What does a parashah that deals with purification rituals have to teach us about moral principles and strategic thinking, about spiritual inspiration and logic, or about the transcendental and the mundane? The parashah begins by describing the laws of the parah adumah, the red cow (“red heifer”), whose ashes were mixed with water that sprinkled upon anyone who needed purification from the tum’ah contracted from contact with a dead body. The Chasidic text Me’or Einayim treats this as a lesson on the revealed Torah and the hidden, mystical Torah. The parah adumah is not only the paradigmatic mitzvah that cannot be comprehended logically, but for the Me’or Einayim, it is the symbol of the hidden Torah. On Parashat Chukat, the Me’or Einayim writes:


“It is known that the Torah is made of letters and vowels and cantillation marks and crowns, but this is the aspect of the Revealed Torah, as all this can be grasped by human intellect according to one’s level. But the light within it… is above reason, and it is the source from which comes the flow of the Torah that is the Creator, blessed be He, and by means of this, God and the Torah are one. Everyone who busies themselves with the Torah must attach their life-essence to to this light… which is above reason.”


The Me’or Einayim acknowledges the need to grasp the “Revealed Torah” and to use one’s logical faculties. He quotes heavily not only from the mystical Zohar, but from the Talmud, the body of Jewish literature known for its ability to sharpen our analytical skills. The Me’or Einayim’s claim is that Talmudic analysis and mastery of Hebrew grammar are not enough to truly grasp the Torah. One must also “attach oneself to the light that flows from the aspect of ‘eyn’ (the hidden Divine light of Torah)… Once one is attaches one’s interiority to the light that is the interiority of the Torah, one becomes a throne for the Blessed One to rest upon….”


In this framework, one builds a foundation of logic and observation, and then orients oneself to the spiritual. Both are necessary for anyone who tries to improve themselves as human beings through Torah. This is clearly true for other areas of our humanity that have to do with ideals or morality. There is one aspect of ourselves as moral human beings that is oriented to values. We care deeply for our own and for others’ well-being. We care for the health of our community, our society, our world. We feel happiness, or possibly a sense of satisfaction, when we see people succeed, or when we see justice done. We feel righteous indignation when we see people being treated immorally. We see the Divine image in other human beings.


But our values can only be actualized through logical and strategic thinking. We need observation and careful analysis to recognize injustice, and to recognize what allows injustice to be done. We need cool-headed strategic thinking in order to recognize the best course of action to see good be done. Strategic thinking without a grounding in moral values is, of course, destructive. Values without strategy are ineffectual. A fully actualized goodness requires both.


When we come back to religious life, mystical exploration without logic and observation is flighty, fantastical, and possibly dangerous to one’s ability to comprehend reality. But religion is itself a spiritual exercise. Judaism requires understanding the world in which we live, familiarity with Jewish textual tradition and the ability to analyze it, and a transcendent spirituality that reaches beyond the worldly to the incomprehensible Divinity that suffuses everything.


Shabbat Shalom!

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