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ב"ה

Unfathomable

Friday, 15 July, 2016 - 1:03 pm

When G-d presented the Jewish people with the Torah, their famous response was, “We will do and we will understand.”  The ironclad commitment of the Jewish people to G-d’s commandments – regardless of what is called for – is a staple of Jewish tradition. And so is the subsequent, ceaseless striving for understanding. 

Pulling me in opposite directions, this friction creates balance and brings me closer to G-d.  I use my mind to generate a relationship with my Creator.  When that comes up short, my dedication to His will prevails.  A child listens to a parent – sometimes understanding, and at times without comprehension. Knowing that the parent always has a child’s bests interest at heart, a child trusts even when failing to appreciate.  Similarly, I recognize that my mind may fall short of understanding the Divine perspective. But, I know that the best food for my soul are His mitzvot.

Candidly put, Judaism doesn’t generally condone blind faith. Rather, use your mind to the best of your capability. But only after you’ve committed 100%. As our ancestors declared, “We will do” and then “We will understand.”

There are certain aspects of the Torah I may never understand, but I will always try to understand. If I can’t, I’ll still do what is expected of me.

***

Trying to make sense of the horrific terror attack in Southern France seems to fall in line with one of those things we simply cannot understand. We might try, but the evil is simply too unfathomable, the tragedy too intense.

This week’s parsha, Chukat, teaches us to stop trying in the first place. That’s right. It’s a rare exception to the rule.

The Torah discusses the laws of ritual purity. Honestly, it’s a bizarre commandment. Even Solomon, the wisest of men, admitted utter failure in understanding its rationale. That’s why it’s called a chok, a supra-rational law of the Torah. It’s one of those commandments that we just don’t get.

According to the Talmud, Moshe asked G-d to explain this law to him. After a back-and-forth dialogue, Moshe remained with questions. At that point G-d told him, “I have decreed it; You have no permission to ponder over it.”

What does Hashem mean, “You have no permission to ponder it”? Aren’t we supposed to always try to understand (knowing that, at times, our minds will never reach the intellectual destination)? Why doesn’t G-d simply say, ‘It’s My decree. You will never understand it’? Why is He taking away our right to explore?

***

The laws of ritual purity pertain to contact with a dead body.  Death is something that we struggle to understand. Try as we may, we cannot explain that which the heart does not feel.

Philosophically we can try to explain it. But, experientially and emotionally, we are stuck at a dead end. One who has experienced the death of a loved one, knows that life is never the same again. No answer is satisfactory.

As Elie Wiesel once commented, “The heart has its own set of rules.”

When it comes to death (and its rectification), G-d tells Moshe you don’t even have permission to dwell on it intellectually.  Utilizing the mind to discover the unfathomable is not only an endeavor of futility. It is simply wrong. Just as a parent might tell a child, you don’t have permission to play with matches, our Father in Heaven tells us, ‘You have no permission to think about the unthinkable.’ ‘Explaining away’ something as emotional and powerful as death itself is damaging to the human condition.

I don’t have words to explain the inexplicable.  Our mandate is not to explain. It’s to bring more goodness into the world to counter the evil and the tragic loss.

Through our good deeds the victims will live on.

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