Parshas Chukas: Surrender

This week’s parsha, Parshas Chukas, opens as we learn the laws regarding the parah adumah, the red heifer.  A perfectly red cow is taken [in Temple times], slaughtered outside of the camp, and its ashes are used for purifying one who has become tamei meis, ritually impure through contact with a corpse.  The same ashes that purify the impure simultaneously render the pure one who did the sprinkling impure. 

This mitzvah is a classic chok, a law we do not understand, which we keep, nonetheless. 

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “In observing the laws there is one act necessary, indispensable.  In one word: surrender.  Unconditional surrender.

“If I understand the importance of the law there is no need for surrender.  If the law is logical and rational and makes sense, like You shall not steal, or You shall not kill, or You shall not commit adultery… there is no need to surrender.  On the contrary, it’s pleasing (to obey the laws that we understand)… You cannot speak of surrender about the so-called mitzvos sichliyos, or mishpatim (the laws we seem to understand the reasons for), it’s ridiculous.  If you speak of surrender, it is in regard to chukim.

“And surrender is perhaps the primary religious act, complete surrender.  I don’t see any sense in that mitzvah, and there is no sense of self-fulfillment, yet I do it because I feel obligated… You surrender, you don’t wear shatnez (wool and linen in the same garment)…

“If people would understand how much the Torah has appreciated and cherished the idea of surrender, so they wouldn’t trouble with… problems of ‘why,’ and ‘why did the Torah say that,’ and ‘why it didn’t say like this.’  If I could understand all the why’s and the what’s there would be no need for Torah, for the Torah would cease to be a Torah.  So then it would be my morality, my intellect which formulates the law.” (The Rav Thinking Aloud – Bamidbar, p.112-113)

We are a nation faithful unto G-d, even when, especially when, we don’t understand His laws and His ways.

And isn’t this the story of our people from antiquity to modern times…?

So often in life, we are faced with the inexplicable, the great mystery of this journey called Life, the pain of surrender combined with the joy of surrender, the inability to understand, yet we surrender to His will and remain faithful to G-d, come what may…

זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה – This is the law of the Torah (Num.19:2), this is the great mystery of the Torah, this is the secret to living as ovdei Hashem: Surrender.

On bitachon, trust in G-d, R’ Aharon Lichtenstein zt’l teaches, “This approach (to bitachon) does not attempt to scatter the clouds of misfortune, try to raise expectations, or strive to whitewash a dark future… On the contrary, it expresses a steadfast commitment – even if the outcome will be bad, we will remain reliant on and connected to G-d…This approach does not claim that G-d will remain at our side; rather, it asks us to remain at His side.” (By His Light, p.143)

Tuvia Yanai Weissman, HY”D, 21 years old, was killed this past February, when he tried to stop a terror attack in a supermarket – with his bare hands.  At his funeral, his mother, Orly, brought the mourners to tears.

“I am going to scream. It is a good scream,” she said.  And then she yelled out his name twice, loudly and clearly, so the sound almost seemed to hang for a moment under the bright sun before disappearing.

The sound of people sobbing was all that could be heard for a moment or two before she could begin speaking again.

“We are crying because we loved you so much. You came into the world within seconds and you left within seconds. You lived a full life in the short time that you were here.  What you did in a day, I couldn’t do in a month,” she said. “You knew how to be happy, to be angry, to cry, to love.  You were a wonderful husband and father. I am proud of you.”

She said she was struck, on the way to the funeral, by how strongly the sun was shining and by the springlike weather.  “I asked G-d, ‘Are you kidding me?’” How, Orly wanted to know, was it possible for the flowers to be blooming? She asked the mourners to briefly sing with her a well known religious song, that is just one line long, about how the heavens will be happy and the land will be redeemed – a song she said she sings, at times, so that she will be less afraid.

Orly relayed to the crowd what she had said to her son before the funeral: “I closed my eyes and asked you to come to me. You did. You kissed me on the forehead and told me that everyone was fine. Then you said, I have to go, I am going to the Source.”  Now, she said, her son’s body was in the ground but his soul, which had been filled with love, was eternal.

זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה, אָדָם כִּי-יָמוּת בְּאֹהֶל – This is the law of the Torah – the mystery, the pain, the shout, the song, the inexplicable journey of our lives…when a man dies in the tent (Num.19:14)… We surrender. 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


  • Shani Gerlitz
    Posted at 12:30h, 14 July

    Haunting and profound. Also evocative of Rabbi Sassoon’s statement of “utter surrender to HAshem.”
    May we not be tested to surrender in pain be zoche always to surrender in joy.

  • Carol Spodek
    Posted at 15:48h, 14 July

    Chizuk, but so very painful.
    Your words are always so powerful and land deeply.
    Thank you!