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Friday, May 1, 2015

Acharei Mot - K'doshim 5775

Are There Incomprehensible Laws?
The Torah seems to give two categories of law: chok and mishpat. As we will see, one basic midrash from the Talmud (also the Sifra) sees mishpatim as those laws which we could figure out on our own and chok as those we could not if God had not decreed them upon us. So why do we have these laws? And are they really non-sensible? Here I present many midrashim trying to tease out what is a chok and why we have them. I am greatly indebted to Rav Elisha Anscelovits who has written extensively on the subject as has a theory that the second midrash is a particular response to Pauline Christian claims against some laws of the Torah. For more on that, see here:

ויקרא פרשת אחרי מות פרק יח
Vayikra Chapter 18
(3) Like the actions of the land in which you dwelled you shall not do; nor like the actions of the land of Cana’an to which I bring shall you do, and by their chukim you shall not walk.
(ג) כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם־בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ:
(4) You shall perform My mishpatim and My chukim you shall keep to walk by them; I am Hashem your God.
(ד) אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:
(5) And keep My chukim and My mishpatim, that a person shall perform them and live by them; I am Hashem.
(ה) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְקֹוָק: ס

God has two types of laws for us: משפט [mishpat, mishpatim] and חוק [chok, chukim]. We also see that the lands of Egypt and Cana’an have their chukim which we may not follow. We do not know about their mishpatim.

ספרא אחרי מות פרשה ח פרק יג
Sifra, Acharei Mot, Parashah 8, Chapter 13
And why does the Torah say, “And by their chukim you should not walk”? That you should not walk by their ancient laws, the things which are etched for them like theatres, circuses and royal camps.
ומה תלמוד לומר ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו שלא תלכו בנימוסות שלהן בדברים החקוקין להם כגון תיטריות וקרקסאות והאסטריות
Rebbi Meir says, “These are the way of the Amorites which the Sages enumerated.”
ר"מ אומר אלו דרכי האמורי שמנו חכמים
Rebbi Yehuda ben B’teira says, “One should not stab [animals], one should not grow hair locks, and one should not shave the upper lip.”
ר' יהודה בן בתירא אומר שלא תנחור ושלא תגדל ציצית ושלא תספור קומי שפה
And lest you say they have chukim and we do not have chukim, the Torah says, “You shall perform My mishpatim and My chukim you shall keep to walk by them; I am Hashem your God.”
ושמא תאמר להם חוקים ולנו אין חוקים ת"ל את משפטי תעשו ואת (מצותי) [חוקותי] תשמרו ללכת בהם אני ה' אלהיכם
Still, there is hope for the evil inclination to criticize to say, “Theirs are nicer than ours,” the Torah says, “You shall keep and you shall perform, for they are you wisdom and discernment.”
עדיין יש תקוה ליצר הרע להרהר ולומר שלהם נאים משלנו תלמוד לומר ושמרתם ועשיתם כי היא חכמתכם ובינתכם:

דברים פרשת ואתחנן פרק ד
Deuteronomy Chapter 4
(6) You shall keep them and do them, for that is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the [other] people, that they will hear all of these statutes and they will say, “Behold a wise and discerning people is this great nation.”
(ו) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם וַעֲשִׂיתֶם כִּי הִוא חָכְמַתְכֶם וּבִינַתְכֶם לְעֵינֵי הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְעוּן אֵת כָּל־הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה וְאָמְרוּ רַק עַם־חָכָם וְנָבוֹן הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה:

Chukim are not unique to us, but ours are better since they are our wisdom and discernment in the eyes of other nations. They also seem to be deep seated traditions which we would be unhappy to not have. Further, based on the verse quoted from Deuteronomy, the midrash thinks ours will look impressive to the other nations.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת יומא דף סז עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, 67b
Our Rabbis taught: “You shall perform my mishpatim…” Things which if they were not written, by logical inference they would be written. And these are them: idolatry, sexual prohibitions, murder, robbery, and cursing God.
תנו רבנן: את משפטי תעשו - דברים שאלמלא (לא) נכתבו דין הוא שיכתבו, ואלו הן: עבודה זרה, וגלוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים, וגזל, וברכת השם.
“And my chukim you shall keep.” Things which the Satan and the nations of the world refute them. And these are them: eating pig, wearing sha’atnez [mixed garments of wool and linen], chalitzah [the ceremony of release] from levirate marriage, purifying the skin disease, and the cast off scapegoat [on Yom Kippur, to atone for sins].
ואת חקתי תשמרו - דברים שהשטן ואומות העולם משיבים עליהן, ואלו הן: אכילת חזיר, ולבישת שעטנז, וחליצת יבמה, וטהרת מצורע, ושעיר המשתלח. ושמא תאמר מעשה תוהו הם - תלמוד לומר אני ה' - אני ה' חקקתיו, ואין לך רשות להרהר בהן.
And lest you say these are vain actions, the Torah says, “I am Hashem.” I created these chukim [lit. I etched them], and you have no permission to criticize them.
ושמא תאמר מעשה תוהו הם - תלמוד לומר אני ה' - אני ה' חקקתיו, ואין לך רשות להרהר בהן.

The midrash seems to equate chukim with inconceivable laws, though I am not sure that means what we think it means. The sources from B’midbar [Sinai] Rabbah, however, add a few details. These are based on the ceremony of the red heifer, the ashes of which are mixed with water to purify. Ironically, the creator of this ashen concoction becomes impure.

במדבר פרשת חקת פרק יט
B’midbar [Sinai], Chapter 19
(ב) זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּה יְקֹוָק לֵאמֹר דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין־בָּהּ מוּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא־עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל:
(2) This is the chok of the instruction that Hashem commanded, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and take for yourselves a completely red heifer, without a blemish and never having had a yoke upon it.”

במדבר רבה (וילנא) פרשת חקת פרשה יט, ה
B’midbar [Sinai] Rabbah, Parashat Chukkat, Portion 19:5
Rebbi Yehoshua of Sakhnin in the name of Rebbi Levi said: There are four things which the evil inclination refutes and about which it is written that it is a chok: the wife of your brother, mixed garments [of wool and linen], the cast off scapegoat, and the red heifer.
רבי יהושע דסכנין בשם רבי לוי אמר ארבעה דברים יצר הרע משיב עליהן דכתיב בהן חקה אשת אח וכלאים ושעיר המשתלח ופרה אדומה
The wife of your brother as it is written, “The nakedness of the wife of your brother you shall not uncover,” (Leviticus 18:8), but [if her husband dies] without children, her brother-in-law shall marry her. And it is written about [the prohibition] of marrying your brother’s wife, “And guard all of my chukim,” (Leviticus 19:37)
אשת אח דכתיב ערות אשת אחיך וגו' (ויקרא יח:ח) ובלא בנים יבמה יבא עליה וכתיב בערות אשת אח ושמרתם את כל חקתי (ויקרא יט:לז)
And mixed garments, “Do not wear sha’atnez,” (Deuteronomy 22:11), but linen tzitzit are permissible [with wool garments]. And a chok is written about it, “My chukim you shall keep,” (Leviticus 19:19).
וכלאים לא תלבש שעטנז (דברים כב:יא) וסדין בציצית מותר וכתיב ביה חוקה את חקותי תשמרו (ויקרא יט:יט),
The quote given for sha’atnez does not include the word chok, but the word chok is used in Leviticus 19:19 which also gives a prohibition against sha’atnez

The cast off scapegoat, as it is written, “The one who sends the goat to azazel shall wash his clothes,” (Leviticus 16:26) and he himself atones for others. And it is written about it, “This will be for you a chok forever,” (Leviticus 16:29).
שעיר המשתלח דכתיב והמשלח את השעיר לעזאזל יכבס בגדיו(ויקרא טז:כו) והוא עצמו מכפר על האחרים וכתיב ביה והיתה זאת לכם לחקת עולם (ויקרא טז:כט)
The one sending of the goat, which purifies the nations of its sins, ironically become impure.

A heifer from where? As it is taught, all who engage in the heifer from the beginning to the end [of the process], cause impurity in clothing, and it [the ashes from the heifer] itself purify clothes, and a chok it is written about it, “This is the chok of the instruction.”
פרה מנין דתנן כל העוסקין בפרה מתחלה ועד סוף מטמאין בגדים והיא גופה מטהרת בגדים וכתיב בה חקה זאת חקת התורה.
Here a chok is not incomprehensible as much as it is confusing why it declares one thing while other laws seem to imply the opposite. That is, it is a law that stands in contradiction with other law, often around its own performances.

במדבר רבה (וילנא) פרשת חקת פרשה יט, ו
B’midbar [Sinai] Rabbah, Parashat Chukkat, Portion 19:6
“Take for yourselves a completely red heifer.” Said Rebbi Yose in the name of Rebbi Chaninah: The Holy One, blessed be He said to Moshe, “To you I reveal the reason for the heifer, but to others it is a chok.”
[יט, ב] ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה א"ר יוסי ברבי חנינא אמר לו הקב"ה למשה לך אני מגלה טעם פרה אבל לאחר חקה
As Rav Huna said, “It is written, ‘When I take the appointed time,  I will judge fairly,” (Psalms 75:3). And it is written, ‘It will be on that day there will not be light but thick and heavy clouds,” (Zechariah 14:6) It is written, ‘Will be thick.’ Things hidden from you in this world will be visible in the world to come.”
דאמר רב הונא כתיב כי אקח מועד אני מישרים אשפוט  (תהלים עה:ג) וכתיב והיה ביום ההוא לא יהיה אור יקרות וקפאון (זכריה יד:ו) יקפאון כתיב דברים המכוסין מכם בעולם הזה עתידים להיות צופים לעולם הבא
Like that blind man who saw, as it is written, “I shall lead the blind by a road they did not know,” (Isaiah 42:16). And it is written, “The are the things: I did them and did not abandon them,” (Ibid.) “I will do,” is not written here,  but it is written, “I did them.” For I already did for Rebbi Akiva and his fellows. Things which were not revealed to Moshe were revealed to Rebbi Akiva and his fellows.
כהדין סמיא דצפי דכתיב והולכתי עורים בדרך לא ידעו (ישעיה מב:טז) וכתיב אלה הדברים עשיתים ולא עזבתים (שם) אעשה אין כתיב כאן אלא עשיתים שכבר עשיתי לרבי עקיבא וחביריו דברים שלא נגלו למשה נגלו לר"ע וחביריו (איוב כח) וכל יקר ראתה עינו זה רבי עקיבא וחביריו, אמר רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא רמז שכל הפרות בטלות ושלך קיימת.
Here the reasons for the chukim are not inconceivable, just not revealed to everyone. And some are not even revealed to Moshe, but they are to the later generation of Rebbi Akiva.

במדבר רבה (וילנא) פרשת חקת פרשה יט, ח
B’midbar [Sinai] Rabbah, Parashat Chukkat, Portion 19:8
One idolator asked Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, “This act which you perform seems like black magic. You bring a heifer, burn it, grind it, you take its ashes, and one of you impure from a dead body, you sprinkle two or three drops on him and say, ‘You are purified.’”
שאל עובד כוכבים אחד את רבן יוחנן בן זכאי אילין עובדייא דאתון עבדין נראין כמין כשפים אתם מביאים פרה ושורפין אותה וכותשין אותה ונוטלין את אפרה ואחד מכם מטמא למת מזין עליו ב' וג' טיפין ואתם אומרים לו טהרת,
He said to him, “Were you ever possessed by a demon?”
He said to him, “No.”
“Have you seen a man possessed by a demon?”
He said to him, “Yes.”
He said to him, “And what do you do to him?”
He said to him, “We bring roots and smoke them under him and we sprinkle water on it and it [the demon] runs away.”
He said to him, “Your ears should hear what comes out of your mouth. This spirit is like the spirit of impurity, as it says, ‘And also the prophets and the spirit of impurity I will remove from the land,’ (Zechariah 13:2). We sprinkle on him the waters of niddah [of the heifer] and it [the impurity] runs away.”
אמר לו לא נכנסה בך רוח תזזית מימיך
אמר לו לאו,
ראית אדם שנכנסה בו רוח תזזית
אמר לו הן
א"ל ומה אתם עושין לו
אמר לו מביאין עיקרין ומעשנין תחתיו ומרביצים עליה מים והיא בורחת
א"ל ישמעו אזניך מה שאתה מוצא מפיך כך הרוח הזו רוח טומאה דכתיב וגם את הנביאים ואת רוח הטומאה אעביר מן הארץ (זכריה יג:ב) מזין עליו מי נדה והוא בורח
When he left, his students said to him, “Our Rabbi, you pushed this one away with a reed. To us what do you say?”
He said to them, “By your lives, a dead body does not impurify and water does not purify. Rather, the Holy One, blessed be He said, ‘I etched a chok, I decreed a decree. You have no permission to transgress my decree, as it says, “This is the chok of the instruction.”
לאחר שיצא אמרו לו תלמידיו רבינו לזה דחית בקנה לנו מה אתה אומר
אמר להם חייכם לא המת מטמא ולא המים מטהרין אלא אמר הקב"ה חקה חקקתי גזירה גזרתי אי אתה רשאי לעבור על גזרתי דכתיב זאת חוקת התורה
And why are all the sacrifices male and this one is female? Said Rebbi Ibu, “A parable to a son of a servant who dirtied the palace of a king. Said the king, ‘His mother should come and wipe up the excrement.’ So said the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Bring a cow and it will atone for the happening with the [golden] calf.’”
ומפני מה כל הקרבנות זכרים וזו נקבה א"ר איבו משל לבן שפחה שטינף פלטין של מלך אמר המלך תבא אמו ותקנח את הצואה כך אמר הקב"ה תבא פרה ותכפר על מעשה העגל.

In this final midrash, the chok seems to match an idolatrous practice, though the practice is turned for Godly purposes. Nonetheless, we are told not to follow due to any reason, but merely as God’s decree. However, an explanation is also given from our history.

מדרש תנחומא (ורשא) פרשת בראשית
Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat B’reishit
“Then Cain brought from the fruit of the earth.” What was it? From the extra of his food. And our Rabbis say it was flax seed. “And Hevel also brought from the firstborn of his flock and their suet.” Therefore wool and flax were forbidden as it says, “Do not wear sha’atnez,” (Deuteronomy 22:11). And the Holy One, blessed be He, said, “Should it be the law that the offering of the sinner would be mixed with the offering of the innocent?” Therefore it was forbidden.
ויבא קין מפרי האדמה מהו מן מותר מאכלו, ורבנן אמרו זרע פשתן היה, והבל הביא גם הוא מבכורות צאנו ומחלביהן לפיכך נאסר צמר ופשתים שנא' לא תלבש שעטנז וגו' (דברים כב:יא) ואמר הקב"ה אינו דין שיתערב מנחת החוטא עם מנחת זכאי לפיכך נאסר
Here the chok about mixing wool and linen is given a reason of historical origin of not mixing up the sacrifices of Cain and Hevel.

רמב"ן ויקרא פרשת אחרי מות פרק יח
Nachmanides, Leviticus Chapter 18
And according to the plain meaning, “My mishpatim,” as it follows, are the laws stated in the parasha Mishpatim and all of the Torah. Therefore it says, “That a person shall perform them and live by them,” for these laws were given for the life of man in settling the states and for the peace of mankind. Such that a person will not damage his fellow and not kill him.
ועל דרך הפשט, "משפטי" כמשמען, הדינין האמורים בפרשת ואלה המשפטים ובכל התורה, ולכך יאמר אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם- כי הדינים נתנו לחיי האדם בישוב המדינות ושלום האדם, ושלא יזיק איש את רעהו ולא ימיתנו.
Here the Ramban helps us define mishpatim: laws for our safety. This contrasts them with chukim which seem to have deep historical and traditional roots, but may not necessarily be to keep us from direct or immediate harm.

רש"י מסכת יומא דף סז עמוד ב
Rashi, Tractate Yoma, 67b
Chok - It follows that it is but the decree of a king, like, “And he made it a chok,” (1 Samuel 30:25) and, “Joseph made it as a chok,” (Genesis 47:26).
חוק - משמע שאינו אלא גזירת מלך, כמו וישימה לחק (שמואל א ל:כה), וישם אותה יוסף לחוק (בראשית מז:כו).

The following verses are Rashi’s example of kingly decrees known as chok:
שמואל א פרק ל
1 Samuel Chapter 30
(22) And every bad and wicked man answered, from the men who went with David, saying, “Since they did not come with me, they will not be given from the spoils which we recovered, except for a man or woman and children that will lead them away and go.”
(כב) וַיַּעַן כָּל־אִישׁ־רָע וּבְלִיַּעַל מֵהָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר הָלְכוּ עִם־דָּוִד וַיֹּאמְרוּ יַעַן אֲשֶׁר לֹא־הָלְכוּ עִמִּי לֹא־נִתֵּן לָהֶם מֵהַשָּׁלָל אֲשֶׁר הִצַּלְנוּ כִּי־אִם־אִישׁ אֶת־אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת־בָּנָיו וְיִנְהֲגוּ וְיֵלֵכוּ: ס
(23) Then David say, “Do not do as such, my brothers with that which Hashem gave to us and guarded us and gave the battalion which engaged us into our hands.
(כג) וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד לֹא־תַעֲשׂוּ כֵן אֶחָי אֵת אֲשֶׁר־נָתַן יְקֹוָק לָנוּ וַיִּשְׁמֹר אֹתָנוּ וַיִּתֵּן אֶת־הַגְּדוּד הַבָּא עָלֵינוּ בְּיָדֵנוּ:
(24) “And who will listen to you in this matter, for the portion who went to war and the portion who stayed with the equipment shall distribute it together.”
(כד) וּמִי יִשְׁמַע לָכֶם לַדָּבָר הַזֶּה כִּי כְּחֵלֶק הַיֹּרֵד בַּמִּלְחָמָה וּכְחֵלֶק הַיֹּשֵׁב עַל־הַכֵּלִים יַחְדָּו יַחֲלֹקוּ: ס
(25) And it was from that day forth that he made it a chok and mishpat for Israel until this day.
(כה) וַיְהִי מֵהַיּוֹם הַהוּא וָמָעְלָה וַיְשִׂמֶהָ לְחֹק וּלְמִשְׁפָּט לְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה: פ
The soldiers who went to war do not want to split the spoils with those sitting in reserve guarding the weaponry. This chok decreed by David is also called a mishpat and seems comprehensible, though it goes against the better nature of the soldiers who went to war.

בראשית פרשת ויגש - ויחי פרק מז
Genesis, Chapter 47
(26) Then Joseph made it a chok until this day on the land of Egypt: for Pharaoh a fifth and only the land of the priests alone would not be for Pharaoh.
(כו) וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתָהּ יוֹסֵף לְחֹק עַד־הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה עַל־אַדְמַת מִצְרַיִם לְפַרְעֹה לַחֹמֶשׁ רַק אַדְמַת הַכֹּהֲנִים לְבַדָּם לֹא הָיְתָה לְפַרְעֹה:
Here, like the case of David, we have a governmental decree called a chok, which lasts from then until this day, emphasizing the eternal nature of a chok as an ancient custom.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף לז עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, 37a
“These are the chukim.” These are the midrashot [Rabbinic interpretations]. “And the mishpatim.” These are the laws. “That you shall keep.” This is the Mishnah. “To perform.” This is action.
אלה החוקים - אלו המדרשות, והמשפטים - אלו הדינים, אשר תשמרון - זו משנה,לעשות - זו מעשה

מהרש"א חידושי אגדות מסכת קידושין דף לז עמוד א
Maharshah, Narrative Novellae on Tractate Kiddushun 37a
“‘The chukim.’ These are the midrashot.” It hints at that which was stated, “Far are the wicked from salvation for they did not interpret Your chukim.” For a chok does not have an explicit reason and more greatly requires the exposition of the Sages.
החוקים אלו מדרשות כו' הרמז שנאמר רחוק מרשעים ישועה כי חוקיך לא דרשו כי החוק שאין טעם מפורש בו בעי טפי דרישה מדרש חכמים:

The Maharshah seems to say that chukim are actually asking for more interpretation. While we have to follow them, in this formulation we have to create at least mythology around them to give them purpose.

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