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Defying Logic

Friday, 1 July, 2011 - 5:37 pm

One of the strangest rituals in Judaism is the process of ritual purification.  In this week's Parsha of Chukat we learn that if someone became ritually impure (by, for example, coming in contact with a dead body), s/he must undergo a purification process, namely receiving a sprinkling of a mixture that includes the ashes of a red heifer.

The practice is so bizarre that Shlomo/Solomon, the wisest of men, proclaimed that he failed to understand its meaning.  In fact, that is why it is termed a Chok (from the same etymology as the name of the Parsha, Chukat). A chok is a supra-rational law or observance.  Most mitzvot can be readily understood. But some are difficult,if not impossible, for the human mind to comprehend.  Such mitzvot, for example the kosher dietary laws and the red heifer, are observed with an unwavering commitment to G-d's laws even though we do not understand them. We obey these laws like a child obeys a parent -- even though the child does not know why Mommy said I must do something.

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This approach to Yiddishkeit should not only be applied to the few mitzvot that escape our perception.  Rather, all mitzvot should be performed with such absolute dedication - just because G-d said so. (This, for the majority of commandments, in addition to internalizing them in our minds and hearts).

This, then, is the deeper meaning of the opening words of the parsha, "Zot Chukat HaTorah - This is the supra-rational law of the Torah." The Torah is alluding that the entire Torah should (also) be approached in the form of Chok.

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This coming Tuesday, July 5, 2011, marks the 17th anniversary of the passing of my mentor and teacher, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, of blessed memory.

As his followers and world Jewry prepare to observe this occasion, I am amazed at the striking message the Rebbe imparted to us.  Not so much by teachings as by his example.

In 1951 the Rebbe declared that we Jews had a mission in this world and that we would not be discouraged by the recent troubling history.

The Rebbe did not preach about what needs to be done to combat anti-Semitism. He did not establish committees to research the best way forward. Rather he sprung into action- sending Shluchim (emissaries) around the globe to revitalize and revive Jewish life.

And the whole world laughed.  How could an immigrant rabbi with ancient notions and just tens of followers change the landscape of Jewish life?

But the Rebbe took a page out of this week's Torah portion.  Defying logic, he simply redefined Jewish life. And half a century later, the 3000+ Chabad centers, the millions of mitzvot performed, the inestimable rise in Jewish pride -- all speak for themselves.

Sometimes, we are daunted by the task ahead of us. What will my colleagues, friends, neighbors, or even fellow Jews think of me if I dare to act more Jewish?

We need to follow the Torah's message and the Rebbe's lead. Just do it. The results will amaze you.

P.S. On Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 7:00PM, we will be holding a gathering at the Chabad Jewish Center to watch a video of a Farbrengen of the Rebbe.

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