On the subject of parenting, every generation claims expertise. New parents often believe that their parental decisions are unprecedented in the history of our world. Parents of recent vintage also think they need to justify to their children, every disciplinary action they take or every decision they make. I agree that many times it is instructive for us to explain decisions to our children; so that they will learn from the encounter. However, we parents have a right to make arbitrary decisions simply because we are the parents. End of discussion…
Perhaps, such thinking seems Neanderthalic today; in contrast to the new age philosophy of satisfying our children at all costs. Sometimes, heaven forbid, we make demands which require no debate or compromise. The en vogue way of trying to be the ‘good guy’ may be fashionable; but we need to remind our children (and ourselves) that children are children and not our pals.
The Torah portion of Hukkat suggests a similar kind of thinking. The portion details an enigmatic and curious ritual involving a red heifer. The heifer is a sacrifice to spiritually ‘purify’ someone (under guidance from the Priest) who has come into contact with the dead. The Torah describes the ritual in elaborate detail. After spiritually purifying the designated person, the Priest himself was rendered ritually impure and had to undergo a ‘cleansing’ ritual.
Over the centuries, many commentators have interpreted this bizarre ritual; but no one has cornered the market on truth here. Perhaps, the most valid explanation is that God commanded and we comply. Sometimes, we are challenged to observe a commandment or ritual which at first glance may not make sense. Our loyalty to God and to the Jewish people, however, occasionally takes precedence. We observe the heifer ritual-even if the reasons are unclear-because as Jews we sometimes observe traditions as an act of faith. Like a parent who commands and expects the child to comply; God (as it were) expects a certain amount of loyalty from Israel. If such a rational is unsettling to many of us moderns- so be it.
Questioning and probing is seminal to Jewish living; but obedience has a role too…