This week’s parashah — the last one of the school year — is parshat Chukat. The term Chukat or Chok means “law”. The other word for “law” is mishpat. Whereas mishpatim are laws which seem logical and understandable — don’t steal, care for the earth — a Chok is a law which defies easy explanation. This week’s parashah contains many mysteries. There is a ritual of renewal that involves a Red Cow. The prophet Miriam dies causing wells to dry up. Moshe is told to speak to a rock , but instead strikes it with his staff, and as a result is prohibited from entering the land of Israel. These laws and events don’t seem to make sense. Why a Red Cow? How does Miriam’s death cause wells to dry up? How is it fair that Moshe, who has led the people on an arduous journey from slavery to freedom, is prevented from entering Israel because of a brief outburst of anger? Jewish tradition offers many interpretations of these events, but there are no fixed answers. The Chukim and events of this parashah remind us that mystery remains in the world. As Jews, we don’t despair at mystery, or throw our hands up in confusion and walk away from it. Instead we engage, consider, wonder about, participate in, and embrace the mysteries that can still be found in our world and among us. Rabbi A.J. Heschel reminds us that we encounter the world in two ways: through our need to possess and understand, on the one hand, and through facing mystery on the other.
The world presents itself in two ways to me. The world as a thing I own, the world as a mystery I face. What I own is a trifle, what I face is sublime. I am careful not to waste what I own; I must learn not to miss what I face.
This summer, may we all find opportunities and time to encounter the wonderful mysteries God has planted in our world. Look out for Red Cows and rocks that bring forth water when spoken to kindly.
Shabbat Shalom & Happy Summer,