What does "Chukat HaTorah" mean? In this introductory phrase of Parshat Parah (see Bamidbar 19:2), the word "torah" is usually understood as 'the entire Chumash,' while "chok" is usually understood as a 'law that doesn't make sense' (or at least has no obvious reason).
In the following shiur we suggest an alternate definition of the words "chok" and "torah" that will help us better understand the details of Parshat Parah.
In our shiur on Parshat Tzav we concluded that the word "torah" (in Sefer Vayikra and Sefer Bamidbar) refers to a procedural law - i.e. a set of actions that must be taken to complete a certain process. For example, in Parshat Tzav, "zot torat ha'mincha..." (6:7-10) should be translated as, "this is the procedure for offering the korban mincha," for it details how the kohanim are to offer it. Similarly, "torah ha'chatat introduces the laws of how the "korban chatat" is to be offered (see 6:18, 7:1).
We begin our shiur by identifying the specific procedures that are defined by the word "torah" in Parshat Parah. Afterward, we will suggest a definition for "chok" that will help us understand the precise meaning of the phrase "chukat hatorah."
[By the way, in case you are not familiar with the basic laws of "tum'at meyt," which are explained in Parshat Parah, here is a quick explanation. According to Jewish law, if a person touches (or is in the same room with) a dead body, he becomes "tamey" (spiritually unclean), and hence is not permitted to enter the Temple. To rid himself of this "tum'ah," a special procedure is required: the ashes of the "parah adumah" are mixed in a water solution and sprinkled upon the person who is "tamey" on the third and seventh day. At sunset of that seventh day, he becomes "tahor" and is then permitted to enter the Temple.]
Two Procedures and Lots of Chukim
In Parshat Parah we find two distinct procedures that would very neatly fall under our above definition of a torah.
However, within the details of these two procedures we find several chukim. Before we continue, let's explain what a "chok" is.
The word "chok" describes a fixed law or statute. For example, in regard to "tum'at meyt": if a person touches a dead body, he becomes "tamey" for seven days. This is a "chok" [not a "torah"] for it is a 'halachik' consequence (see 19:11). It is a simple fact, and not a procedure to be carried out.
The word "chok" is even used in Chumash to describe statutes that are not mitzvot. For example, when Sefer Breishit describes Yosef's purchase of the land from the Egyptians, he cannot acquire the land belonging to the priests because:
"... it is the chok of the priests by Pharaoh, that they eat their portion [chukam] that Pharaoh had given them..." (see Breishit 47:20-22)[See also how Sefer Yirmiyahu refers to the laws of astronomy, i.e. the constant and unchanging cycles of the sun and moon around the earth as "chukot shamayim v'aretz" (see 33:25).]
In a similar manner, Chumash considers the yearly celebration of Pesach and Chag HaMatzot as a "chok" (see Shmot 12:14). In fact, the celebration of all of the holidays in the yearly cycle in Parshat Emor are referred to as chukim. [See Vayikra 23:14,21,41.] The reason for this is simple, for a "chok" implies something constant that doesn't change - a statute.
[Note: Based on this definition, the reason for certain chukim may in fact be beyond our comprehension; however many other chukim can actually make a lot of sense. Therefore we find some "chukim" that are quite logical while others are not, but surely, an 'illogical law' is not the definition of a chok.]
With this background, let's read through Parshat Parah and attempt to identify what is a "torah" and what is a "chok." As we read, we will notice how the parsha divides into two, according to the two procedures that we mentioned above.
Procedure #1 and its Chukim
Recall that our first procedure [torah] defines how the "efer ha'parah" - the ashes - (which will later be used for sprinkling) are to be prepared.
Note how 19:2-6 describes the first stage of this torah:
|To take a red heifer (one without a blemish) and give it to Elazar (the deputy high priest) who must slaughter it outside the camp.|
|To sprinkle the blood of the heifer seven times opposite the entrance to the Ohel Mo'ed.|
|To burn the carcass of the heifer together with branches from both a hyssop and cedar tree, etc., until in turns into ashes.|
(See Board #1.) Now that the 'ashes' have been prepared, the Torah informs us of a few special chukim that accompany this process:
|19:7||The kohen who performs this procedure becomes "tamey" [that's a chok]; therefore he must wash his clothes and he remains "tamey" until the evening ["tum'at yom"].|
|19:8||The kohen who burns the animal becomes "tamey" [that's also a chok], and he must wash his clothes etc.|
|19:9||A clean person must collect the ashes and store them outside the camp. This is actually the final stage of the procedure [i.e. part of the torah].|
|19:10||This person who collects the ashes also becomes "tamey" [just like the other two]. That's yet another chok!|
Therefore, we find that this specific procedure of making the "efer" is accompanied by several special chukim. (See Board #2.) Note how these chukim, even though not an integral part of the procedure, are a direct consequence, and therefore can be defined as "chukim" [statutes].
Note how this last pasuk explains why this procedure was necessary - for these ashes must be used for the chok of "tum'at meyt":
"The person who collects the ashes must wash his clothes, and [these ashes] are to be [used] for Bnei Yisrael for a chukat olam - an everlasting statute [which is the chok that] one who touches a dead body becomes 'tamey' for seven days. If he is sprinkled upon on the third and seventh day, he becomes 'tahor'; if not he remains 'tamey'... and should he enter the Mikdash, he is to be cut off from Israel." (see 19:10-13)These psukim end the first section of Parshat Parah. Now that the "efer" is prepared, and we know why it is needed, we are ready for the second torah [procedure] - which explains the precise details of this 'sprinkling process.'
Procedure #2 and its Chukim
Let's take a look now at 19:14. Note how this pasuk (at first glance) seems to contradict our definition of a torah:
"And this is the torah - a person who dies in a tent, everything in the tent becomes tamey..." (19:14)Based on our above definitions of chok and torah, this law should be considered a "chok" and not a "torah!"
The answer is quite simple. The phrase "Zot HaTorah" in 19:14 is only introducting the procedure defined in 19:17-19. Let's explain.
All that we need to do for this pasuk to make sense is to add a "lamed" [which is implicit]; then 19:14-19 would be translated as follows:
"This is the torah for:(See Board #3.) This second procedure, just like the first procedure, is also accompanied by certain consequential "chukim":
a) the case when a person dies in a tent, then everything in the tent becomes 'tamey' (19:14);
b) any open vessel in that tent (19:15), or
c) any person who touched a dead body in the field or bone or grave (who also becomes 'tamey') (19:16);
Then: for any of these 'tamey' persons or objects, we must take from the 'efer' [the ashes of the heifer] and put it into a vessel with water (19:17) in order to perform the following procedure:
a) take an 'eyzov' branch, dip it in the mixture, and then sprinkle it on (either) the tent, person, or object that became 'tamey' (19:18);
b) repeat this procedure on the third and seventh day (19:19).
Based on these definitions, we can suggest an explanation for the phrase "Chukat HaTorah" used in the opening pasuk of Parshat Parah. This parsha contains special chukim that relate to the torah (procedures) of "tahara" from "tum'at meyt," i.e. (1) making the ashes and (2) sprinkling the "mei chatat" - water with ashes.
Each of these two procedures have special "chukim" that accompany these procedures. The special chukim all have one common denominator: though one is performing a procedure [a torah] which makes the "tamey" become "tahor," he himself becomes "tamey" [a chok]. Chumash refers to this interesting 'statute' of this 'procedure' as "chukat ha'torah!"
When the Temple stood, during the weeks before Pesach the people would prepare for the Korban Pesach by using the "efer parah adumah" to cleanse themselves from "tum'at meyt." This is one of the reasons that Parshat Parah is one of the four parshiot that we read on the shabbatot before Pesach. Today, even though these laws do not apply, the study of these laws can serve as a replacement.
In Part II of our shiur, we will focus on this week's Haftara, where the navi Yechezkel finds special meaning in this concept of "tahara" from "tum'ah" as it becomes an important stage in the redemption process.