The Torah consists of 613 mitzvot — positive and negative commandments. Primarily they are divided into three categories: eidut — Testimonial laws — such as Shabbat, tefillin and circumcision, chukim — statutes (decrees) — laws that are not understandable, such as not wearing kilayim — a mixture of wool and linen, not eating pig, and the law of the parah adumah — the red cow — and mishpatim — civil laws — which are called ordinances because they are logical.

The most difficult chok to comprehend is the parah adumah. Even King Shlomo, the wisest of all men (1 Kings, 5:11) exclaimed, “Amarti echakamah vehi rechokah mimeni” — “I said I would be wise but it is far from me” (Ecclesiastes 7:23). Our Sages (Midrash Rabbah 19:3, 6) explain that he was referring to the red cow statute, which he, too, was unable to comprehend.

Though it is the quintessential decree of the Torah, it is nevertheless only one of the many chukim — statutes. If so, why does it say “Zot chukat haTorah” — “This is the statute of the Torah” — instead of “Zot chukat parah adumah” — “This is the statute of the red heifer”?

The laws concerning the parah adumah are paradoxical. On the one hand, when the mixture is sprinkled on the defiled person, he becomes cleansed. On the other hand, those who are involved in the preparation of the parah adumah become defiled.

The people appointed to prepare the parah adumah may rationally argue, “Why should we become defiled for the sake of those who were not careful to avoid contact with a corpse?”

Through the statute of parah adumah the Torah is teaching that a Jew must help another Jew, even if it requires sacrifice. This is “chukat haTorah” — “a basic principle of Torah” — and though we may not easily comprehend it, we must practice it in our daily lives.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, hopefully, you will go out of your way to help other Jews, and Hashem, so to say, will go out of His way and reward you with an extremely abundant measure of kol tuv — all the good, begashmiyut v’beruchniyut — materially and spiritually.


Parshat Chukat deals with the laws of how someone who became defiled due to the contact with a corpse can regain his purity. Briefly, it is accomplished through slaughtering a parah adumah — red cow — burning it and mixing the ashes with spring water, and sprinkling it on the contaminated person.

A cow that meets the qualifications and particulars of a parah adumah — red cow — is extremely rare. Consequently, it is extremely valuable and can make its owner wealthy.

In the Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) Rabbi Eliezer is asked, “To what extent is the mitzvah of honoring parents obligatory?” He answers, “Take a lesson from a gentile named Dama ben Net­ina. Once there was a need to purchase stones for the eifod (the apron worn by the Kohen Gadol). It was an opportunity for him to earn a vast sum of money, but he refused to make the sale because the key to the safe was under his father’s pillow and he did not want to awaken him. A year later G‑d rewarded him: A red heifer was born to a cow in his herd, and the Sages offered to buy it. He replied, ‘I know that you will gladly give whatever price I ask for the heifer. However, I only request that you pay me the amount of money I lost through honoring my father.’ ”

Couldn’t Rabbi Eliezer have found a Jew to emulate who extended himself to honor his father?

Rabbi Eliezer was conveying to his students a profound message on the subject of honoring parents.

Many are under the impression that honoring parents is something which our human comprehension dictates: Since our parents do so much to raise us and give us the best of everything, it is our obligation to reciprocate by honoring and respecting them.

According to Rabbi Eliezer this is an erroneous approach, and he was using the story of Dama ben Netina to discredit this attitude. He was not telling his students to emulate him and learn from him the extent of honoring parents, but rather, to learn from the reward he received the profundity of the mitzvah.

If Hashem wanted to help him recover his loss, why was it necessarily in the form of red heifer?

The Torah is divided into three categories: eidot (testimonies), mishpatim (civil laws), and chukim (statutes, laws with no apparent rationale). The ultimate statute is the law of the red heifer. It is totally incomprehensible according to our limited intellect, and we obey it only because it is G‑d’s will.

Likewise, the message to be learned from Dama ben Netina’s reward is that honoring parents is obligatory even if our thinking cannot find a rationale for it. The mitzvah of honoring parents is a super-rational law; we must do it because it is G‑d’s will.

My dear Bar Mitzvah — no doubt that the mitzvah of kibud av v’aim — honoring father and mother — is obligatory even if in a case where it cannot be rationalized, however, it definitely applies, too, when there is good reason to do so.

Personally knowing your parents and keenly aware of all the challenges, effort and dedication, they went through to bring you to your current level of Torah and Yiddishkeit, you owe it to them to honor them without any hesitation and reservation.

The way for you to do it is by giving them much Yiddish and Chassidish nachas in abundant measure. Mazal Tov and hatzlachah rabbah.