Chukim-Absence of Reason or Not

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Rambam states in the Morah Hanevuchim, (Book III, Chap. XXXI) that there are certain individuals who believe that the "commandments and prohibitions have no rational basis whatever. They adopt this theory by a certain disease of their soul". He continues to state , "these weak minded persons believe man to be more perfect than his Creator, as man has an objective to his actions, and G-d's commands do not" (according to the opinion that Chukim have no reason). Rambam quotes the Chumash where it talks about the other nation's perception of our understanding, as they say, "(the other nations) which shall hear all those statutes (Chukim), and say, 'surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people". The nations of the world will see through our Chukim that we are a wise and understanding people. How can they say this according to the Torah, if there is no rationale to the Chukim? The Rambam continues to state that "every one of the 613 commands serve to inculcate some truth, to remove some erroneous opinion,to establish proper relations in society,to diminish evil, to train in good manners, or to warn against bad habits."

The Ramban, Leviticus 26:15 states, "Because statutes are commandments the reason for which have not been revealed to the majority of the people, therefore fools reject them, saying: 'Why does G-d desire that I should not wear this garment which is woven with threads of linen and of blue wool? And how do we benefit by burning the red heifer, and sprinkling upon us the ashes thereof?' The ordinances however everyone desires and everyone needs for there can be no civilized life for any people and country without ordinances. No one will reject the ordinances of : 'He that smiteth a man so that he dies' (Exod. 21:12).....". The Ramban is bothered by the problem as to why people would reject and despise statutes, as opposed to ordinances. Ordinances are clearly beneficial to society, such as the quoted "smiting" of our fellow man. However, one does not readily see the purpose in not mixing breeds and other chukim.

The Ramban again addresses this point in Leviticus, 19:19, where he clarifies Rashi's quotation of Chazal which states that, "chukim are the decrees of the King for which there is no reason". The Ramban explains, "And the intention of the Rabbis was not that these are decrees of the King of kings for which there are no reasons, for every word of G-d is tried (Prov. 30:5). [They meant] only that the statutes (chukim) are like the enactments which a king promulgates for his kingdom, without revealing their benefits to the people, and the people, not sensing these reasons, entertain questions about them in their hearts but they accept them nonetheless out of fear of the government. Similarly, the statutes of the Holy One blessed be He, are His secrets in the Torah, which the people by means of their thinking do not grasp as they do as in the case of Mishpatim [ordinances - laws which conform to the human conception of justice], but yet they ALL have a proper reason and perfect benefit." We see clearly from Ramban's explanation that chazal hold that all commandments, chukim and mishpatim alike, are not bereft of reason. In fact the Ramban himself continues in the same breath to give explanations for the prohibitions against "mixed kinds" (K'laim).

Perhaps the reason for G-d not disclosing to the masses the reasons for the chukim is because had He done so, people who are not understanding individuals would reject them.

The Radak, in his introduction to his commentary on Prophets states that it appears to people that chukim do not have reasons, yet a person who is a chacham (wise) will see a clear reason for each and every one.

This concept regarding the reasons behind chukim is stressed so as to awaken one to the understanding that the depth of the Torah should not be easily dismissed. Understand what these Rishonim have said. The Torah is replete with beautiful concepts. The Chukim as well have deep ideas, ideas that one can uncover. We should not think that the Mitzvos are to be dry, mechanical activities, devoid of reason. G-d designed these Chukim. "All His ways are just". To abandon the understanding of even a part of the Torah, such as Chukim would be the greatest injustice to ourselves. If our entire existence if for the sake of understanding, as G-d has given only humans a soul, operating without analyzing our law is the farthest thing from the truth.

To quote the Torah once more, "(the other nations) which shall hear all those statutes (Chukim), and say, 'surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people".

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