Statutory Laws – Chukim
This week’s Torah portion, Chukat, deals with an example of a category of Jewish laws known as chukim, Divine statutes that the human mind cannot completely comprehend. The purpose of the chukim is to teach us that human understanding is not a prerequisite for doing that which is right, and the criteria for determining good and evil are not within the province of the human being. In Judaism, absolute good and absolute evil do exist and the concepts are neither relative nor subjective, but they must be defined by Divine law. Morality based solely upon human reason or conviction is inadequate; sincerity and belief do not ensure moral behavior. A sincere, believing Nazi is still doing that which is evil, and an insincere philanthropist is doing that which is morally correct. Our lack of understanding of the laws of Kashrut also teaches us humility. True morality requires humility in our relationship with God, Who is the ultimate source of moral authority.
The Hebrew word for statutes, chukim, is the same as the word used to refer to the laws of nature. The parallel usage of chukim for Torah commandments and natural law teaches us an important lesson in our attitude towards fulfilling the commandments. The laws of nature are completely unaffected by human understanding or lack of understanding. Gravity will cause someone to fall even if he does not understand how it works, and fire will burn even if we do not know the chemistry of combustion. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that in precisely the same way “the components of the Torah remain the law even if we have not discovered the cause and connection of a single one.”
Although we may never fully understand the rationale behind the chukim, scholars throughout the centuries have described their effect and impact on the Jewish people and have enhanced our fulfillment of these laws by showing some of the deeper ideas behind them.