The Anatomy of a Mitzvah

For the week ending 30 June 2018 / 17 Tammuz 5778

A Reason to Look Beyond Reason

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Our Sages explain that the Satan (“Accuser”) and the nations of the world taunt the Jewish People regarding the mitzvah of Para Aduma (Red Heifer). They say, What is this commandment? What purpose does it have?

What is the purpose of these derisions by the Satan and other nations? Perhaps two of the most important aspects of a human being are one’s intellectual faculties and the drive for accomplishment. It is these qualities that can lead to mankind achieving greatness; yet at the same time it is precisely these two qualities that can lead to one’s downfall. We thus find that Korach, relying on his brilliant intellect, allowed his desire for accomplishment to lead to his downfall.

We must utilize our intellectual faculties in our service of G-d. Moreover, without using our minds our Divine service would be meaningless, like playing a child’s game. Yet, at the same time, if we were to totally rely on our intellect, not able to go beyond, our service of G-d would forever be limited to our human nature. If all we were able to give G-d was our intellect, then our Divine service would be comparable to a child’s contribution in an adult world.

Knowing the inner makeup of the human being, the Satan and nations of the world approach us with precisely this challenge. They attack our basic human drive. The answer to their challenge is simple, yet profound, something that, with all of their complexities, they are unable to grasp. We do what G-d asks of us even when we don’t understand it, and, in doing so, we rise above the limitations of human intellect, unifying with the Divine Will on a level that transcends that of the angels. This is the secret of our declaration of na’aseh v’nishmah — we will do and we will listen — when we received the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Similar to the challenge of the Para Aduma, Avraham was challenged to rise above his human nature, and, in doing so, he formed the foundation for the Jewish People. He was asked to sacrifice his son Yitzchak. Aside from the difficulties of asking a father to kill his own son, Avraham was also asked to contradict himself. For many years Avraham had spread the truth of G-d’s ways to the masses. In his times, people indeed sacrificed their children to false gods, and Avraham had spoken out against doing so, explaining that such behavior was appalling to G-d. G-d's asking Avraham to do this very thing required Avraham to go beyond his intellectual limitation, reaching a level of faith that emanated from the essence of his soul. This faith serves as the ultimate foundation of his, and our, Divine service.

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