The parah adumah is the example par excellence of a mitzvah which is beyond all human comprehension and which is fulfilled out of pure acceptance of G‑d’s will. All mitzvos, even those which are understood rationally, must be fulfilled in the same way as the mitzvah of parah adumah — not because the human intellect agrees, but solely because they are of Divine origin.

The Jewish people are commanded to bring a Pesach offering on the fourteenth of Nissan, and to eat it on the eve of the fifteenth. Before a Jew could bring the Pesach offering he had to be ritually pure. The most severe form of impurity is that which comes from contact with a dead person. Such impurity can be removed only through the parah adumah — the red heifer.1

The parah adumah was a heifer that had to be completely red.2 It was slaughtered, burned, certain articles mixed with it, and its ashes, mixed with water, were then sprinkled on the impure person.3

Because the Jews were obligated to be ritually pure for the Pesach offering, the section in the Torah which tells of the parah adumah4 is read before Pesach — to remind all Jews to purify themselves if necessary. The Shabbos on which it is read is thus termed Shabbos Parshas Parah.5

The section detailing the laws of the parah adumah is prefaced with the words, “This is the statute of the Torah which the L‑rd has commanded.”6 It does not state, “This is the statute of the red heifer” or “This is the statute of purifying,” which would seem to be more relevant to the section of the parah adumah. Instead, it chooses to call the statute of the parah adumah the statute of the Torah in general.

Parah adumah is essence of Torah

The reason for this is that the parah adumah exemplifies the essence of every mitzvah of the Torah.7 Mitzvos can be classified into three categories: mishpatim, eidus, and chukim. Mishpatim are those mitzvos which the human intellect would propose even if they were not Divinely commanded. They are the laws necessary for the proper working of society, such as the prohibitions against stealing and murder.

Eidus are mitzvos which although they would not necessarily have been proposed by the human intellect, are understood once they have been commanded by Torah. Eidus literally means testimony, referring to those mitzvos which testify to and are signs of G‑d’s special relationship with Jews. Examples of those are the mitzvos which commemorate events, such as those associated with the festivals.8 Once the Torah has instructed us to commemorate those events with the appropriate mitzvos, we can appreciate the reasons for them.

Chukim, statutes, are those mitzvos which defy human comprehension; moreover, they are at variance with logical understanding. They are fulfilled solely out of acceptance of the yoke of heaven, because so G‑d has decreed.

The supreme example of a chok, a statute that defies reason, is the parah adumah.9 Even King Shlomo, the wisest of all men, could not understand it. He could penetrate the reason behind every other mitzvah, but of the parah adumah he said: “I researched, I asked, I sought. [Finally] I declared, ‘I said I would understand it, but it is beyond me.’”10

The mitzvah of the parah adumah, then, is the example par excellence of a mitzvah which is performed not because a person understands the reason for it, but solely because G‑d has commanded it. Logic cannot dictate its acceptance, because it defies logic.

All mitzvos are products of the Divine will

Although mishpatim and eidus are understood by the human intellect, this is not their essence: The essence of all mitzvos is that they stem from the Divine will. The difference between mishpatim and eidus on the one hand, and chukim on the other, is simply in how they are presented to us. The former are clothed, as it were, in rational form; the latter remain beyond human comprehension. However, even those which can be grasped by human reason remain products of the Divine will, which transcends any form of comprehension.

That is why the Torah says, “This is the statute of the Torah” when referring to the specific mitzvah of the parah adumah. All mitzvos, even those comprehended by the human intellect, must be fulfilled in the same manner as the mitzvah of the parah adumah. Not because they make sense, but because they are decrees from G‑d.

Thus, although mitzvos are divided into mishpatim, eidus and chukim, in essence they are all chukim. They all transcend comprehension, for they are all from the Divine will — and must be fulfilled accordingly.

Chukim and engraved letters

Chassidus explains11 that the word chok derives from the root chakikah, meaning engraving. There is a cardinal difference between letters that are written and those which are engraved. The former are not part of the paper on which they are written; they have been added to the paper, and cover it. The latter are part of the material in which they are etched.

Chukim may be compared to engraved letters, mishpatim and eidus to written letters. Every Jew has a G‑dly soul, which in its essence transcends all of man’s faculties, including the intellect. Because of this soul, it is a Jew’s nature to want to fulfill G‑d’s will.12 In the case of mishpatim and eidus, because there are very good reasons to fulfill them, the pure desire to fulfill G‑d’s will — simply because it is G‑d’s will — is somewhat diminished. The logic which compels a Jew to fulfill mishpatim and eidus conceals the desire which stems not from the intellect, but from the soul’s essence.

In the case of chukim, there are no logical reasons to compel a Jew to fulfill them. These mitzvos are thus performed only because so G‑d commands — and the essence of the soul, which drives the Jew to fulfill statutes, is thereby revealed.

This is why chukim are compared to engraving, and mishpatim and eidus to writing. Written letters, because they are added to the paper, conceal the paper. Engraved letters are part of the material and therefore do not conceal it.

We can go further and divide chukim themselves into two categories: Those which cannot be understood because they pose questions and contradictions that cannot be logically resolved; and those which are totally beyond all understanding. The parah adumah is the only chok in the entire Torah which fits this second category. The Torah therefore states of it, “This is the statute of the Torah” — this, and none other.

The two types of chukim correspond to two different types of engraving:13 Letters which are etched (on a diamond, for example), and those which are engraved completely through and through. The former, although part of the material, still somewhat conceal, for the letters dim the brilliance of the diamond.14 There is thus still a slight connection between this type of engraving and writing. The latter, however, because they cut through from end to end, are completely dissimilar to letters which cover the material on which they are written. This type of engraving does not at all conceal.

Pure acceptance of G‑d’s will

The mitzvah of parah adumah corresponds to the second type of engraving. Just as the letters do not conceal the material in any way, so, too, the fulfillment of the mitzvah of parah adumah, which is totally beyond understanding, does not conceal the soul’s essence which alone prompts a Jew to fulfill this mitzvah. Those chukim which retain some form of connection to human comprehension are compared to the etching on a diamond. Just as the letters somewhat dim the diamond’s brilliance, so the little understanding that a Jew does have of these type of chukim interferes with the performance of these mitzvos solely out of the pure desire to fulfill G‑d’s will. A part of the mitzvah is fulfilled out of understanding.

“This is the statute of the Torah” teaches that just as the mitzvah of parah adumah is fulfilled purely out of acceptance of the yoke of heaven, so too all mitzvos — “the Torah” — must be fulfilled in the same manner.

This does not mean that the reasons behind mishpatim and eidus are to be ignored. Torah itself has called those mitzvos by those names, indicating that mitzvos which are eidus should be fulfilled precisely because they testify to certain matters.15 But have we not said that all mitzvos should be fulfilled as chukim, simply out of acceptance of the Divine will?

There is no contradiction. The performance of mitzvos because of their underlying reasons is itself out of acceptance of the yoke of heaven. That is, the very fact that we fulfill mishpatim and eidus because of their reasons is because so G‑d has decreed. It is our fulfillment of this decree that must be similar to our fulfillment of the mitzvah of parah adumah, “the statute of the Torah.”

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, pp. 126-132; Vol. IV, pp. 1056-1057