I wrote some deeper explanations as well.
However, before sending my email, I decided to try a little experiment that would bring my point home: I sent it to Jake@Gmailcom, and purposely left the “.” out of “.com”. I reasoned that although I am not a computer programmer, nor have I devoted the years needed to fully understand email code and the like, what difference can one little “.” possibly make? How can a “.” do anything? Is it logical that the computer or internet should care about whether or not that single pixel is on the screen? I consider myself a smart guy and an independent thinker, and therefore I had to ask myself: How can I possibly adhere to a rule that makes no sense to me?
Jake, the rules of Torah are like the “.” in “.Com”. Even the smallest detail can make a big difference if you understand what makes everything tick. G-d designed the universe, and therefore, He is very aware of exactly what is required for everything to work the way it should. If you would like to get a better understanding of the “why’s” behind the mitzvos, I encourage you to stop by and arrange a study session with me. It may take years, and we can never hope to fully understand every aspect of them (after all, the author is G-d Himself), but I expect it to be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. My doors are always open to you.
The mitzvos were designed from top to bottom by G-d Almighty Himself and were handed to us on Har Sinai. Once we learn to believe and acknowledge this, then not understanding an aspect of a mitzvah is not enough of a reason to ignore it *. Think about it: Someone who has no advanced education cannot enter a class on nuclear physics and expect to understand what’s going on, no matter how high his IQ may be; rather, he has to first study up on all of the major principles before he can even begin to understand the material. Similarly, one has to first learn the principles of Torah, before he can begin to understand the reasons behind the more complex laws of Judaism. Indeed, there are a plethora of seforim that discuss the deep reasons behind Korbonos, kosher, etc.
Hashem kept the reasons behind Parah Aduma a secret from even King Shlomo, to teach us this concept: some mitzvos are beyond human comprehension. However, just because you don’t understand them, does not detract from their infinite purpose. Much like someone who uses a computer may not understand why everything works, but understands that it is all based upon a thorough system of intricate rules and wisdom, infinitely more so, all mitzvos are based upon G-dly logic and have real effects, whether you comprehend them or not. Furthermore, keeping the reasons behind Parah Adumah a secret serves as a reminder that even the myriad of mitzvos which we do comprehend, like honoring one’s father and mother, have infinitely more purpose and reason than we perceive. Our mitzvos accomplish infinite good, and when we reach Heaven, we will see that they accomplished exponentially more than we could have ever imagined. Another important aspect to bear in mind when one doesn’t comprehend the purpose of a mitzvah is to remember that the less you understand a mitzvah and still fulfill it, the greater the indication that you are doing Mitzvos for Hashem’s sake, and not simply because it makes sense to you. This increases your reward exponentially (Avos 1:3, 5:26. Additionally, see 4:22).
May we all merit to fulfill every mitzvah in the Torah with conviction, whether we understand the reasons behind them or not, and bask in the pride and joy that Hashem will shower upon us for doing so both in This World, and even more so in the World to Come.
*- It is important to note that we will never fully understand the complete reasons behind, and effects of, Hashem’s commandments. It is not logical to expect that man’s intelligence should reach that of G-d’s. What we do know is that the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai was witnessed by over 3 million people, and that it is only logical for us to devote ourselves to keeping this treasure that He openly gave to our special nation.