Part Time Jew – In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z’L)
As acting Jews we are looked upon by our fellow brethren and fellow nations with scrutinizing eyes. As individuals who represent Torah values we understand that if we are inconsistent, contradictory, or paradoxical with even one action or statement, the public eye can be ruthless and our entire reputation can be placed in jeopardy.
Recognizing the importance of public opinion is evident when considering the commandment of the “Parah Aduma” –The Red Heifer. Upon coming in contact with a deceased person, the only way to purify oneself was through the sprinkling of the Red Cow's ashes.
“This is the statute (Hok) of the Torah, which G-d has commanded, saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel, and they shall take for you a flawless Red Cow, which has no imperfection, and no yoke had been placed upon her.” (Numbers 19:2)
Commenting on the verse, Rashi (1040 – 1105) says the Torah specifically calls this commandment “the statute of the Torah” because “the skeptics of the Torah and the nations of the world distress Israel by saying ‘what is the rational and purpose for this commandment? Therefore, the Torah writes it as a statute, which implies, ‘it is a declaration before Me (G-d), and you have no right to reflect upon it.’”
The Siftei Chachomim (A compilation of commentaries on Rashi organized by Shabtai ben Yosef Bass, Prague; 1641 – 1718) asks a question on Rashi. “Why is this commandment so special, that it is a statute that one has “no right to reflect upon it”? There are plenty of statutes and rituals that are not understandable, such as the laws of “Kela’aim” (planting different vegetables near one another), or “Shatnez” (wearing garments with interwoven wool and linen).
Answering his own question, the Siftei Chachomim suggests the laws of the red cow are unique because “this statute works in a contradictory fashion.” The ashes of the red cow purify the impure but render unclean those who prepare the ashes.
Many Torah laws are perplexing and we persevere to understand them. However, the nature of the red cow’s ashes is impossible to comprehend – how can something purify the spiritually impure but have the opposite effect on someone who is already spiritually pure? Since the Torah is indivisible, if one element is paradoxical, the entire Torah is a paradox. Therefore, this Mitzvah is labeled “the statute of the Torah”, warning us that it is inherently contradictory and we only obey it because of a heavenly decree.
By segregating the Laws of the Red Cow from other laws, the Torah demonstrates the importance of consistency with its teachings and observances. So too, we need to be consistent when teaching Torah values to others. The classic cliché “how can such a person who seems to hold the banner of a ‘Torah Follower’ act in such a fashion” is such a strong argument because of the inconsistency it breeds.
Following this example, it is a tall order for any individual to be perfect, to never make a mistake. As parents, teachers and community members, how can it be expected that our actions conform to the rules of consistency without ever publicly faltering?
However, understanding the importance of consistency, and how the Torah and our sages did their utmost to keep that virtue intact can be a source of inspiration for how we live our lives and treat others. There’s no such thing as a part-time Jew, as choosing what to agree with and what to observe; that would be inconsistent.