• Gabbai

Chukat – Is It Consistent to be Inconsistent?

Parshat Chukat begins with the Mitzvah of the Red Cow.

“This is the decree of the Torah which Hashem has commanded, saying…” (Numbers 19:2)

The Torah then defines the Mitzvah, which involves finding a cow which is completely red and has never borne a yolk. It is slaughtered outside of the camp and then burnt in its entirety, skin, flesh and blood, along with a piece of cedar wood, hyssop and crimson thread. The ashes are then mixed with water, which is used to sprinkle upon those who had contact with a corpse. These ashes were an important ingredient in the process of purification from such ritual contamination.

On the surface, this Mitzvah does not appear to be among the more intuitive commandments. Upon closer scrutiny the Mitzvah is counter intuitive and is itself a paradox.

The Sefer HaChinuch, published anonymously in 13th century Spain, and widely attributed to Rabbi Aaron HaLevi of Barcelona, endeavours to find meaning and a degree of reason to each and every Mitzvah. Sefer HaChinuch writes a list of 613 commandments, as our tradition maintains that number as the count of Mitzvot in the Torah. It then goes on to explore each and every Mitzvah in the order it appears in the Torah, offering reasoning to explain the purpose of the Mitzvah as well as listing the details of how and by whom the Mitzvah can be fulfilled.

When it comes to the Mitzvah of the Red Cow, however, Sefer HaChinuch throws up his hands, deeming it beyond him to provide insight. He writes that the sages themselves, in attempting to decipher the meaning of this Mitzvah, determined that even King Solomon, who was able to divine the purpose for every Mitzvah in the Torah, could not grasp the meaning of this one. “I said I will be wise, but it is distant from me,” King Solomon writes.