Never denigrate your heritage

מדף עם ספרי קודש
צילום: פלאש90
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Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

The easiest thing is to denigrate and to dismiss. If something sounds ancient or not up to date, and it does not register in our limited minds within one and a half seconds, it is surely irrelevant. It can even be turned into a cynical joke regarding our traditions.

This week's Torah portion, parashat Chukat, opens with: "This is the decree of the Torah." What follows is a description of the red heifer sacrifice and purification ritual that remains a mystery until today. Generations of scholars and philosophers have discussed it and raised the following questions: Is there a reason or justification for every mitzvah (divine commandment)? Are there revealed explanations for mitzvah performance side by side with hidden ones? Are we obligated to understand everything or are we even capable of doing so? Are we supposed to conscientiously observe mitzvot even when we do not understand their purpose?

Here is a thought from the Rambam, one of our greatest thinkers, regarding this subject:

"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 ordinary matters." 

On the one hand, we need to make every effort to learn and to understand. We have a library of books that contain thousands of years of Jewish thought. It is appropriate for us to delve into them before we make a definitive statement about something that is not clear to us. On the other hand, even after we study, there will always be things that we will not understand. But even if there are obscure matters to which we cannot properly relate, we must be careful not to denigrate them. When you laugh at your heritage, you are really laughing at yourself.

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