[This shmuess was delivered at the Mashgiach's monthly shiur on Shabbos parshas Chukas 5764 and was written up by member of the audience.]
Part III (Conclusion)
In the first part, HaRav Dessler asked several questions about the topic of the rationale of mitzvos, based on the famous discussion in Chazal of the Poroh Adumoh.
"Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying, `This is the chukah of the Torah that Hashem has commanded saying . . . '" Rashi comments, "Since the Satan and other nations taunt Yisroel by asking them what is the meaning of this mitzvah and what is its rationale, the Torah writes chukah-it is a decree from Me and you are not allowed to seek its rationale."
What is the substance of the Torah's answer? The answer does not seem to supply any new information whatsoever.
Elsewhere the Torah teaches that Yisroel are regarded as wise and understanding precisely because of the chukim that are beyond human comprehension.
Chazal clarify and specify how every detail of the Poroh Adumoh atones for the cheit ha'eigel. So why is this mitzvah termed "a decree from Me" without rationale?
Rashi writes that Bnei Yisroel were given the mitzvah of Poroh Adumoh at Moroh, before they sinned with the cheit ha'eigel and not after.
Why does the Torah write, "This is the chukah of the Torah"? Why not just say, "This is the chukah of taharoh"?
Why does the Torah need to write the word "saying" (leimor) twice?
Although we ask in Birchos Krias Shema to understand and shed light upon our Torah study, it is in fact dangerous to know the reasons behind the mitzvos, and this knowledge is, chas vesholom, liable to endanger those who know it. Such knowledge is not only secondary to other Torah knowledge, it also presents unquestionable risk to loyal Torah observance.
Rabbeinu Yeruchom, the Mirrer Mashgiach, explains that our native thoughts are not those of the Torah. We need to refine our thoughts and make them conform to the Torah.
A person who performs the Torah's mitzvos exclusively because Hashem has commanded him, without any other motives, successfully rectifies the cheit ha'eigel. In this way, as a chok, the Poroh Adumoh stands as an example for all mitzvos. Tikkunim are affected only when a person performs his Creator's will. When he does something without Hashem's command, those deeds remain mere mortal acts.
The Mirrer Mashgiach, R' Yeruchom zt'l writes: "The substance of this world is `doing.' Simply doing, without any sophisticated reasons for my doing so." Accept the words of all the pesukim as written, without question.
We continue with the words of R' Yeruchom:
"The gates of Gan Eden are opened for anyone who answers omen with all his might" (Shabbos 119b). It is sufficient for a person to answer omen, meaning, "I believe," to open up the gates of Gan Eden for him. "Gehennom is chilled for anyone who, when reading Krias Shema, is careful in pronouncing its letters" (Brochos 15b). Doing something as dry as this — carefully pronouncing the letters of Krias Shema — is the substance of Olom Hama'aseh (the world of human activity). The zenith of a person's perfection is acting in a completely simple and dry way.
"The Alter of Kelm zt'l was accustomed to say, `Torah is different from other fields of knowledge. In other fields of knowledge, one ascends from the first class to the second and afterward to the third . . . and attains perfection through reaching the highest class. This is not so with the Holy Torah. First a person studies in the first class, at a level that everything is done simply. Afterward he studies in the second class, and eventually he gets to studying the wisdom of the Torah at the highest level. Nonetheless, his objective is not to remain at the highest level but to return to the first class and become someone who acts simply, completely simply — `I do not understand anything. I simply believe!'"
"It is related of an eminent mekubal that in his old age he used to daven with complete simplicity (see Mishnah Berurah 790) like a simple Jew. This is the objective of man's perfection- becoming a simple person. How foolish are people who reach old age and study Torah but are totally unaware of this salient principle that one must become a simple Jew who believes without understanding. `This is what is written' and its being written is more than sufficient to motivate one to act. Chas vesholom, those unaware of this do not have any connection to Torah."
Based on Rabbeinu Yeruchom's teachings, we can properly understand well what Chazal mean in the Medrash of parshas Poroh, that the Poroh Adumoh is similar to a mother cleansing her son. Surely, we cannot explain that the medrash is coming to tell us that the reason why the Torah commanded us the mitzvah of the Poroh Adumoh is because of the cheit ha'eigel. This is impossible, since the cheit ha'eigel occurred after bnei Yisroel were commanded to bring the Poroh Adumoh. Furthermore, since parshas Poroh is a chukah and a gezeiroh, meaning that you cannot search for its rationale, it is obvious that no explanation for the Poroh Adumoh can be given.
Indeed Chazal's message to us is, as previously explained, that total rectification of the cheit ha'eigel is by means of the mother of the eigel, the poroh, coming to clean away her son's filth, and this is accomplished through the Poroh Adumoh. As noted above, the source of the sin that caused the cheit ha'eigel was bnei Yisroel's decision to affect tikkunim according to their comprehension of the underlying reasons for the mitzvos and what they took to be the essence of the mitzvos. We are forbidden to lessen mitzvah performance because of any reasons or secrets of the mitzvah, but surely if one fulfills all halochos of the mitzvah as required, with all its details, he may know their reasons or to perform them with those kavonos. On the contrary, such a person will be considered a kodosh, a holy person.
However, the above refers only to someone who performs other mitzvos in conformance with their halochos. The Michtav MeEliyohu (III, pg. 294) writes: "One should be aware of the potential dangers of engaging in secondary dikdukim and chumros. The yetzer is liable to engulf a person in dikdukim of one mitzvah in order to cause him to stumble on many other sins. We have a basic principle of human behavior: if someone exaggerates the value of one matter it is almost certain to cause him to diminish the value of another matter. Moreover, I heard in the name of the Alter of Slobodka that he once saw a boy who would accept Shabbos upon himself on erev Shabbos at midday. The Alter told him that he does not have any right to look at all of us as mechalelei Shabbos. See also the Sefer HaZichron Michtav MeEliyohu I, pg. 118.
Maran HaRav A.Y.L. Shteinman shlita relates that someone once asked the Chazon Ish if he should act in accordance with the instruction of the Zohar HaKodosh and Kabbalistic writings. The Chazon Ish answered that he should not, and explained that added hiddurim are liable to cause him to disregard other mitzvos. One must be very careful about this.
Chazal (Chulin 5b) teach that the posuk, "You save both man and beast, O Hashem" (Tehillim 36:7) relates to crafty people who act as beasts. Also the Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 27:1) writes, "Yisroel said, `Even though we are people, save us since we follow You as beasts do.'" All this means that a person must perform mitzvos because HaKodosh Boruch Hu commanded him to do so, without looking for the reasons behind the mitzvos and their secrets. He should perform all of them as a beast does things, without any questions and doing exactly what he is led to do. Rabbeinu Yeruchom of Mir zt'l writes that a person should say, "I am performing the mitzvah because I have been commanded" and he should not intend to perform mitzvos because of tikkunim and other Kabbalistic reasons.
I heard in the name of the kodosh Rebbe Artchik Baksht Hy'd [av beis din of Shavel, who received his education in the Talmud Torah of Kelm and was held in high esteem by the Chofetz Chaim], an explanation to the mitzvah of Poroh Adumoh: Since the Poroh Adumoh was very costly, all of Yisroel took part in buying it. Through the fact that the whole nation participates in this mitzvas aseih whose entire essence is a chok that we cannot comprehend and are not allowed to search for its rationale, we rectify the sin of the eigel whose essence was fulfilling mitzvos according to how they understood them.
According to the above, we also understand the essence of the avodoh zorah of the Baal Pe'or (Bamidbar 25:3). The ideology of that avodoh zorah was that nothing is conventional or accepted, and what we do or refrain from doing is only according to our independent understanding and feelings.
We have already written that this principle allows gaining insight into the reason why the Torah writes in parshas Poroh, "This is the chukah of the Torah." This is because we infer from the Poroh Adumoh a principle that applies to all mitzvos of the Torah and not only to that particular mitzvah.
Now we can also understand why the Torah repeats the term "saying." Actually the Torah is referring to two different concepts: One: is the general concept that the whole Torah is a chukah and we are not allowed to search for its rationale, and Two: is the positive commandment to bring the Poroh Adumoh.
Rashi therefore writes that the Satan and other nations taunt Yisroel about Poroh Adumoh being illogical. The Satan is the yetzer hora and man's fundamental material essence. A person's nature is to want others to honor him and to want to demonstrate to others how intelligent he is. The Torah comes to teach us that we should elevate ourselves to be resolute "people" with firm outlooks in life, to be people who do not pay attention to what each Satan tries to tell us.
The Torah commands us, "You shall love Hashem, your G-d," (Devorim 6:5) and Chazal (Yoma 86a) expound that besides meaning that we should engage in an avodoh of the heart that is tefillah it includes also a positive mitzvah to cause the Name of Heaven to be loved through us.
A Jew fulfills this mitzvah through proper behavior, through pleasant interpersonal relations, through honest business dealings. Also he fulfills it by forgoing justified monetary rights, by disregarding his own will and such. As a result of our general praiseworthy conduct we will not need to offer explanations of chukim and mitzvos to every Satan and nation. Since everyone recognizes how reliable, trustworthy and helpful we are in our relationships, and that we fulfill mitzvos only because we have been commanded to do so since they are decrees from HaKodosh Boruch Hu and we do not search for a rationale, we will also be honored and justified for what we do.
On the contrary, through our fulfilling mitzvos in such a way other people will eventually praise us and say, "For this is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear these decrees and who shall say, `Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation.' "
Non-Jews see that the Jewish People are known for being wise in all matters, and that they do not attempt to win favor from influential people or to be accepted in society through flattery, but perform the mitzvos only because HaKodosh Boruch Hu has commanded them to do so. In addition, they see that the Jewish People overcome their yetzer which tries to entice them to act according to their wishes and cravings, and that the Jewish People are totally obedient to the Torah and the Shulchan Oruch. After observing this, other nations realize the tremendous truth in our ways and proclaim, "Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation."
HaRav E. E. Dessler shlita is Menahel Ruchani of Yeshivas Ponovezh.