This year, Parashat Para (the added Torah portion which describes the Mitzvah of the Red Heifer) is appended to Parashat Shemini. We read the portion of the Para Aduma before the month of Nisan in order for the Jews to be able to offer the Passover Sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan while in a state of purity.

‘ is a decree from Me and you do not have permission to ponder it.’

Parashat Para begins, "This is the statute of the Torah which G‑d commanded saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and take for yourself a whole and unblemished red heifer [in Hebrew, 'para aduma temima'].’"

This Mitzvah is called a "statute" [in Hebrew, 'chok'] from G‑d, which seemingly has no logical reason. Rashi explains the use of this term: "Since the nations of the world mockingly ask, ‘What is the reason for this commandment?’ G‑d said, ‘This is a statute that I have made; it is a decree from Me and you do not have permission to ponder it.’"

Para Aduma is a statute for which we do not know the reason. Likewise, we do not understand why the Para Aduma purifies the impure from the defilement of a corpse and why the Kohen doing the purification becomes impure. The matter is beyond our intellect and understanding.

The Mitzvahs are divided into two types:

  • ‘logical’ Mitzvahs, those that we would still fulfill even if we had not been commanded to perform them by the Torah, since our logical minds would obligate us to do so. These Mitzvahs include resting one day a week, honoring one’s father and mother, avoiding killing and theft, and so on.
  • Mitzvahs of obedience, Mitzvahs that we would not think of fulfilling had we not been commanded to do so by the Torah. These include the prohibitions against mixing breeds of plants or animals, mixing linen and wool, eating meat with milk, and so on.

When fulfilling the ‘logical’ Mitzvahs, we must override our reason and logic which obligate us to fulfill them because of humane, logical or social reasons that we can understand. Even though it seems to us that to perform the Mitzvah is the ‘right’ thing to do, we must fulfill it only because it is the will of G‑d as commanded in the Torah.

A person should not say, ‘I am disgusted by pork ...'

Likewise, regarding these Mitzvahs, Rashi quotes Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya: "A person should not say, ‘I am disgusted by pork or it is impossible for me to wear a wool and linen blend,’ but rather he should say, ‘It is possible for me, but what can I do, my Father in Heaven decreed it upon me.’" (Lev. 20:26)

Why are we obligated to fulfill the Mitzvahs simply because they are commanded by G‑d? To answer this we must first understand the role and purpose of Mitzvahs. This is explained in the Midrash: "The Mitzvahs were only given to refine and purify Israel, and to refine the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination), which is a person’s ‘desire to receive for himself’". Additionally, the Mishna explains that, "G‑d wanted to provide merit [in Hebrew, 'lizakos'] for the Children of Israel; this means to refine them [in Hebrew, 'lizakaich'], just as a refiner removes the dross from the silver. They take out the refuse and leave behind only the pure silver. This is the role of the Mitzvahs."

Our Sages say that one who performs a Mitzvah having been commanded to do so is greater than one who performs a Mitzvah but has not been so commanded. Fulfilling a Mitzvah because it is a commandment from G‑d serves to refine a person and connects the individual with the One Who gave the command. Even while fulfilling logical Mitzvahs, we should supersede our understanding of the purpose of the Mitzvah, and simply fulfill it as a statute from G‑d.

It is written in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 2): "Make your will like His will." A person needs to develop the will to fulfill G‑d’s Mitzvahs even if he has no natural desire to do so. This refers to the Mitzvahs of blind obedience. The following mishna there states, "Nullify your will because of His will." This refers to the ‘logical’ Mitzvahs since, even though our rational mind tells us that this is the right thing to do, we nullify these thoughts before the will of Hashem.

...a person becomes tamim...because he overrides his own will only in order to perform the will of his Creator...

This is what King David requested when he said, "May my heart be tamim [meaning both sincere and whole] in Your statutes." Tamim refers to both logical Mitzvahs and Mitzvahs of obedience. In this way a person becomes tamim, whole with G‑d, because he overrides his own will only in order to perform the will of his Creator, as it is written, "Be tamim with Hashem, your G‑d." This is similar to what is stated regarding the Para Aduma, which must be "temima", whole and unblemished. Wholeness, temimut, is when there is a single will and not two conflicting wills.

Accordingly, we can understand what is written in this week's Parasha: "And the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, each took his firepan, and they offered a strange fire which G‑d had not commanded them."

The Sages offer two viewpoints regarding the sin of Nadab and Abihu. Rabbi Eliezer says that they sinned because they ruled on a Halacha, a point of Jewish law, in front of Moses their Rabbi. Rabbi Akiva says that they sinned because they entered into the Holy Mishkan after they had drunk wine.

Sefat Emet says, "What is wine? When one comprehends the reasons of the Torah, this is called the wine of Torah." Our Sages tell us that our Forefathers fulfilled the Mitzvahs before the giving of the Torah. They did so by fulfilling the ‘penimiut’, the inner essence of the Mitzvahs, even before they had actually been commanded at Sinai. when Rabbi Akiva says that they had ‘drunk wine’, it is possible to understand that Nadab and Abihu were on a very high spiritual level indeed, just like the Forefathers, understanding the inner meaning of the Mitzvahs.

However, since the Torah had already been given, they were obligated to perform the Mitzvahs because, and only because, they had been commanded by G‑d, and not because of their innate understanding of their inner meaning. Only in this way could the performance of the Mitzvahs refine them. Having performed the Mitzvah, only then could they seek to ‘taste the wine’, to understand its inner meaning.

Fulfilling Mitzvahs because they are the commands of G‑d connects us to the Creator...

Fulfilling Mitzvahs because they are the commands of G‑d connects us to the Creator, as we say in the blessing, "Who has made us holy with His Mitzvahs, and commanded us…" Just as He commands us because He wants to bestow goodness upon us, so too must we give Him pleasure and fulfill His Mitzvahs and this will bind us to Him. Only then are we able to receive the Light of Torah and partake of its spiritual pleasures.

This is what King David prayed: "May my heart be 'tamim/whole' in Your statutes." As Rashi explains on the verse, "Be whole [in Hebrew, 'tamim'] with the L-rd, your G‑d." When you accept everything with temimut, sincerity and wholeness, then you will attain closeness to G‑d and become His portion.

Delivered orally; translated by David Devor from his notes and extensively edited by staff.

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