Shabbat Parashat Chukkat — Favorite Mysteries

Dear Friends,

As you may recall, I mentioned last High Holy Days that I am an avid reader of Louise Penny mysteries which are written on the backdrop of Quebec landscapes. Since then, I have been enjoying Donna Leon’s books featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti and his Venetian escapades. And, most recently I have begun reading the Maise Dobbs Mystery Series, written by Jacqueline Winspear, and set in London in the 1930’s. I especially enjoy the interesting character development in these three mystery series. But most of all, I find it enjoyable to get to the end of each book and to finally find out “who done it.” I enjoy arriving at the solution to the mystery. This, to me, is great “escape literature.”

But, as we know, in real life we don’t always get to “solve” all of our mysteries.

In discussing two of the greatest mysteries of the tradition, our Torah portion, Chukkat, clearly reflects the fact that some things in life remain within the realm of unsolved mysteries. And, that this is as true in both the spiritual and in the physical worlds which we, as human beings, inhabit.

The first great mystery is the mystery of the Red Heifer ritual. How is it that the ritually pure person who performs the purification ritual for a someone else who is ritually impure, automatically become impure himself? That is the first mystery and it reminds us of spiritual mysteries.

The second great mystery in Chukkat is the mystery of why Moses was punished so severely for striking the rock? Why would that one slip up cause God to decree that Moses, who faithfully shepherded our people out of Egypt and all the way through the 40 years in the desert, would never himself enter the Promised Land? That is the second mystery and it reflects the physical mysteries that color our lives.

It is true that our Sages tried to come up with “solutions” to both of these mysteries. However, the inclusion of these two enigmatic pieces in our weekly Torah portion reminds us that there are mysteries in life for which there can be no definitive “solution.”

The message of Torah is that if we can accept that some things will always remain mysteries, we can still walk the path of Torah and strive to do our best in an often mysterious world. The beauty of Torah is that it is not “escape literature.” Our Torah is real and it reflects the very real complexity of life in its stories and in its guidelines for life. How blessed are we to have such a rich heritage as our Torah!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror