The invisible laws of happiness
(Numbers) 19,1 - 22,1
of method of study
Position of the parasha
The mitzvot in the parasha
The hok: understand the role and levels of knowledge
of the Torah
Definition of the hok:
There are four hukim in the Torah
There are different levels of existence
The role of ashes in the red heifer
The formative role of the hok
Accepting what is different and transcendent in
Two levels of human existence
Ways of developing them
Organize a discussion group
with translation and transliteration
to the parasha chanted
teamim Ashkenazim (Ort link)
Listento the parasha chanted
teamim Sefaradim (Alliance link)
Listen to the haftorah chanted
teamim Ashkenazim (Ort link)
Hashem* spoke unto Moses and unto Aaron
saying: This is the statute of the law which Hashem hath
commanded, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, that
they bring thee a red heifer faultless,
wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.
this is how one says the four letter name of God which
we are forbidden to pronounce.
This page bears the Hebrew letters and words of the Torah:
please treat it with respect when re-printing.
of method of study
After an initial reading of the whole parasha,
re-read it (even in English),
look up the references,
identify how it applies to the daily life of the Jewish
identify how it applies to your personal life,
memorize the above plan,
until you are able to teach it by heart,
memorize main phrases from the parasha.
preceding parashiot, we were given the geographic directive
of the Jewish people (the land of Israel) and the moral
laws in order to live according to the Torah. Now, we are
given an even more complex and difficult teaching. Parasha
Hukkat teaches us the fundamental structure of human and
material life: this is essential in order for us to be humane
and efficient beings.
A teaching such as this one cannot come from us: we need
to "receive" it. We must therefore make a great
effort in order to understand it, for its meaning is complex.
This will be the test as to whether we are capable of "receiving
the Torah." In his Goodness, the Creator wanted to
give us His Torah, which is beyond our full understanding,
so we much devote a great deal of time to studying it: this
is what is called studying lishma, for its own sake, solely
for the sake of His glory. We will then better understand
the very special role entailed in being a member of the
people of the Torah, the bene Yisrael.
of the parasha
One of the principle methods of studying the Torah is to
try to understand the context of each parasha in relation
to the preceding ones. We call this semikhut parashiot,
the contiguity of the parashiot (see Rashi on Devarim 21,
Thus, we see that this parasha follows the issue of slander
(lashon ha ra)
against the holiness of a man (Moshe) and this even by those
closest to him and the best of the people (parasha Behaalotecka),
then against the holiness of the land of Israel (the spies,
parasha Shelakh lekha),
and finally against the social and political organization
of the people of Israel, which is based on holiness (parasha
The Torah thus shows us that:
1. even though God delivers his people from oppression (slavery
in Egypt and life in an alien country),
2. even though He gives them the gift of the Torah,
3. man will have to overcome by himself the collective test
of slander and he will not be able to achieve the holiness
represented by the land of Israel unless he triumphs in
the battle against these three forms of slander.
4. The battle will be fierce, as we see in these 3 parashiot.
5. Since even the best of men succumb, we must not be surprised
by some of things we are witnessing today among our own
6. The Torah comes to our rescue, for we cannot overcome
this stage by ourselves (there was only one Moshe). The
Torah demonstrates to us, in parasha Hukkat, the unshakable
order of things to which we must adhere, for this is the
true order of the world and of all our relationships: these
are the edut, hukim and mishpatim which God gave us. This
is what parasha Hukkat teaches us. Now that we have understood
the context of the parasha, we can proceed to studying its
of the parasha
The parasha teaches us ordinances of the Torah which are
beyond our level of understanding: these are the hukim or
hok in the singular.
Let us begin with the simplest level: The word hok has the
a law, a rule, as in Bereshit 47, 26 or Bamidbar 30, 17
(look up these references and those listed below);
a custom to be upheld forever, as in Judges 11, 39-40;
a measure of capacity or time as in Bereshit 47,22 or Shemot
5,14 or Proverbs 30,8 and 30,15, or Yehezkel 45,14;
The word comes from the root hakkak, which means to cut
or engrave. Thus hok represents the insertion of something
spiritual into reality. In this parasha, the word, in this
context, has an even more precise meaning which we shall
There is an apparent paradox here: the parasha teaches us
things beyond our comprehension: so why teach them? and
what is the important message which is being communicated
The Or Hahayim asks in relation to the text:
why is it written "zot hukkat ha Torah, this is the
statute of the Torah," with the emphasis on this as
in Bereshit 2, 23: "zot ha paam etzem me atzmai, this
is now bone of my bones"?
why is it not written: "this is the hukka of the red
heifer" but "this is the hukka of the Torah"?
How does particular case relate to the whole of the Torah?
in the parasha
The parasha teaches us mitzvot 397-399:
the burning of the red heifer,
the ordinance against contact with the dead,
the use of the ashes of the red heifer for purification.
The hok: understanding the role and different levels of knowledge
of the Torah
The rite of the red heifer is a mitzva to which the name
hok or hukka is given. This means that its meaning is beyond
If King Solomon succeeded in understanding the rest of the
Torah but not this part, how much more will it seem incomprehensible
arises from this: why did Hashem place this limit on our
understanding of the Torah, which he gave to us?
In answering this question, the Shla elaborates on many
essential principles regarding the Jewish people in order
to understand the role and different levels of knowledge
of the Torah.
The amalgam of all of this will then help us to understand
a question that concerns all of us: "what level of
knowledge of the Torah is accessible to each individual?"
The issue of the hok will thus enable us to discover the
different levels of meaning in the Torah.
of the hok
The hok is an ordinance which always relates to something
that is precise and limited in time and in quantity. Rashi,,
on Bereshit 26, 5, writes that it is an ordinance which
goes against the yetzer hara and the rest of the world:
hukotai, devarim she yetzer hara veumot haolam meshivim
alekem, kegon akhilat hazir ulevivhat hametz, she ein taam
badavar elle guezerat hamelekh vehukotav al avadav.
Thus the hok defies the tendencies of human instinct and
There are four hukim in the Torah, according to Bamidbar
Rabba 19,5, which defines them in relation to the yetzer
the prohibition against marrying one's sister-in-law, except
in the levirite law or that of yibum, when the remarried
widow is called yevama and the brother-in-law who marries
her is called yavam: the halitza (Devarim 25, 5-9) allows
a man to renounce this right;
the prohibition against mixing different species in the
same garment or shaatnez (Vayikra 19, 19 and Devarim 22,
11) except in the case of the tallit;
the scapegoat rite of Yom Kippur;
the red heifer rite;
and, according to Rashi, the prohibition against eating
The four cases are analyzed in detail in Midrash Tanhuma
to Ribbi Yohanan ben Zakai, in Bamidbar Rabba 19, 8, the
hok represents the essence of Jewish logic. It is not contact
with the dead which makes someone impure and it is not water
which purifies (as in usual logic), but the contact and
the water only make impure or purify because Hashem created
the world according to these laws.
apparent logic behind a rite isn't proof of its justification,
as rational philosophy would claim. In Judaism, the logic
of a rite comes from its role within the divine plan: the
role of the hok is thus to place things precisely within
the divine plan by showing us the limits of human comprehension.
The Ramban takes this further when he says that tzaddikim
(righteous ones) do not make things impure (lo hammet metame
ve lo hamayim metharaim ella amar Ha Kaddoch Barukh Hu:
huka hakkati, gezera gazarti). This theme is developed in
the Tossafot of Baba Metzia 114b (on mahut), of Ketubot
103b and Yevamot 61a. Tzaddikim do not make things impure,
nor does their death (this is why the Cohanim were present
at the funerals of the Sages of the Torah, even though they
are forbidden to have contact with the dead).
It is this respect for the invisible world which should
govern the thoughts and actions of our political and intellectual
leaders: if this were so, there would be fewer disasters,
wars, acts of exploitation, domestic violence, etc., in
the different types of mitzvot
Rabbenu Bahya comments on the question: is the hok different
to the other mitzvot or are all the mitzvot of this type?
As is his custom, Rabbenu Bahya tells us that we will find
the answer in the Book of Proverbs (Mishle 7, 1-2):
beni shemor amarai, my son keep my words,
umitzvotai titspon itekha, and lay up my commandments with
shemor mitzvotai ve heye, keep my commandments and live,
vetorati ke ishon eineka, and my law as the apple of thine
us that all the mitzvot are commandments or amirot (the
words of Hashem), as in Psalm 12, 7: imrot Hashem amirot
tehorot ; the words (mitzvot) of Hashem are pure words.
He then tells us that the mitzvot are divided into 3 categories:
1. The mitzvot mekubalot (received mitzvot), which man is
not able to find on his own but can only receive through
the gift of tradition, such as the mitzvot of tzitzit (the
threads on the prayer shawls), the tefilin (the boxes containing
a text from the Torah which are placed around the arm and
on the forehead), the mila (circumcision), the succa (hut),
the shofar (ram's horn), the lulav (the bouquet of the 4
These mitzvot are of a divine nature and they are called
edut (testimony) because they are a direct testimony of
divinity and of the renewal of the world, such as Shabbat
(the day of rest), shmita (the year in which the land lies
fallow), yovel (the 50th year of renewal). See Psalm 119,
15 and 24.
2. The mitzvot muskalot (logical mitzvot), which man could
have found on his own had he not been given them in the
Torah, such as those concerning theft, murder, fraud, etc.
These mitzvot are called mishpatim.
3. The hukim, which do not belong to either of the two preceding
categories, such as the mitzvot of kilaim (mingling of species),
para aduma (red heifer). The meaning of these hukim is not
revealed in the Torah.
now understand the passage from Devarim 6, 20-21 on which
the famous chapter of the 4 sons in the Pesah Haggada is
ki yishalekha bineka, and when thy son asketh thee
mahar lemor, in time to come, saying:
maha edut, what mean the testimonies (1st category),
ve ha hukim, and the statutes (3rd category),
ve hamishpatim, and the judgments (2nd category),
asher tziva hashem Elokenu etkhem, which Hashem our God
hath commanded you?
And thou shalt say unto thy son, we were Pharaoh's bondmen
Bahya concludes by saying:
beni shemor amarai, my son keep my words (these are the
mitzvot mekubalot, received mitzvot),
umitzvotai titspon itekha, and lay up my commandments with
thee (these are the kukim which are secret and which we
are commanded to keep without understanding their meaning),
shemor mitzvotai ve heye, keep my commandments and live
(these are the mitzvot muskalot, logical mitzvot);
vetoratike ishon einekha, and my law as the apple of thine
how does one say in Hebrew logical mitzvot, received mitzvot,
what are the different meanings of the word hok?
which are the hukim described in the Torah?
level is suitable for those who already have some knowledge
of the Torah and Jewish thought. It is not esoteric but
can only be understood in a wider context. This commentary
is based on that of the Shla zal in Shnei Louhot Habrit,
which I have studied and reflected on for many years. Viewers
can find on this site a detailed description of the Shla's
method of commentary.
different levels of existence
This basis of the hok, which the Shla defines in his introduction,
enables him to place the various concepts found in the Torah
in a 4-level hierarchy which comes from the Sefer Yetzira
(levels of reshimu, hakika, hatziva, assia):
level of assia (action)
this includes the mitzvot which can be understood rationally
this is the level of knowledge which is called Torat haadam
(the Torah of man);
this is the level when the people are named am;
this is also the period from the destruction of the second
Temple to the end of the compilation of the Talmud.
level of hatziva (dimension): such as the dimension of the
tablets of the covenant, the impregnation of what is concrete
with what is spiritual.
here we find the mitzvot which are symbolic in nature, such
as the huts which are constructed during the festival of
this is the level of knowledge of meanings, which is called
Torat emet (the Torah of truth);
this is the level when the people are called kahal, when
its spiritual elements are manifest, and when among them
there were converts who are capable of understanding the
Torah and its mitzvot (Yevamot 57);
this is also the era from the time of the "elders of
the Great Assembly," anshei knesset hagedola, and Shimon
Hatzaddik to the destruction of the second Temple. (Refer
to the chronological table.)
3 the highest
level of hakika, that of this parasha.
we find here the mitzvot whose spiritual nature or essence
man is unable to understand;
this is the level of knowledge of the names of Hashem by
those who love Him and who are bnei Israel, which is called
Torat Elokim (the Torah of God);
this is the level when the people are called eda;
this is also the period when the spirit of holiness, the
ruah hakodesh was manifest, as during the Persian and Median
empires, in the time of Mordechai.
level extends to the last level which is that of reshimu,
information, as with the hok of the red heifer, whose meaning
only men of the level of Moshe or Ribbi Akiva could understand;
this is also the level when man participates in the divine
reality through the highest level of his neshama, when he
unites with the ratson, the will of the Creator;
this is the level of knowledge of the unity of Hashem, which
is known as Torat Hashem;
this is the level when the people are called kahal Hashem,
this is the period of the prophets.
there these different levels of existence?
They represent different levels of knowledge, which in turn
represent the different levels in "our ability to be
aware as a result of who we are and how we have been educated."
It is of no use to try and place ourselves in this hierarchy
in order to assess ourselves. These are not static levels
levels have dynamic and formative goals:
to make us understand the Torah for its own sake, leshem
to motivate us to live at the highest level of existence
in order to let our lives be guided by the Torah,
to help us rise from one level to another.
When Israel will exist at its optimal level, the nations
of the world and the angel of death will no longer have
power over it, as is written in Psalm 82, 6-7: "I have
said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most
High. But ye shall die like men and fall like one of the
of the ashes of the red heifer
Following this model, the role of the hok is to help us
regain a state of perfection corresponding to that of the
perfect Torah, Torat Hashem temima.
At our level, we can only carry out this rite through the
instructions of the Torah; this teaches us that we must
never cease studying and reflecting on the Torah in order
to attain a higher level of existence. As Hashem instructed
Yehoshua (Book of Yehoshua 1, 8):
lo yamush sefer haTorah haze mi pikha
This book of the Torah shall not depart out of thy mouth,
ve hagita bo yomam va layla,
but thou shall medidate therein day and night.
Indeed, study in itself is not enough: we must also reflect
on the text in order for its meaning to seep into our being,
just like the rain seeps into the ground, day and night.
role of the hok
in this context
meaning of the hok is beyond our understanding, but it is
a sign that
we do not abandon the Torah, for it is our holy guide,
we do not submit ourselves to inferior ideologies and other
value systems. It is because we "received" the
Torah that we are a special people, the bene Yisrael: ki
al yede she kibelu ha Torah naasu am bene Yisrael (Or Hahayim).
hok teaches us to keep before us on our pilot's screen
the point of transcendence,
of what we have not yet understood,
of the highest level which we have not yet attained,
to acknowledge what is different to us as an essential part
of our existence. This is the basis of modesty and humility,
the characteristics of Moshe Rabbenu.
The Shla also notes the importance of what is apparently
contradictory in the Torah.
My readers know that I constantly repeat (using quotations
from sources) that knowledge of the Torah needs both the
intellect and the heart and involves the whole being. All
this together is called lev (heart) in Judaism. Listen to
this marvellous teaching: Rabbi Akiva's little book, titled
The Letters of Rabbi Akiva (Ha Otiot), tells us that the
word lamad (study) is an acronym made up from the initials
of lev mevin daat (the heart understands knowledge). This
is what knowledge in Judaism is about: it encompasses the
concrete and the sublime, for daat is the union of two spouses,
intellectual knowledge and the union of divine levels. The
person who understands this will have a balanced and full
life, integrating in harmony every level of existence. There
is no contradiction in Judaism between nature, science,
spirituality, poetry and love. It encompasses the whole,
just like an individual being is also part of a couple,
a people and humanity.
Reality is thus made up of two levels which must not be
separated even if one is visible and the other invisible.
Everything comes in twos, in the image of man and woman
who are the center of creation.
This is a recurrent theme on the Modia site, not because
it is the author's personal leitmotif, but because our Sages
teach us that this is the central meaning of the Torah,
of Judaism and of creation (see Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs).
This idea is synthesized in the image beneath the site's
It is beautifully spelt out in this sentence from Middrash
Devarim raba (2,31):
"Amar Ha Kadosh Barukh Hu le Yisrael: banai, kol ma
she barati barati zugot
The Holy one, blessed be he said: my sons, everything I
created, I created in pairs.
Aval kevodi ehad u meyuhad baolam. Minain, mimma she karinu
ba inyan "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokenu, Hashem ehad
But My glory is one, and unified in the world. How do we
know this? From what we say in this respect: Hear O Israel,
Hashem our God, Hashem is one."
Everything in this world, and in what connects this world
with the world above, is double, coordinated, in pairs and
based on the conjugal model. Those languages which, unlike
Hebrew, English or other languages, do not possess the word
zug or "couple" to express the spiritual, emotional,
sexual unity that exists between spouses are truly impoverished.
what is different and transcendent in one's partner
Hashem created man and woman as two different entities within
a pair. If either entity is not seen, understood, accepted
and loved within all its differences, it is man himself
(the double being, man-woman) who is damaged. It is therefore
essential that both entities be fully accepted and acknowledged.
This is hardly the case today in most of the world.
What I am talking about here is acknowledgment and not equality,
since the issue of equality distorts the problem ontologically:
the fact that there are differences can be used as a pretext
to deny equality. I am talking about "acknowledgment
of the other's individuality from the simplest to the highest
level." Equality can only come from such acknowledgment:
then, as illustrated in the verses on the moon, the light
of the moon and the light of the sun will be equal. Unity
is in the union of differences which are acknowledged in
now understand why the role of the ashes of the red heifer
(category of the hok) is to reintroduce purity, particularly
between husband and wife.
The irreducible duality of man-woman (analogous to the incomprehensible
levels of existence described in this parasha is thus the
test and testimony of the way we view anyone those who are
different to us and beyond our understanding.
It is for
this reason that chapter 4 of Devarim commands us not to
omit anything from the Torah; what is incomprehensible and
what is comprehensible form together an indivisible whole
(hukim mishpatim). Conflicts between individuals, couples,
groups and nations often arise because only one part of
an individual or natio is accepted and understood. The nations
of the world will respect Israel when they see that it is
faithful to the whole Torah. The highest level of democracy
cannot attain this level of fullness, which encompassed
intimacy, spirituality and social cohesion.
Is this not love: to understand and love the apparent worth
of the other, to love what we feel exists in the other and
without being able to name it, to be faithful to it by listening,
appreciation, being attentive, being in harmony in the present
and the future.
This begins with the mystery of the encounter and when it
takes place. This is the symphony of the 5 levels above:
the joyous coming together of what is most sublime, most
different and most concrete.
This is why it is said that, even for Hashem, marriage is
the most complex thing in creation and even more difficult
than the miracle of the separation of the Red Sea. It is
perhaps in the category of the hok. And only man is able
to integrate it into reality.
At the same time, through the hok, Hashem in His goodness
tells us that we can achieve also those things which we
do not understand. We are told this in the wonderful verse
of Devarim 30,11: "For this mitzva which I command
thee this day, it is not hidden, neither is it far. It is
not in heaven
neither is it beyond the sea
but the word is very nigh unto thee, ki karov eleika ha
in thy mouth, and in thy heart, befikha uvilevavekha,
that thou mayest do it, laasoto."
Judaism, of course, commands us (this is the mitzva) but
it is the highest form of love which we are commanded to
keep, for this is the order of humankind and all creation.
reveals to us what is hidden from our intellect, our eyes
and our heart.
a beloved one is kind to us, generous or gives us a present,
it is not the gesture or the object which is important:
we must forget issues of possession, calculation, threats,
etc., and be open to what the gesture represents without
fully understanding it. A good heart understands, and will
not see in it simply as a gesture of courtesy, an object
of worth in itself, even less as a form of manipulation
or pressure, but as a message which comes from beyond what
is visible to unite with what is visible in the other person.
Reciprocal acknowledgment and sensitivity to the intentions
of the other person create true union and recall the first
intense moments when two people are enraptured at discovering
one another. Perhaps only the beauty of flowers is able
to illustrate how what is concrete, beautiful and pure can
be found together.
By showing us the arrow and trajectory of the hok, even
if we do not understand it explicitly, the Torah elevates
us to these levels of existence.
The duality of the two levels is seen in the blessing we
recite before the reading of the Torah portion:
when we say ve natan lanu et Torato (and he gave us His
Torah), this refers to the invisible, hidden Torah, and
when we add noten ha Torah (gives the Torah), this refers
to the Torah that has been revealed to us;
then, when we receive the Torah, we say Torat emet, haye
olam (Torah of truth, eternal life); the two phrases refer
to the hidden Torah and we acknowledge that we have received
it with all our being, even the levels which we do not comprehend.
levels of mankind
The parasha thus teaches us to live in duality:
just as we have two eyes in order to fully see reality;
just as we have two arms and two hands in order to master
just as we are made up of two elements - masculine and feminine.
We thus have two spheres, visible and invisible, which unite
together to form one body of knowledge and neither has any
meaning without the other. This union is called "heavens
and earth" (shamayim va aretz). This is the first verse
of the Torah. The last word, Israel, represents the same
concept, for Israel is simultaneously a people, a person,
and a land, which are or should be the laboratory of this
unity. Th land of Israel is the heart, the lev, of all this,
secret and invisible like the heart in the body and like
the invisible hok. Who can tell me that if I give away the
heart of the child I love, or of the person I love, or even
my own, that peace will be advanced?
A person must be truly ignorant of the worth of this land
and its role if he or she is prepared to give it away. All
other generations knew this and remained faithful. Our love
will not be any the less weaker. It is important for the
rest of the world and our neighbors that we live as Cohanim,
as a holy people.
this completeness is known as shalom. It represents one
of the names of God, not only a cease-fire between opposing
forces who make concessions as the price for an eventual
Rav Yosef Guikatilia, the author of Guinat Egoz, comments
on the meaning of masculine/feminine duality in the words
of the Torah (sun, moon, fire
). Although he concludes
that the duality is important even at the highest level
of the seraphims (Isaiah 6,2), he states that no man can
attain its ultimate meaning.
us that our duality (masculine/feminine, revealed/hidden)
should be acknowledged for its source is in the Creator
and only He is One, and that we need Him for our unity and
our existence. Our duality has his source in His unity.
This is the meaning of the Shema Yisrael.
Similarly, appreciating and loving those who are near to
us means to appreciate and love what we do not fully comprehend
with our intellect.
We must learn to live not only in a state of non-fulfillment
but also in the presence of the invisible.
Furthermore, through the hok, the Torah shows us that the
invisible is the true source of life. The hok teaches us
to see the presence of the invisible and the wondrous in
daily life, in human encounters, and in personal relationships.
we develop this?
we do to develop our capacity to grasp these two different
dimensions of the Torah and to be more sensitive to what
is beyond our comprehension?
Here are a few guidelines:
first of all study the Torah and do not remain at the peshat
level once you have understood it: it is important to move
on to the study of the different levels of meaning (peshat,
remez, drash, sod). Commentators like the Shla and particularly
Rabbenu Bahya recommend this method of study, unlike other
commentators who do not distinguish between the different
levels, thus making it difficult for beginner students;
adopt the rule of Maimonides (chapter 2, 13 of Hilkhots
Limud Torah) which consists in according equal time to studying
the written Torah, the oral law and developing one thought
from another (lehitbonen davar midavar). In Jewish tradition,
a Sage is someone who sees what is emerging, who sees the
nolad: ezehu hakham? haroe et hanolad (Tractate Tamid 21a);
reflect on this commentary with all your senses and discuss
your feelings and thoughts with those who are close to you;
dare to let yourself tune into the wealth of levels of existence
in others. It is to encourage the union between the mind
and the heart that I use poems on this site. The Torah does
this in the Psalms and songs of the prophets;
learn to listen. This is the meaning of the Shema Yisrael.
Only by truly listening to the other can we stop our tendency
to judge and reach conclusions on the basis of facts and
our own experience.
Devarim 30, 14 (below is a literal translation):
ki karov eleikha, for close to thee
ha davar meod, the word, very
befikha uvilevavekha, in your mouth and in your heart,
laasoto, to do it.
a study group on this parasha
with your spouse, family, friends or fellow students.
- The following theme pertains
well to this parasha: how can we become aware of, respect,
listen and value the different levels of being in ourselves
and in those who are close to us.
- Previous to the study session, the participants must read
this commentary and the parasha in Hebrew or in English,
and bring them to the study session.
- The group then decides on the length of the session, appoints
a facilitator, and debates on the theme, with everyone making
an effort to express themselves and to listen to the other.
- The study session is thus enriched by personal experiences