Parshat haShavua: Hukkat Numbers 19:1-22:1
Nearing the end of the 40 year journey through the Sinai wilderness, our Parasha opens with a discussion of purification procedures for anyone who became ritually impure. Impurity was primarily transmitted by proximity to a human corpse. The procedure entailed being sprinkled with the ashes of a red heifer. The rabbis found this ritual complicated and difficult to comprehend rationally. So they claimed that while most law is rational there is a certain branch of law and custom which is done simply because it is commanded by God. This may be difficult for moderns to appreciate until we think about all the irrational laws/customs/manners we obey which have no basis in reason: shaking hands when greeting, responding when someone sneezes, proper setting of the table, our food taboos which are not observed in other parts of the world, etc.
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