Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
The Torah portion of Chukat begins with the words "This is the law of the Torah," and then describes a subject wrapped in mystery until today: the ritual of the red heifer. Generations of sages examined this mitzvah (divine commandment) that has no clear explanation. But is there a reason behind every mitzvah? Could there be both revealed and hidden explanations involved -- or none at all? Are we obligated or even able to understand everything? Do we only perform mitzvot whose purpose we understand or do we sometimes simply say: "This is the law of the Torah"?
Today, if something sounds ancient or not up-to-date, the easiest thing is to ridicule or dismiss it. There is a tendency to think that if a Torah law or commandment is not applicable to the here and now, then it is certainly irrelevant and may even become fodder for jokes about our tradition.
Here's an idea from the Rambam, among the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, regarding this matter: "It is fitting for a person to contemplate the judgments of the holy Torah and know their ultimate purpose according to his capacity. If he cannot find a reason or a motivating rationale for a practice, he should not take it lightly . . . One's thoughts concerning it should not be like his thoughts concerning other matters." (Mishneh Torah, Me'ilah 8:8)
In other words, on the one hand we should study and make every effort to understand. The Jewish bookshelf is based on thousands of years of study. It is fitting to delve deep inside before making assertions we are convinced are valid. On the other hand, even after we have thoroughly investigated a subject, there will always be matters we do not understand. And even when we do not comprehend certain subjects completely or not at all, perhaps because they are not in keeping with the times, we need to exercise extreme caution not to minimize or ridicule them.
We should never demean our heritage since, in doing so, we would only be demeaning ourselves.