Thursday, June 30, 2011
19:1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD has commanded....”
Thus begins the concept of the chukkat haTorah (ordinance of the Law), a Divine decree for which there is no human understanding. The underlying message for this concept is that God has granted man a rather large treasure of the knowledge of Himself through His commandments and man, in his finite wisdom and understanding, may only comprehend a small portion. However, an essential component of man’s wisdom is the knowledge that his failure to understand truth does not make the commandment untrue.
There are two episodes of this type ordinance in this parshah, both of which make little or no sense to the observant Torah student. These will be the focus of the unlimited grace and mercy of the Lord.
The first ordinance is that of the red heifer. At initial reading, one would pause and consider why this particular symbol of repentance is part of the Torah (instruction). According to several commentators, the qualifications of the heifer are prescribed for the consecration and purification of the Children of Israel in preparation for their coming priesthood and Temple worship; the red color is not explained and thus belongs to that group of ordinances previously examined. To me, it is an example of God’s grace and mercy, since a heifer was the cause of the Children of Israel to forsake the leadership of Moses during the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Sometimes, what causes one to turn from the worship of God toward an idol is the same as the one that will restore him.
The second ordinance, though not at first sight seemingly to be one, is that of the copper serpent. Once again, the Israelites were complaining about the journey and the insubstantial food (“their souls became very discouraged on the way”). The fiery serpents were sent to discourage this whining (judgment). Once more, I see God using what had been the cause of a lapse of obedience (Adam and Chavah in Gan Eden) to be used to restore them. Moses was instructed to....”make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live....” There is no intimation of anyone having faith that he will be allowed to live; all he need do is look (the Hebrew word has a metaphorical meaning of the sense of the act of acceptance, among other meanings, and here is an appropriate place to use this definition). Looking at the copper serpent reminded the people why they deserved to be punished and that is the first step toward repentance and forgiveness. Since the copper serpent was mounted atop a pole (or banner), the people had to look up to live; this directed their thoughts upward toward God and away from the danger at their feet. In the Renewed Covenant, Yeshua would deepen this mystery. As was the serpent lifted up, so was Yeshua, through the execution stake, to become a sign of death and judgment. Yet, this sign became, and remains, the source of life to those who look upon it (the execution stake and what it means) in faith.
Both of these examples are great mysteries. These are not signs that human reasoning would have devised and indeed, in the case of Yeshua, have found it repugnant (to many whose intellect has overshadowed their wisdom). God will always provide signs of His mercy in the image of judgment. How blessed is that one whose obedience overshadows his understanding.