The Torah portion of Chukas takes its name from the word chukas , supra-rational Divine decree, that appears at the outset of this portion in reference to the laws of the Red Heifer.

The word chukas itself is etymologically related to chakikah , to engrave and hew out.1 What is the connection between supra-rational Divine decrees and engraving?

Mitzvos are divided into three categories: Eidos, Testimonies; Mishpatim , Laws; and Chukim , Decrees. Eidos are commandments that serve as a testimony and remembrance of important events. Mishpatim are laws dictated by human intellect as well as by Divine intellect. Chukim are decrees that have no rational explanation.

A Jew instinctively desires to perform G‑d’s will.2 This desire emanates from the essence of the Jewish soul, which transcends intellect. This instinct most often finds expression in the performance of Chukim.

When a person performs Eidos and Mishpatim , the soul’s essential desire is not fully revealed, since the intellectual aspect of these mitzvos clouds the soul’s purely supra-rational desire to fulfill G‑d’s will. Chukim , however, do not have the “excess baggage” of logic. Therefore, performance of the Chukim reveals the soul’s essence.

The connection between Chukim and engraving lies in the fact that the superiority of Chukim over Eidos and Mishpatim is similar to the superiority of engraving over writing:

Writing is accomplished by joining ink to paper. Since the ink and the letters formed by it remain a separate entity from the paper upon which they are written, they therefore conceal that part of the paper upon which they appear. However, engraved letters are composed of the very substance upon which they are engraved, and therefore do not conceal it.

Since intellect tends to conceal the soul’s essence, the performance of Eidos and Mishpatim is similar to writing, in that the intellect conceals the soul’s essential desire to fulfill G‑d’s will just as written letters conceal the paper upon which they are written.

Chukim , however, are performed in a wholly supra-rational manner; there is nothing about them that would tend to obscure G‑d’s will and desire. They are therefore likened to engraved letters.

Chassidus explains3 that there are actually two forms of engraving: letters engraved in a normal fashion and letters formed by hewing the material clear through. In the former, the letters in some small way do impede the brilliance of the stone in which they are engraved, and in this they are somewhat similar to written letters; in the latter, this impediment does not exist.

Within Chukim , too, we find two manners of Chukim : those that have some relationship to intellect — similar to an engraved letter; or chukah such as the commandment of the Red Heifer, that has no relationship to intellect — similar to a letter formed by hewing the stone through and through.

We thus understand that the performance of those Chukim that have some relationship to intellect lacks the degree of revelation found in the performance of the chukah of the Red Heifer. It is only in performing the latter kind of decree, where intellect does not enter the picture, that the soul’s essence is revealed in all its glory.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. VIII, pp. 124-129.