Dealing with Adversity – Understanding We Don’t Always Understand

In Parashas Chukas, we are introduced to the unique mitzvah of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) and the unique concept it represents. A red cow was slaughtered and burned, its ashes mixed with water from the Shiloach spring and sprinkled on those who became tamei, ritually impure, from contact with the dead. After immersion in a mikvah, they once again became tahor.

The mitzvah of the Parah Adumah is paradoxical in that it both purifies the impure and yet, makes those involved in its preparation tamei, ritually impure.

The Torah refers to this mitzvah as “chukas haTorah, a statute of the Torah.” A chok is a mitzvah whose reason is beyond human comprehension.

Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men, understood the reasons for all the mitzvos. His statement “All this I tested with wisdom; I thought I could become wise, but it is beyond me” (Koheles 7:23) alludes to his inability to grasp the rationale for Parah Adumah, according to the Midrash.  

L’asid lavo, after Moshiach has arrived when the knowledge of Hashem will become more revealed, we will be privy to its reason.

Until that time, what lesson does Parah Adumah teach us? Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, wonders why this mitzvah is called “chukas haTorah” rather than “chukas haParah,” since its characteristic of not being understood is not pertinent to all of Torah but rather to this mitzvah at hand. One lesson Rav Moshe offers is that we are expected to fulfill all the mitzvos – even those whose reason is known – as if they were chukim, simply because they are mandated by Hashem. Knowing the reasons for the mitzvos carries a certain vulnerability, since one may rationalize that a reason does not apply in a given situation. The expression provides us with a perspective toward kiyum hamitzvos in general.

Harav Yosef Zundel of Salant, zt”l, in his sefer Beer Yosef (p. 135), explains that in enjoining us to observe the mitzvos regardless of whether we understand the reasons for them, the Torah is giving us an outlook by which to live our lives. There is a concept in Chazal of “Tzadik v’ra lo, rasha v’tov lo – bad things happen to righteous people and good things happen to evil people. There are paradoxical occurrences in life that do not seem to make sense. There are great tzaddikim become fatally ill and perish at a young age, R”l. Conversely, there are people who observe almost nothing, yet acquire wealth and health and live a long life. We seek to make sense of seeming unfairness.

 Harav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, the Lubliner Rav, was a man of creative initiative. He established a great yeshivah, Chachmei Lublin there, which drew exceptional talmidim from all over. He constructed a magnificent building to house it and raised the prestige of bnei Torah. His Daf Yomi revolutionized Torah study worldwide.

In the fall of 1933/5694, he took ill and on 7 Cheshvan he was niftar at the age of 46.

Had Rav Meir Shapiro lived longer Klal Yisrael possibly would have benefited from his harbatzas Torah and leadership well into the 1970s. Perhaps he would have had a major impact on the growth of Torah worldwide and continued to groom future leaders. Who knows what other initiatives he may have introduced to enhance Yiddishkeit? Alas, for reasons unknown to us the Hashgachah deemed otherwise.

Harav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, offered the following heartening moshol: A mechulach stumbles across a setting where an entertainment icon, far from a model of refinement yet admired by millions, is directing a film production. The collector shakes his pushke and the celebrity, to rid himself of the intruder, drops in a coin. Hashem says, “You did a mitzvah, now you obligated Me. I won’t reward you in the next world where the s’char would be infinitely more. Your recompense will be in this transitory world – I’ll give you a theater chain from coast to coast.” Our fleshly eyes never see the entire story when unsavory folks prosper.

We sometimes erroneously associate understanding with perfection. One year before Sukkos, one of the great Rebbes was brought esrogim from which to choose. He narrowed it down to two. One was seemingly perfect in every way. The second was superb but not as picture-perfect as the first. The Rebbe chose the second esrog.

Later it was discovered that the “perfect” esrog was artificial. The Chassidim remarked that the Rebbe saw that via ruach hakodesh. The Rebbe reacted, “It was not ruach hakodesh. The “esrog” was too perfect and it made me suspicious so I took the other one. The only perfection in this world belongs to the Borei Olam.”

Still and all, we can utilize the challenging, incomprehensible situations as opportunities to at least strive for perfection. We won’t reach it and Hashem does not demand it of us. But we will grow by bettering ourselves in the process, which is what Hashem expects of us.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a longtime writer for Hamodia Newspaper as well as an inspirational speaker on various topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!