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The Real Question is "Who Am i Doing This For?" and Not "Why Am I Doing This?"

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah Parsha this week deals with the quintessential Torah law that is beyond human comprehension. The Hebrew word for a law that is beyond human comprehension is ‘chok’. The red heifer (cow) is used to spiritually purify people from the effects of contact with the dead – it is termed a ‘chok’.

Rashi quotes an interesting teaching in the name of Rebbi Moshe Hadarshan – This can be compared to the son of a maidservant who soiled the king’s palace. They said, “Let his mother come and clean up the mess.” Similarly, let the cow come and atone for the calf. This is a reference to the calf involved in the sin of the golden calf. The idea being expressed here is that the red heifer (the mother cow) atones for the sin of the golden calf (the son).

The problem is glaring – what has the sin of the golden calf got to do with the red heifer law? Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik (1820 – 1892) explains in his book ‘Beit Halevi’ that the sin of the golden calf was essentially mankind attempting to dictate and control their relationship with God on their terms. Rather than seeking out God’s will on how to connect to the divine, an intermediary was created to connect to the divine. This intermediary was of course the golden calf. The red heifer atones for the sin of the golden calf because its fulfillment is a submission to the will of God on God’s terms. The rational of the law is completely beyond human comprehension and our fulfillment of this law represents connecting to God purely on His terms based on His will.

The following discussion often presents itself at the early stages of a marriage:

Wife – please remember to put the toilet seat down after going to the bathroom. Leaving it up is not respectful towards me.

Husband – I see things differently. I go to the bathroom more than you and I like the toilet seat to be left up. Surely the respectful thing would be for you to raise the toilet seat upon exiting the bathroom.

Wife – I don’t accept your argument. Please put the toilet seat down after use.

Smart Husband – I really don’t get it and probably never will, but no problem honey. I will put the toilet seat down after use. The fact that you want this, that I am doing this for you and that it benefits our relationship is far more important to me than understanding your request.

In relationships the issues of ‘Who am I doing this for? Who’s needs am I thinking of?’ are far more important to bonding than the nature (and rationale) of the deeds themselves. This is true both of Divine and human relationships. The fact that one is willing to perform an action for another that is defined and understood only by the other party shows that the desire is purely one of relationship and closeness.

The fulfillment of a ‘chok’ in human and Divine relationships is therefore an important relationship key. The question of ‘Why am I doing this?’ becomes secondary to the relational question of ‘Who am I doing this for?’