After leaving Mitzrayim, a whole world of opportunities opened up for Bnei Yisrael as they ventured into the desert. One thing that continued for them though was that Hashem continued to openly share with them His commitment to them as His nation. Chief among these commitments was giving them the Torah. And while the full giving of the Torah takes place in next week’s parsha, its dissemination began earlier.
After three days in the desert, the nation had run out of water; and after crying to Moshe and his subsequent tefillos, Hashem provided them with water. However, the pasuk tells us that He gave them something else then as well. “שָׁ֣ם שָׂ֥ם ל֛וֹ חֹ֥ק וּמִשְׁפָּ֖ט” “There He gave them a statute and an ordinance” (Shemos 16:25). Rashi explains that at this time, before obligating them in the mitzvos, Hashem gave the Bnei Yisrael three mitzvos to study: setting up a court system, Shabbos, and Parah Adumah. Setting up a justice system makes sense as something you would need to know immediately in order pre-empt any potential problems once the Torah is given. But why would the mitzvos of Shabbos and Parah Adumah be the first mitzvos presented?
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky explains that by directly providing them with water, Hashem had just shown Bnei Yisrael that their basic survival requirements were completely dependent on Him. What better way to reinforce this idea than by presenting them with Shabbos, a day where no production is allowed and survival is entirely dependent on Creation, set up by Hashem. Therefore, Shabbos was one of the original mitzvos presented here.
The mitzvah of Parah Adumah makes less sense; after all, while Shabbos technically applied even before the Torah was given, there was no practical application of Parah Adumah at this time. Why would it be given now? Reb Yaakov focuses on Rashi’s explanation that these mitzvos were given for study, not necessarily for immediate practice. What was the purpose in giving mitzvos simply for study with no practical application?
There are parts in the Torah which do not make sense to us. Not just that we don’t see how they fit into our lives, but that the mitzvah in its entirety just doesn’t make any sense! However, we must still look at them and treat them the same as the parts of the Torah which are understandable to us. The prime example of this idea is Parah Adumah. Chazal tell us that even Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, couldn’t figure out what was the purpose of Parah Adumah. But that’s part of the idea of Torah, just because it has something which human intellect cannot understand doesn’t mean that it’s not true. There is a higher intellect which tells us that it is necessary, and that’s what we must trust.
We see that the mitzvah of Parah Adumah is a true introduction to Torah. Hashem gave us a book of infinite wisdom, and we are obligated to study its laws and practice them to our full capabilities regardless of our understanding. Even though Parah Adumah was not practical at the time, and even though after many years of study we still do not understand its true meaning, it comes from Hashem and so there must be an explanation. What better mitzvah to use in order to give us the full introduction to the Torah!
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