Humans are Irrational
The Torah interrupts its narrative of the events that befell the Jewish
people in the desert with the description of a commandment that admittedly
has no rational human understanding in logical terms. Even the great King
Solomon, the wisest and most analytical of all humans, was forced to admit
that understanding this parsha of the Torah was beyond his most gifted
intellect and talents.
If the Torah is meant to instruct us in life and its values, to improve and
influence our behavior and lifestyle and to help us achieve our goal of
being a holy people then why insert this parsha in the Torah when it can
seemingly have no practical impact on our daily life or broaden our
understanding of God’s omnipresence in our lives?
Though there is a section of Mishna devoted to the laws and halachic
technicalities of the sacrifice of the “red cow” it does not deal with the
underlying motives for the existence of this commandment and it also does
not address why this parsha is inserted in the midst of the description of
the events that occurred in the desert to the generation of Jews who left
Egypt and stood at Mount Sinai.
We have historical record and description in the Mishna and from
non-rabbinic sources as to the actual performance of the commandment in
Temple times. This comes as a reminder of our necessary obeisance to God’s
commandments even if they are not always subject to actual human
understanding. Yet, some glimmer of comprehension is demanded by us to make
this parsha meaningful to us.
I think that perhaps the Torah comes to point out the very fact that human
life is in fact always irrational and that human behavior many times defies
any logic or good sense. How could the generation that left Egypt and
witnessed the revelation at Sinai complain about food when there was
adequate Heavenly food? How could they prefer Egypt or the desert itself
over living in the Land of Israel? And how could Moshe’s and Aharon’s own
tribe and relatives rise against them in defiant and open rebellion?
Are these not basically incoherent and irrational decisions with a terrible
downside to them? And yet they occurred and continue to recur constantly in
Jewish and general life throughout history. In spite of our best efforts and
our constant delusion that we exist in a rational world, the Torah here
comes to inform us that that is a false premise.
If everyday life defies logic and accurate prediction then it is most unfair
and in fact illogical to demand of Torah and God to provide us with perfect
understanding of commandments and laws. The Torah inserts this parsha into
the middle of its narrative about the adventures of the Jewish people in the
desert to point out that the mysteries of life abound in the spiritual world
just as they do in the mundane and seemingly practical world.
One of the great lessons of Judaism is that we are to attempt to behave
rationally even if at the very same time, we realize that much in our
personal and national lives is simply beyond our understating.
Rabbi Berel Wein