Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Chukas – What Motivates Us

This week’s parsha begins with the words “Zos Chukas HaTorah” in its introduction to the laws of the Parah Adumah, the red heifer. The question bothering many of the commentaries is why the Torah chose to phrase the opening sentence as “Zos Chukas HaTorah” as opposed to “Zos Chukas Haparah Adumah”, which is seemingly more appropriate? The Torah’s peculiar choice of words seems to indicate a  connection between the Parah Adumah and the rest of the Torah as a whole. The mystery is to figure out exactly what serves as the point of connection.

In order to understand this relationship, we have to understand that there are different types of Mitzvos in the Torah. Some may seem logical while others run contrary to our natural intuition. Based on this distinction,the motive for performing a specific Mitzvah may differ based on the inherent type of Mitzvah being performed. For example, if a person fulfilled the Mitzvah of honoring his father and mother, his motive may be a desire for a closer connection with his parent. In fact, a person can fulfill many Mitzvos without having any conscious thought as to Who commanded us; rather since it’s completely logical and normal to act this way, we do so because we feel compelled by our own logical compass. The fulfillment of such Mitzvos could be born out of an external motive or simply a societal standard which dictates a pattern of certain behavior.

However, in Jewish consciousness there exists an underlying foundation to the fulfillment of Mitzvos which should always serve as the pure underlying motive for why we do what we do. My old Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tvi Finkel zatz”l, used to be fond of asking the following question. If someone were to come and offer a glass of blood to drink, what would your answer be? From those of us amongst the living, the answer would unequivocally be “no!” However, if you would prod the individual further and ask, “Why will you refuse to drink this glass of blood?”, most would respond “Because it’s disgusting”. Rav Nosson Tzvi used to say that this isn’t the correct answer. It may be disgusting, yet the underlying reason for not drinking it should be because HaShem said that it was forbidden.

The question surfaces with almost every Mitzvah that we do. On the surface, a person may seem to be a devout Jew, fulfilling his heavenly Mitzvos with zest and zeal. Yet, there still may be something missing. Some small part of the Mitzvah which isn’t recognizable to the naked eye. And that is the underlying motivation behind the performance of the Mitzvah. The ‘Why’ which should always precede the ‘what’. Before we know what to do, we have to sincerely define why we do as we do. Most people fall into the routine of life and become so engrossed with the “What” to do, they completely neglect the “Why” we do it. Although living a life in the framework of Halacha, a person can still remain completely oblivious to the true ratzon of HaShem.

Countless Seforim enumerate the purpose to the fulfillment of Mitzvos is “u’vo tidvok“, “and to Him you shall cling”. That is, the Mitzvos are supposed to be used as essential tools in our overall purpose of creating a closer connection with our Creator. They create us as individuals with a higher sense of consciousness, who are more in touch with the deeper realities and meanings of life.  

Based on all of this, we have to clarify which type of Mitzvos best represent this undying and eternal desire to connect with our Creator? If a mother asks a son to take out the garbage and he obeys without delay, it may very well be because he doesn’t want his living space to begin to smell. Even though the reality is that he has heeded his mother’s request, however because there may be an additional personal motive for his action, it won’t serve as the paramount action to further the relationship between mother and son. However, if the mother asks the son to do something which is beyond reason (as many mothers are often wont to do), and the son still gladly obeys, then it must be that the son only acted in such a way solely because the mother asked him to do it.

Actions such as these, which lack any exterior motivation, reasoning or logic, are the optimum actions we can do to create a deeper relationship. If a husband would come home with flowers on an anniversary, it would be a nice thing and wouldn’t go unnoticed, however it can’t be compared to someone who goes and buys his wife flowers “just because.” In the first instance, there’s a reason for it; it may even be expected. However in the second instance the action is born solely out of love. and a desire for a closer connection.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz says, this is the meaning of the pasuk when it says “Zos Chukas HaTorah”. When a person fulfills a mitzvah with a known reason and logic, it doesn’t properly represent the person’s true internal desire to forge a connection with HaShem. However, when one does a Mitzvah without a given reason, it reveals his actions are solely because he was commanded to do so. In this sense, it serves as the prime type of Mitzvah to connect with Hashem. Therefore, it doesn’t say “Zos Chukas Haparah Adumah”, rather “Zos Chukas HaTorah”, because included in this Mitzvah is the core message of the Torah, to use the Mitzvos solely as a means to connect with HaShem.

All of us have periods where we become confused and lose track of the “Why” in our lives. We fall into the routines, allowing the pervasive societal and communal standards to preoccupy the causation for our actions. As Jews, our obligation is to always look deeper, not just into the external reality, but into ourselves. To break down our own motivation for our actions and search within the fabric of our being for the true reason behind why we act the way we do. Only with a true sense of self-consciousness and inner intuition can we make it possible to realize the need for change. And only with such a self realization can we break free from the constraints of acting in a sense of self satisfaction. Only then can we channel ourselves and the way we act to a greater purpose and to connect with something much higher than ourselves.



Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI In Passaic – Parsha Chukas

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Timely Torah Insights

by Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

Associate Rosh Yeshiva  
Our True Culture

In life, there are people, circumstances, and scenarios which we understand and there are those that leave us perplexed.  Sometimes it’s due to lack of knowledge or familiarity and sometimes it’s just beyond our comprehension. The purification process, where the Kohen sprinkles the ashes of the Parah Adumah on the defiled, is a pure enigma.  In this process, the impure becomes pure yet the pure becomes impure.  That is why the Torah introduces this process as a Chok – Zos Chukas HaTorah – This is the law of the Torah.  As Rashi explains, the word “Chok” means a law without any obvious rationale, as opposed to a Mishpat – which is a law whose purpose we can comprehend.  However, the word Chok also has a second meaning –to inscribe– as is used regarding the Luchos (tablets of the Torah) “Chakuk Al Pi Luchos” – that is, to be inscribed, or etched, into the stone.

Rav Hirsch tells us that in Lashon Hakodesh (the holy Hebrew language), if a word has two meanings, there is a common concept they share.  So what is the connection between Chok as a law without rationale and Chok as an etching?  There is a very telling Rashi in Parshas Acharei Mos (18:3) “Uvchukoseiheim lo seleichu” –and in the Choks (ways) of the Nations do not go. Rashi explains that the Chukim of the nations refers to the cultural ways of the nations, which are ‘chakukim,’ “etched,” into the fabric of society, i.e., widely accepted; for example, going to theaters and stadiums. Thus Rashi explains how a Chok is a cultural phenomenon (not necessarily based on logic) which is etched into the fabric of society, thereby uniting both uses of the word Chok.

When one writes something on paper, two separate items result: the paper and the words which are written on the paper.  However, in an etching, the surface itself forms the words.  As such, a Chok is something which is part of the fabric itself. This explains a puzzling Chazal which expounds on the verse, “Zos Chukas HaTorah, adam ki yamus b’ohel….” This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent.” (Chukas 19:14) We learn from this that Torah is acquired by those who kill themselves to understand it. (Gemara Brachos 63b) This is a very strange way to describe the need to apply oneself to Torah study.  Why such an extreme?

I remember hearing an interview on the news with a Yankee fan after the Yankees won the 1996 World Series after eighteen years of not even making it to the World Series.  The fan said, “The Yankees won the pennant; now I can die!”

A little extreme, right? Is this logical? Is this what he was living for??  Really, he was expressing a feeling about something he felt was part of him.  The Yankees were his life.  Why do people enjoy watching sports?  Sports is a national and international craze. But what does your favorite team really have to do with you?  People are so taken with the game and its players, yet receive no direct benefit from the team.  Why?  No need to look for logic here- they just enjoy it.

We find the word Chok used in the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai: “Im Bechukosai Seleichu….” Rashi explains this means if you toil in my Torah, then you will merit all the blessings. So we see that the Torah uses the word Chok in regard to diligent Torah study.  The reason is as we quoted– Zos Chukas HaTorah, but the interpretation now is: This is our culture – the Torah. Other peoples have theaters and stadiums as staples of their culture, but our culture is only the Torah.

Now we can understand how Torah is acquired by one who “kills himself” to understand.  It’s not an extreme, but rather an expression of how acquiring Torah knowledge is the core of a Jew’s life, into which he puts his all, like the person (l’havdil!) who felt the Yankees’ victory was his whole life.

There is an incredible insight from the Ohr Hachayim which says we are compared to parchment and every time we learn Torah, we are carving the words of Torah into ourselves.  A Jew’s true essence is Torah.  That’s what we should live for and that’s what we should die for. As we say in Maariv each night, “Torah is our life and lengthens our days, and in Torah we toil day and night.”

Indeed, the Torah is the essence of who we are. May we all accept the concept of Torah as our culture, in which we revel.