- Rabbi Yosef Goldin
- Duration: 7 min
Parenting from the Parsha- Parshat Chukas- Because He Said So
- Rabbi Yosef Goldin
- Jul 3, 2022
“Because I said so” …the words that each of us hated hearing from our parents growing up, and we swore we would never say them to our kids… and yet, somehow, we end up doing so anyway, during moments of weakness.
Fundamentally, we realize that being told to do something, or act in a certain way, without being given an explanation or reason for doing so, is extremely challenging. Our natural instinct is to refuse, or at least argue, with such a request. That is why we hated hearing that phrase as kids, and resolved never use it as parents.
And yet- in this week’s parsha, we encounter what seems to be a classic example of G-d telling us to a mitzvah “because I said so.”
As many of us are aware, the Mitzvot can be divided into two general categories. “Mishpatim” refer to commandments that are more logical and sensible in nature- laws that society would likely have created if Hashem had not commanded them- such as the prohibition to kill, steal, kidnap, etc. In contrast, “chukim” refer to mitzvot that possess reasons which are not intuitive; mitzvot that are harder for us to understand- such as the laws of kashrut, sha’atnez, and many more.
Perhaps the most well-known chok is the mitzvah that opens up our parsha, the mitzvah of Parah Aduma, the Red Heifer. The Torah commands that any person who becomes impure through contact with a dead person or animal must go through a 7-day purification process, during which he is sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer. Our parsha introduces this mitzvah with the phrase “zot chukat haTorah”, “this is the chok of the Torah”- implying that of all the mitzvot in the Torah, the Parah Aduma is the quintessential chok, the hardest to understand. And in fact, the Midrash maintains that King Shlomo, the smartest man to ever live, was able to understand the logic behind all the mitzvot in the Torah, except for Parah Aduma, the logic of which evaded even his intellect.
Given the above raised frustrations we naturally feel when we receive instructions without explanation, why would Hashem command us to do mitzvot that we don’t understand?
This question is compounded when we consider the opinion of Rashi. Based on a certain reading of a number of Midrashim, Rashi repeatedly describes chukim as mitzvot that “ have no reason- they are a decree from the king, and we have no permission to challenge them”. According to this position, not only are chukim beyond our comprehension, we aren’t even meant to try and understand them at all- we are meant to observe them as heavenly decrees, without question!
In essence, G-d is telling us that we need to do these mitzvot “because He said so”! Why would he command them in such a way?
Rashi Gemara Megillah 25a explains that these mitzvot are designed for us “to show that we are His (HaShem’s) servants, and that we obey his commandments”. One of ways that we are meant to relate to Hashem is as our Melech, our King. When a King decrees, his servants obey without question. In order to develop this dedication and submission to Hashem’s authority, He commands us to do certain mitzvot that make no sense to us; mitzvot that even seem arbitrary or random. By committing to do these mitzvot regardless, we concretize our complete deference to Hashem as our King and Ruler.
As we have noted in the past, Rav Soloveitchik often writes of the important role that submission plays in Judaism. Each of us must submit our wants and needs to a higher authority, thereby committing an act of “tzimtzum”, a “withdrawing” of ourselves and our natural desires, for the sake of G-d and in deference to Him.
In sum, there is great reason for G-d to command us to do mitzvot “because He said so”!
Given the critical role that chukim play in establishing HaShem’s authority over us, we might be tempted to require similar obedience from our children. It is, after all, certainly true that there is a clear hierarchy between parents and children; and that children are meant to view their parents as authority figure. And yet, we must realize that our relationship with our kids is fundamentally different from the relationship between G-d and Man. Our role as authority figures stems from the fact that we are adults, and therefore have more life experience to share, and a deeper understanding of what is good for the child and what is detrimental. This is why the authority that we have over our children wanes as they get older- because as they gain more knowledge, life experience, and wisdom, they become more equipped to make their own choices and decisions. We will always be their parents- and a certain level of kavod and yirah will always be expected, appropriate, and commanded- but our role as authorities over them will have ended.
Therefore, even during the earlier years, when we do function as authorities over our children, we should recognize that our relationship with them is fundamentally different from our relationship with Hashem. We are not looking- at least we should not be looking- for our children to submit themselves to our authority, or to obey us without question or understanding. Rather, we should strive to cultivate a relationship based on communication, trust, and respect. We should communicate to our children the reasons for any rules or standards we place on them, or any expectations we have of them. We must also create space for a genuine conversation surrounding these standards or expectations- where we are able to listen to our children and hopefully have them listen to us. Ultimately, they may not agree with our decisions- but at least they will appreciate that our conclusions have been based on sound logic and reasoning, rather than arbitrary whims.
There will certainly be moments where we don’t have time to explain ourselves fully to our children- or situations where a proper explanation will be beyond their comprehension at their age. During those moments, when challenged, we may be tempted to simply respond “because I said so” in order to assert our authority and save ourselves time and mental energy. But even in those situations, a better reaction would be to transmit the message that said rules are for their own well-being and benefit, even if they don’t fully understand it. Such a response will relay a message of love and care, rather than authority and power.
Our relationship with G-d is multi-faceted and complex. Among many other roles, he is both our Father and our King. Our Mitzvot are fashioned to highlight both of these roles in our own lives. Chukim are specifically designed highlight our relationship with Hashem as our King- by tasking us to submit ourselves unquestioningly to His authority. At the same time, as parents, our relationship with our children is totally different- and we should therefore strive to avoid asking them to listen to us simply “because we said so”.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!
“Because I said so” …the words that each of us hated hearing from our parents growing up, and we swore we would never say them to our kids… and yet, somehow, we end up doing so anyway, during moments of weakness. Fundamentally, we realize that being told to do something, or act in a certain way, without being given an explanation or reason for doing so, is extremely challenging. Our natural instinct is to refuse, or at least argue, with such a request. That is why we hated hearing that phrase as kids, and resolved never use it as parents. And yet- in this week’s parsha, we encounter what seems to be a classic example of G-d telling us to a mitzvah “because He said so.” Why would Hashem command us to do mitzvot in this fashion, given the challenges we have with listening to such commands?
- Re-aligning With Eretz Yisroel Through Krias HaTorah (followed by Tisha B'Av Chizzuk and Q&A)