The Week & Parsha
Friday June 30th: Shabbat begins 8:00pm
Saturday July 1st: Shabbat ends 10:52pm
This weeks Sidrah: Chukat
Why do certain people find satisfaction in Judaism while others are bored stiff? Why is faith exciting for some and irrelevant for others, a joy for one guy and an absolute burden for the next? One fellow cannot imagine going to work without first putting on his tefillin and the other hasn’t seen his tefillin since his bar mitzvah 40 years ago. This woman can’t wait to get to shul and the other can’t wait to get out. Why?
This week we read about the ultimate mitzvah of faith, the Red Heifer. It is a statutory commandment whose reason still remains a mystery. I must admit, to take the ashes of a red heifer and sprinkle them on a person so he may attain spiritual purification is, indeed, rather mind-boggling.
According to the Midrash, the Almighty promised Moses that to him He would reveal the secret meaning of this mitzvah, but only after Moses would initially accept it as a Divine decree. If he would first take it on faith, thereafter rational understanding would follow.
The truth is that there are answers to virtually every question people may have about Judaism. Intelligent skeptics I meet are often amazed that what they had long written off as empty ritual is actually philosophically profound, with rich symbolic meaning. But the skeptic has to be ready to listen. You can hear the most eloquent, intellectual explanation but if you are not mentally prepared to accept that listening may in fact be a worthwhile exercise, chances are you won’t be impressed. Once we stop resisting and accept that there is inherent validity, suddenly Judaism makes all the sense in the world.
It is a psychological fact that we can grasp that which we sincerely desire to understand. But if there is a subject in which we have no interest, we will walk into mental blockades regularly. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, says this explains why some very astute businessman may sit at a Talmud class and find himself struggling to grasp basic principles of rabbinic reasoning. Why is it that the same person who can concoct brilliant schemes in the boardroom fails to follow straightforward logic in the Talmud class? The answer, says the Rebbe, is that this businessman is really not that interested in the subject. But if it was half as important to him as making money, he might well become a rosh yeshiva!
So, in the same way that G‑d told Moses that he could come to comprehend the meaning of the Red Heifer but only after he accepted it, similarly today, those who genuinely wish to understand Judaism will succeed, but only if they buy into the product on some level first.
When I was studying in yeshiva, I would always try to attend the annual “Encounter with Chabad” weekends for university students. These were organized to expose Jewish students to Judaism over a Shabbat and there were lectures by leading Rabbis and religious academics. Once a young man shouted back at the lecturer, “How can you expect me to put on tefillin if I don’t believe in G‑d?!” The speaker calmly replied, “First put on tefillin, and I promise you will see that you really do believe in G‑d.”
We all have a G‑dly faith inside us. It just needs to be revealed. As illogical as it may sound, if we start by observing a mitzvah, we find that our faith will follow through and begin to blossom. It has been shown to be true again and again. If we are not interested, no answer will be good enough. If we are genuinely searching for truth and we are objective, there are ample and meaningful answers.
Rabbi Yossi Goldman