This week is
Candle Lighting 3/1/13 5:30 PM NYC EST
Rabbi Chaim Lobel – Young Israel of Aberdeen, NJ
The Red Cow – In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z’L)
This week’s portion of the Red Cow is read in preparation for the Korban Pesach – sacrificial Passover lamb, of which only those who are pure or purified can partake. Upon coming in contact with a deceased person, the only way to purify oneself was through the sprinkling of the Red Cow's ashes.
“This is the statute of the Torah, which G-d has commanded, saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel, and they shall take for you a perfectly Red Cow, which has no blemish, and no yoke had been placed upon her.” (Numbers 19:2)
Commenting on the verse, Rashi (1040 – 1105) says the Toarh specifically calls this commandment a statute “because the Accusers of the Torah and the nations of the world aggrieve Israel by saying ‘What is the reason for this commandment? What reason is there for this?’ Therefore, the Torah wrote it as a statute, which implies, ‘it is a decree before me (G-d), you have no right to reflect upon it.’”
The Sifsei Chachomim (Shabtai ben Yosef of Kalizs 1641 – 1718) asks a question on Rashi (Verse 2, letter 2). “Why is this commandment so special, that it is a statute that one has “no right to reflect upon it”? There are plenty of statutes that are not understandable, such as the laws of “Kela’aim” (planting different vegetables near one another), or “Shatnez” (wearing garments with interwoven wool and linen).
Answering his own question, the Sifsei Chachomim suggests the laws of the red cow are unique because “this statute works in a contradictory fashion.” The ashes of the red cow purify the impure but render unclean those who prepare the ashes.
any Torah laws are perplexing and we persevere to understand them. However, the nature of the red cow’s ashes is impossible to comprehend – how can something purify the spiritually impure but have the opposite effect on someone who is spiritually pure? Since the Torah is indivisible, if one element is paradoxical, the entire Torah is a paradox. Therefore, the Torah call this a “Hok,” a statute, warning us that it is inherently contradictory and we only obey because it is a heavenly decree.
By segregating the Laws of the Red Cow from other laws, the Torah demonstrates the importance of consistency with its teachings and observances. So too, we need to be consistent when teaching Torah values to others. The classic cliché “how can such a person who seems to hold the banner of a ‘Torah Follower’ act in such a fashion” is such a strong argument because of the inconsistency it breeds.
Understanding the importance of consistency, and how the Torah and our sages did their utmost to keep that virtue intact can be a source of inspiration for how we live our lives and treat others. There’s no such thing as a part-time Jew, as choosing what to agree with and what to observe; that would be inconsistent.