The Mystery of Death – Short Parsha Vort

28 06 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

Parshat Chukat begins with the verse, “Zot chukat haTorah asher tzivah Hashem.” The Targum translates the words zot chukat as, “This is the divine dictum.” The Torah refers to the enigmatic chok of parah adumah (red heifer) which purifies those that are impure and defiles those that are pure.

Rav Soloveitchik notes that chukat doesn’t merely refer to the performance of a ritual, but to the mystery of death. We see this later in the parsha where it says “Zot haTorah adam ki yamut ba’ohel.” This is the law when a man dies. Death defiles. It removes the Divine image and only the body remains.

Tumat hamet (the impurity of death) is not included in the list of all the other forms of tumah (impurity) in the Torah because there’s a radical difference. While all the other forms of tumah are aesthetically jarring, tumat hamet is even more. It’s not simply the cessation of an organism Death is the departure of the soul from the physical body. Aesthetic ugliness can be washed away by prayer and immersion in the mikvah (ritual pool). But tumat hamet needs haza’ah, sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah.

Death is a transition not a termination. The soul of a person is immortal. The incomprehensible ritual of parah adumah suggests that the human effort to comprehend death is futile without accepting the fundamental concept of Divine Providence.

The details of parah aduma are found in parshat Chukat because para aduma acts as a bridge between the rebellion of Korach and the travels of the Jews in the desert. The rebellion took place during the second year of the exodus. For 38 years there was hester panim; Hashem’s face was hidden. It was a long silent period. Rashi says this dark time was like the parah adumah. It was beyond human comprehension. Chazal didn’t try to rationalize parah adumah. They taught that there are certain areas that are chukim. There are times when man must suspend his own judgment and accept the inscrutable will of Hashem.

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