In this week’s Torah portion we are introduced to the concept of a Chok – A divine law that we do not understand. We are required to do it without knowing why or what we are accomplishing spiritually with the performance of the Mitzvah.
Question: Are Chukim statutes that have deep significance that we just don’t know or are they just dictates from the Almighty for us to follow without any inherent reason or meaning?
The answer to this question reminds me of a humorous anecdote. Chaim and Yosef had a disagreement and went to a Rabbi to help them decide who was right. The Rabbi heard Chaim’s side of the story and declared “Chaim you are right!”. Then Yosef told his version of the story and the Rabbi replied “You are right!”. The Rabbi’s wife asked “Rabbi, How could both be right?”. The Rabbi answered “You are also right!”
In our discussion both sides of the question have merit. Clearly anything that the All Knowing, Infinite Almighty tells us to do has deep significance and reasoning. For in truth that is the nature of all Mitzvos, even the ones we do understand. For example, we know that according to Jewish law eating milk and meat together is prohibited. One explanation given for this prohibition is that in a sense meat and milk contradict each other – milk represents life, the giver and sustainer, while meat represents death. The above interpretation teaches us an important concept but is by no means the only reason we don’t eat meat and milk together. There are many other reasons for this Mitzvah that we may never know for we are only finite beings and have only limited understanding whereas the Mitzvos come from the infinite wisdom of the Almighty himself. As the Kotzker Rebbi said “Any Almighty that I can fully understand I wouldn’t believe in!” for then He would be limited by our brain’s logic.
So, although we do not know the reason for it, a Chok is actually a central part of the Almighty’s Mitzvah system for us with its own inherent purpose and meaning. On the other hand, we could argue that we don’t need Chukim to have any inherent reason! For even if they have no inherent meaning we should still fulfill these Mitzvos with joy simply because the Almighty told us to!
If we look at the actual word “Mitzvah”, what does it mean? Many think it means a “good deed”, but in fact the word Mitzvah is related to two words “commandment” and “relationship”. A Mitzvah is a commandment from the Almighty to help develop our relationship with him. The Almighty is all encompassing and lacks nothing. Therefore, he needs nothing from us. He doesn’t need to assert his authority for us to do something just to show he’s boss. He only wants us to do things to make us better people and to have a closer relationship with him. This beautiful Mitzvah system He has given us helps us develop our fullest spiritual potential while teaching us how to truly enjoy life to the fullest by deepening our relationship with Him.
Sometimes we are taught the meaning of Mitzvos to help us appreciate them and what they do for us, but even those Mitzvos should not be done only because we understand the reason behind them. Rather we should do them because a loving, caring Almighty told us to do them. The Hebrew word for the reason one does something is “Ta’am”. This same word also means “taste’. Knowing the reason for doing a Mitzvah definitely adds taste to it, but should not be the only motivator. Tosfos, a Talmudic commentary, explains that a Chok is an expression of the Almighty’s love for us that is beyond words. It is like a “Divine kiss”, where words and explanations just get in the way.
I would like to suggest that our goal this week should be to do Mitzvos and appreciate the depth, meaning, and beauty of them while attempting to bask in the warmth of the relationship with the Almighty by fulfilling His will unconditionally and without reason.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik is the Director of the Jewish Learning Exchange. To be put on the mailing list for our upcoming classes and events call 323-857-0923 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.