1. Shai Finkelstein

Rav, Kehilat Nitzanim


The section on Parah Adumah that appears in our parasha raises the question of the relationship between human wisdom and Divine wisdom. Shlomo HaMelech, wisest of all men, who was blessed by Hashem with a special wisdom (according to I Melachim 5:9 :“And G-d gave wisdom to Shlomo….”), admitted his human failure to understand the fullness of G-d’s wisdom when he stated “I intended to become wise, but it was far from me” (Kohelet 7:23). The Midrash (Kohelet Raba, Chap. 7) expounds on this statement in connection with the parasha of Parah Adumah:


Shlomo said: “About all these I pondered and grappled, and the section of Parah Adumah I investigated. Since I had toiled in it and expounded and investigated, I expected to become wise, but it remained beyond my grasp.” 


This reality, in which human intellect is unable to fathom the depths of knowledge of the divine intellect, is one of the most complicated challenges of our generation. Our generation is blessed with tremendous achievements in every possible area, but when we fulfill mitzvot without understanding, or when mitzvot conflict with human intellect, they make religious life difficult, especially for the younger generation. If so, we need to ask two questions:


The first question: 


This reality in which human intellect in unable to comprehend the Divine intellect raises the question of the goal of such an existence. What is the goal that Hashem wants us to achieve in requiring us to fulfill mitzvot and chukim which human minds cannot understand? It is possible that the goal is education for obedience, which is an important component in the system of relationships between The Creator and the created. Sometimes it is incumbent on “the created” to do what is commanded even without understanding. Additionally, if all commandments were dependent on human intellect and human logic there is a concern that when a conflict arises between logic, on the one hand, and commands that appear illogical, on the other hand, that one would forsake the commands in favor of his or her own intellect.


The second question that should be raised is: How, from an educational perspective, is it possible to transmit a religious educational message to the younger generation given this tension?


In the words of the midrash that we mentioned above describe a process somewhat different than “educating for obedience.” The midrash describes that Shlomo recruited all his energy, skills and cognitive abilities in order to delve into the mitzvah of Parah Adumah. Shlomo did not give up his will to understand and discern, and he did not want to satisfy himself with performing the command of G-d solely as an act of compliance. Shlomo, to a certain extent, represents modern man aspiring to intellectual independence, individual choice, and the will to understand everything to its core. The 21st century person is not comfortable with commands that are imposed upon him, but rather is interested in being a part, a participant, in the formulation and rationale of what is expected of him. The modern, 21st century man has achieved tremendous accomplishments, has cured terminal illnesses, prevented plagues, and his hand yet remains outstretched. Such a person is not ready to surrender his independence of thinking, and the midrash does not criticize Shlomo for his attempt to understand the passage of Parah Adumah. 


According to this explanation of the midrash, G-d does not expect blind compliance, but rather the opposite: to attempt to investigate, to examine and to probe, in order to reach the root of the command and its logic. Indeed, the Midrash presents one of the most difficult challenges of the thinking and educated person, and that challenge is withdrawal. “I said, ‘I will be wise.’ but it was far from me.” The thinking, educated person finds it hard to admit that he doesn’t understand, when he feels that there is something in the world that he cannot absorb in his mind. When a conflict exists between a person’s human intellect and Divine wisdom, several options lay before him:


Option A: If human intellect cannot understand – then that leads to the conclusion that the thing under discussion is not real, which can sometimes lead to a general abandonment of all mitzvot. This possibility frequently flows from a certain arrogance rooted in the perception of “me and nothing without me.”


Option B:  If human intellect cannot understand – this doesn’t imply that the matter doesn’t exist, but rather than my intellect is incapable to reach the depth of Divine intellect and I submit myself to G-d’s command even though I don’t comprehend. This approach demonstrates humility and subjugation of my human intellect, which can then motivate mitzva performance in one of two ways:


  1. Out of a lack of real desire, but rather out of fear
  2. Out of true submission, reflecting that a part of serving G-d is the understanding that we won’t understand everything, and despite that it’s expected of us to fulfill the commands.


What’s common to the two paths is that both can lead to a disconnection between the action of the mitzva and the one performing the mitzva. The mitzvot become technical or part of a cultural-religious system but not part of serving G-d that is linked with bonds of love to the Creator.


However, there is an additional way, in my humble opinion, that can be developed in modern man, the educated person who seeks to preserve his independence and freedom of thought, and also to serve G-d. This path emphasizes the difference between understanding and consciousness. Understanding relates to the ability to solve problems, but consciousness is the ability to feel things such as: happiness, sadness, anger, love. It’s incumbent on us to differentiate between these two concepts in order to live a religious life from the midst of understanding, submission and joy. The tension between human and Divine intellect readily falls within the boundaries of “understanding” – in that space G-d has superiority over man’s cognitive abilities, and we will never understand Hashem’s Divine intellect in its fullness, as it says: “My thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). Nevertheless, “consciousness” – in our personal, spiritual, and emotional connection to Torah and mitzvot – there is no, and should not be, tension.  


Our emotional link to Torah and mitzvot does not stand in opposition to “G-dly awareness.” Rather, it stands on a direct connection in front of us. Our awareness of our religious life is in relation to ourselves and not to another entity. Our service of G-d proceeds on a thin rope that, on one side, separates mind from heart, understanding from consciousness, and on the other side calls for an integration of both, as in “And you shall know today and consider it in your heart..” (Deut. 4:39).  


The Torah demands of man to develop not just his intellect but also his emotions, his moral and subjective senses and his self-awareness. One who develops only his intellect risks encountering a situation like Shlomo Hamelech “whose wives turned away his heart” (1 Melachim 11:3) – not his intellect, that continued to serve Hashem, but rather his heart – which was not as complete as his father David’s heart. 


This point is also significant in relation to technological developments that we wake up to every day. Genetic or biological technology that develops without consciousness will lead the world to moral decay and dictatorship. Modern man, and especially the religious person living in the 21st century, must realize their obligation to develop intellect and consciousness, and also that if intellect fails, consciousness will preserve the religious embers, and when intellect succeeds, consciousness will add love and feeling to his performance of mitzvot.


The parasha of Parah Aduma teaches us about the importance of the process of searching and investigating the will of G-d, as well as about the ability to withdraw from intellect, out of consciousness, and out of  limitless love for the Creator of the Universe who supports us even when we don’t understand. “I intended to get wise, but it was far from me” – but nevertheless – “How I love your Torah, it is my meditation all the day” (Tehillim 119:97). Our religious lives, filled with significance, swing on the pendulum between intellect and emotion, between what’s understood and what’s felt, between the hidden and the revealed. From time to time, Hashem is “The G-d Who hides Himself in the glory of secrecy” (Zemirot) and sometimes “The King is in the field,” but the commonality among all situations is that Hashem wants to be found in our lives and He calls to us to be partners in creation.