By Rabbi Shimmy Sternfield
זאת חקת התורה אשר צוה ד’ לאמר דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו אליך פרה אדמה תמימה
(פרק י”ט, פסוק ב’)
This is the decree of the Torah… they shall take to you a completely red cow.
In the beginning of the פרשה, the Torah introduces the מצוה of פרה אדומה (a red cow). A פרה אדומה was used to purify someone from טומאה contracted from a dead person. The cow was slaughtered, and, together with several other items, burned. The ashes were then mixed with water and sprinkled upon anyone who required purification. The Torah calls the פרה אדומה a חוק- a מצוה for which we have no explanation, yet we must faithfully fulfill it simply because it is Hashem’s command. The מדרש comments that Hashem said to משה, “I will reveal the reason for the מצוה of פרה אדומה to you alone. For everyone else it must remain a חוק. Nevertheless, concludes the מדרש, when משיח comes Hashem will reveal the reason to everyone. One can infer from the מדרש, that there is, indeed, an explanation for this מצוה which can be grasped by human intellect. משה was taught the reason, and, in the future, all Jews will merit to learn the secret reason for this מצוה. It seems clear, then, that Hashem intentionally withheld the reason for this מצוה, at least for the time being. The באר יוסף asks, why did Hashem conceal the reason for the מצוה of פרה אדומה from us? Why is it so important that this מצוה remain a חוק? Furthermore, asks the באר יוסף, what will be different when משיח comes that will allow us to finally learn the reason for the פרה אדומה? The באר יוסף explains, that the purpose of a חוק is to get us accustomed to the idea that, although we do not always understand everything, nevertheless, we obey Hashem’s commands and accept His authority without question. Recognizing our limitations in regard to understanding Hashem and His ways is vital, for, inevitably, everyone encounters situations in life which do not make sense. Why do righteous people suffer, while evil people enjoy success? We do not always have the answers, but in the same way that we obey Hashem’s commands without question, so, too, do we accept His way of running the world without challenge. Hashem specifically chose the purification process from טומאה contracted from a dead person to be a חוק because of how frequently it was necessary. By nature, repeated exposure to a specific action will affect a person greatly. One who repeatedly gives to others will become a giving person, even if he/she did not start off that way. The same is true with matters of השקפה, one’s outlook on life. When one repeatedly accepts Hashem’s authority without question, it becomes second nature. One of the greatest mysteries of the פרה אדומה is the fact that it makes all the כהנים involved in the process טמא. While it is the only way to achieve purity from טומאה from a dead person, it is also the source of spreading severe טומאה! As long as there are people dying, there will be constant exposure to this מצוה, and people will be reinforcing the idea that we accept Hashem’s authority without question. It is for this reason that Hashem did not reveal the reason for the פרה אדומה. In the future, however, people will not be faced with the temptation to challenge Hashem’s ways. חז”ל teach us that when משיח comes, we will no longer say ברוך דין האמת- the blessing recited upon receiving bad news- for there will be no bad news. We will see with clarity that everything Hashem does is only for the good. Since it will no longer be necessary to be constantly reminded not to challenge Hashem’s ways, Hashem will then reveal the reason for the פרה אדומה to everyone.