Chukat: "Because I Said So!"
By Rabbi Ed Gelb
Director Camp Ramah in New England
How many of you, when growing up, vowed never to use your parents' statement "Because I said so!" as a rationale for making your kids do something? Me too. How many of you have done it anyway? Me too. You don't want to go fifteen rounds every time you ask your kids to do something.
This week's Torah portion, Chukat, presents the ultimate example of the "Because I said so!" rationale for doing something. Chukat instructs us about the offering of the red heifer. In short, an unblemished red heifer is sacrificed and the ashes are used for ritual purification for those who have come in contact with unclean things. Our rabbis have puzzled over this commandment throughout the ages, unable to generate a rational reason for this law and why it works. They therefore classify it as a "chok," a biblical law without apparent logic.
What is the value of a "Because I said so!" law? One answer may be that following a law of this nature shows faith and love for the lawgiver. We follow the law because we trust God. In our world, we try to balance teaching our kids to question everything and think for themselves with being respectful and following the rules.
Let's assume for a moment that the law at worst is a meaningless exercise with no sinister or evil components. Let's say it's just a classic "just humor me" law.
Every once in a while it is valuable for our children to acquiesce to us just because we said so. We do a lot for our children. They owe us the faith and love to sometimes do something, as long as it is not morally wrong, just because we say so. In fact, it is a reminder of another commandment - honoring one's parents - and a valuable lesson in respect.