Parashat Kedoshim includes many well-known mitzvot, such as reverence for parents (Vayikra 19:3), the prohibition of lashon hara (19:16), and the obligation to demonstrate love toward other people through acts of kindness (19:18).
Like most of the commandments in our parasha, these mitzvot are under the rubric of mishpatim, laws that are essential for the functioning of a proper Jewish society. The Rambam defines them in this manner as “commandments whose rationale is revealed and the value that obtains as a result of their performance is manifest in this world. For example: the prohibitions of stealing and murder, and the obligation to honor one’s father and mother.”
In contrast, our parasha also includes mitzvot that are included under the category of hukim, defined by the Rambam as “commandments whose rationale are unknown” but must be performed.
Talmud Bavli, Yoma 67b, says “they include the prohibitions of idol worship, forbidden acts of intimacy, murder, stealing, and cursing Hashem. … Hukim are actions wherein the [the yetzer hara] attempts to disprove their validity and veracity, including the prohibitions of eating pig flesh, shaatnez, chalitzah, the ritual purification of the individual afflicted with tzarat, and the scapegoat rite [of Yom Kippur].”
“The Torah expects us to lead a dignified and honorable life because it is a book of reasonable laws. So why does it mingle chok and mishpat?” ask Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (the Rav).
His answer advances our understanding of the mitzvot in new and exciting ways:
“This mingling carries with it an additional message. The hukim, which are seemingly unreasonable and presented in enigmatic language, also have a meaning we cannot grasp. We ultimately trust that hukim are as reasonable as the mishpatim. In fact, they may even be more reasonable.
“The highest of the mishpatim is to love your fellow human being as yourself. The Torah says, as it were: I have another group of mitzvot called hukim that are not as comprehensible, such as shaatnez. G-d says: Trust me in everything. If I can trust my neighbor, why should I not trust G-d and His Torah? … Since one might have been inclined to dismiss the hukim categorically, the verse ends with the phrase ‘I am the L-rd your G-d.’ In other words, G-d tells us: I am the G-d who gave you both hukim and mishpatim.
“Why would I give you laws that are unreasonable? … Our special relationship with G-d obligates us to go beyond our logic and trust G-d completely. Later, in retrospect, we may understand.”
The element of trust bitachon (trust) in the commandments is one of the key elements that emerges from the Rav’s analysis of these categories of mitzvot. In essence, bitachon is the actualization of emunah in our daily lives, in that it takes emunah from the realm of the theoretical to that of practically actionable behaviors. In particular, the Rav is teaching us that our current inability to comprehend the hukim is not the deciding factor as to whether or not we should obey them. Instead, “our special relationship with G-d obligates us to go beyond our logic and trust G-d completely.”
The Rav’s presentation is reminiscent of a well-known passage in Sefer Tehillim: “Yisrael, trust in the L-rd; He is their help and their shield. Beit Aharon, trust in the L-rd; He is their help and their shield. Those who hold the L-rd in awe, trust in the L-rd; He is their help and their shield.”
With Hashem’s help and our fervent desire, may this be so. V’chane yihi ratzon.