A Few Thoughts on Chukat

This week’s parasha, Chukat (“statute”), is found in Numbers 19:1-22:1. Among the various items covered in this week’s reading are Moses’ and Aaron’s rebellious activity which led to their inability to enter into Canaan—the land promised to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and the deaths of Miriam and of Aaron, which brought about the elevation of Eleazar, Aaron’s son to the position of Kohen HaGadol (High Priest). One of the most notable events covered in this week’s parasha is the enigmatic purification ritual for a person contaminated though contact with a corpse. The ritual is performed with water and the ashes of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:1-20). I use the word enigmaticbecause this ritual is much like that of the potentially unfaithful wife which uses a mixture of holy water and dust from the floor of the Mishkan (Tabernacle; Numbers 5:11-28). 

According to Jewish tradition there are 613 commands or mitzvot in the Torah: 248 positive ones, mitzvot aseh, things that Jews should do, and 365 negative ones, mitzvot lo ta’aseh, things that Jews should not do. However, for this week’s Thoughts, another division of mitzvot need to be considered, that is mishpatim, those mitzvot that can be understood, or that one might say are rational. The Ten Commandments are a good representation of rational mitzvot. There are also chukim, those mitzvot that are not immediately, if ever, understood or appear rational. The laws of kashrut, the clean and unclean animals that are allowed to be consumed fall into this category, as do the two rituals briefly mentioned above. All of this leads to the question of the week, does a mitzva (command) have to be rational or even understood to be obeyed?

Rav Shaul in his letter to Timothy wrote, 

All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness, so that the person belonging to God may be capable, fully equipped for every good deed.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

It would be wise to note that he did not say that all Scripture was understandable or even rational, but that it was useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness. In preparation for this Torah portion, I found the following relevant and informative observation,

Human understanding is, and will always be, fallible. In order for us to know what’s best to do, we need to have God direct us. When God’s perfect judgment conflicts with our own, the rational conclusion is that our judgment is wrong and the best thing is to follow God’s judgment instead. 


In light of this observation, the compiler of Proverbs gives these words of encouragement and warning,

Trust in ADONAI with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. … There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Proverbs 3:5-6 & 16:18

I am not suggesting that as followers of Yeshua we “check our brains at the door” and blindly follow the Scriptures without thought or consideration. Earlier in in his letter to Timothy, Rav Shaul wrote,

Make every effort to present yourself before God as tried and true, as an unashamed worker cutting a straight path with the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

Timothy, as well as the rest of us, was admonished to study the Scriptures and learn how to apply them to our daily lives. However, there may well be times when logic, common sense, and even rational thought would seem to run contrary to the written Scripture. Moses provided what could be considered an escape clause for this type of situation when he wrote,

The secret things belong to ADONAI our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever—in order to do all the words of this Torah.

Deuteronomy 29:28 (:29)

In conclusion, there are or will be things in Scripture that remain a secret to us, things that HaShem chooses not to reveal or justify his reasoning. There will be things that remain enigmatic no matter how we look at them or try to explain them. Rav Shaul, in his letter to the Romans wrote,

O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how incomprehensible His ways! For “who has known the mind of ADONAI, or who has been His counselor?”

Romans 11:33-34

We are not required to understand everything, but we are to have faith in HaShem and his word, as it is written, “…without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrew 11:6).

* All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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