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    Power in paradox – Chukkat

    red heiferThere is something in this week’s portion which is both strange and typical of Judaism.

    The law of the red heifer (Num. 19:2) requires a mixture of substances to be sprinkled in order to purify the impure.

    Strangely the process which purifies also does the opposite – it purifies the impure (tamei) and pollutes the pure priest (tahor) who administers the procedure.

    How can one and the same thing achieve two diametrically opposed things? It’s a paradox.

    How can God be both immanent and transcendent, both near and far? It’s another paradox.

    How can He be Avinu and Malkenu, loving Parent and stern Ruler, at one and the same time? How can man have freewill but still be subject to determinism?

    How can some mitzvot be sichliyyot, amendable to rational analysis and explanation, whilst others are chukkim, inscrutable “statutes” requiring assent by faith?

    In religions which insist on firm dogmas there can only be one doctrine, at least in theory, though in actual fact even those religions have their paradoxes and contradictions.

    In Judaism the power of paradox is everywhere.

    The medieval thinkers who moulded classical Jewish philosophy insisted that Judaism was rational. So it is – but it has elements which are mystery.

    Mystery isn’t identical with superstition. Mystery is far greater. Mystery is something which our instinct tells us is right, but to delve into it and understand all its nuances is too difficult for the limited human mind.

    King Solomon said (Kohelet 7:23), “I decided to attain wisdom but it was beyond me”.

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