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My Heifer just ran over your Karma and Dogma

Thursday, 15 March, 2012 - 5:49 pm

At the recent LimmudFest 2012 (which was a great success – kudos and credit to Gail, Lynn, Marisa and the entire crew for all of the hard work and effort in creating a great event), I had a conversation with an individual following my presentation on the Kabbalistic doctrines of Divine Unity. During our conversation the word dogma was thrown out as a disdainful concept; as if it was something backwards or primitive and non-Jewish. It brought to mind the bumper sticker “my Karma ran over your Dogma.” As I thought about it more I realized that replacing dogma with karma was a lateral move – because actually karma is just the dogma of another religion. Then it dawned on me that this week’s additional Torah reading Parshat Parah provides the true insight to the whole picture.

The subject of Parah is the Red Heifer – the perfectly red cow, whose ashes, when mixed with water, cedar wood, hyssop and a scarlet thread, purify a person who came into contact with a corpse. This concept is called a Chok – a statute for which no reason or logic is provided. In Judaism there are many Chukim – but none is inexplicable as the Red Heifer. To begin with, the notion of impurity is not logical. When you top it off with the Red Heifer procedure for purification it is even less logical. When you read that the Kohen who prepares the mixture himself becomes impure, that puts you over the top. (At least you are in good company - even King Solomon, the wisest of all men, declared that this was beyond him.)

So the question is why we need Mitzvot that don’t have rational explanations. Why can’t we just have a perfectly rational religion that would fit the sensibilities of the 21st century mindset? Wouldn’t it feel better if we Jews would be able to smugly think of our religion as the one that is “dogma free?” Yet this Mitzvah of the Red Heifer is referred to as THE Mitzvah of the Torah. To briefly explain. Since we humans are finite beings, it is impossible for us to have a real connection to an infinite G-d on our terms. Therefore any relationship that is founded solely on human logic will not achieve a connection with G-d. Only when there is the realization that “I must obey G-d whether I understand or not” can we begin to approach this connection. Only when the relationship is not defined solely by the limited human capacity for rationalization can we truly say that we are connected to Hashem.

Don’t get me wrong, reason and understanding are very central to Judaism and Torah & Mitzvot, but they cannot be the foundation. We try to understand as much as we possibly can. But then we must acknowledge that there is something beyond our intellect that we accept with faith and obedience. Upon this solid foundation, the beautiful edifice that is Judaism can stand eternally.  

To sum it up: The red heifer just flattened a karma and ran over a dogma.

Purim 2012 was awesome. Hundreds of people attended Chabad’s multiple programs. Over 240 Purim Shuttle packages were delivered. A good time was had by all. Please take a moment to review the pictures at www.chabadneworleans.com/1798607. I want to thank all of the volunteers who were involved in Purim Night, the packers and deliverers of Purim Shuttle, and those involved in putting together the amazing Purim in the Wild West. I also want to thank all of the participants in the Purim Shuttle 2012 Fundraiser. This year we raised over 10% more than last year. We appreciate your support.

Take a deep breath, because Pesach is just 3 week away…

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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