One-Upping the Gentiles
In this week’s parsha, Chukas, we are introduced to the ultimate chok – a commandment that seems illogical to the human mind.
The reverse of this would be the commandment to honor one’s parents. Even the gentiles understand and follow this commandment. Why? Each person has a mother and father who brought him or her into the world. It is only logical to honor the people who are responsible for one’s own existence.
The “ultimate chok” introduced in this week’s parsha the red heifer – a cow that is completely red – which is then brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and burned. The ashes are then mixed with water and used to purify someone who is impure due to contamination from a dead body. What is illogical is that the person who sprinkles this concoction becomes impure through his sprinkling, while at the same time the impure person becomes pure when the first drop lands on him.
Finding a red heifer was not an easy task. In fact, history records only 9 of them – one of which is in this incident described in the Talmud:
A gentile man named Dama Ben Nesina lived with his father who was a well-known merchant of precious gems. The Kohanim once needed to replace some of the stones from the breastplate worn by the High Priest in the Holy Temple, so they came to Dama Ben Nesina to buy new stones and offered him an exorbitant price for them. Dama went to his father’s room to get the key to the safe, but he found his father was asleep on the key! Not wanting to wake up his father, he told the Kohanim that he would not be able to sell them the stones!
A year later a perfectly red heifer was born to Dama Ben Nesina, and the priests came to buy it from him. Dama told them that he understood that this cow was a reward from G-d for the honor he gave to his father and offered the cow to them for 600,000 gold pieces – the price he would have received had he sold the gemstones the previous year.
While one can understand that Dama was rewarded for honoring his parents, why was the reward a red cow? Why not, for example, a golden candelabra? Or another gemstone?
What happened is that when Dama honored his father by allowing him to sleep, it put a stigma on the Jews, who didn’t quite honor their parents with such full dedication as this gentile did. But G-d gave him the cow so the Jews could show the world that they were ready to give him 600,000 gold pieces to follow G-d and this seemingly illogical commandment; gentiles were ready to follow logical commandments perfectly, but only the Jews would follow illogical commandments and only Jews would give 600,000 gold pieces to do so.
One final thought: We go back to the beginning of the parsha in which it says, “This is the ‘chok’ of the Torah”. This is the only place where a commandment is introduced in such a fashion, perhaps telling us that ALL commandments are a “chok” – a law that is beyond human logic. We might try to understand a certain commandment, but at the end of the day we do ALL the commandments because G-d told us to do them, and not because there is a logical reason for them.
Wishing you all a Good Shabbos!