“This is the decree (chukat) of the Torah…let them take for you a red heifer.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 19:2)
The mitzvah (commandment) of the red heifer is a paradox. People who came into a state of ritual impurity used the red heifer to purify themselves. However, the people who prepared or carried the ashes of the red heifer used to purify became ritually impure. The red heifer purified the impure and contaminated the pure.
When Torah does not provide the reason for a mitzvah, it is considered a chok, a decree. Rabbi Yissocher Frand explains that the performance of the mitzvah is completely independent of an appreciation for its rationale.
The Midrash tells that King Shlomo (Solomon), the wisest of all men, was able to understand so much, but failed to comprehend the red heifer paradox. He wrote in Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 7:23: “All this I tried to understand with my wisdom; I said I would comprehend it, but it is still distant from me.” He spoke not only of the laws regarding the red heifer, but of all laws he could not comprehend and he concluded that all of Torah is above man’s reason because it is the word of G-d. Rabbis Yisroel and Osher Anshel Jungreis explain in Torah for Your Table that humans, as finite beings, cannot possibly fathom the Ayn Sof, the Infinite.
Why did G-d want the paradox of the red heifer to remain a mystery to everyone but Moshe (Moses)?
Writes Rabbi Frand: “There are many things in life that we will not understand in this lifetime. For instance, the old question of why the good suffer and the evil prosper is one of the most baffling paradoxes. Logic would dictate just the reverse…But this is the way Hashem (G-d) made His world, and we have to accept it. In order to help us accept this and the other paradoxes and enigmas of life, Hashem gave us the mitzvah of parah adumah (the red heifer).”
As parents, our children often ask difficult questions we cannot answer. When this occurs, we must be honest and frank. We should say, “I don’t know the reason. Only G-d knows.” This might be shocking to our children who consider us all-knowing and all-powerful, like G-d. Children are accustomed to hearing us say “Because I said so” as the final word, so they can easily relate to G-d saying “Do this because it is a decree of the Torah.”