Numbers Hizkuni: Chukat
“par-a-dox. One exhibiting inexplicable or contradictory aspects.” The American Heritage Dictionary
We are used to human deception. It is natural for us to hide our faults, blemishes and existential angst. Most people pretend to be someone slightly different than who they truly are – and we are usually better off for it. However, none of us should be surprised on those occasions when the true, unvarnished and contradictory other self peeks through. That is the paradox of personality.
The ceremony of the Red Heifer is meant to purify those who have come in contact with death. There is a notable side effect that is often commented upon. The person doing the purification becomes contaminated, while the contaminated person is purified. That is the paradox of purification.
Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) claims that we should not be surprised by paradox. Paradox is not only hard-wired into personality and Torah, it is a part of nature itself.
Hizkuni gives two curious examples from the natural world: heat and medicine.
Heat can melt metal, turning a solid into a liquid. The same heat can turn the liquid form of an egg into a solid.
Medicine can cure the sick, but if given to the healthy it can sicken the cured. That is the paradox of nature.
The natural paradoxes are commonplace to us because we are used to them. We understand that according to the laws of nature, different reactions will result from different circumstances.
The same is true in the realm of Torah (and personality). While we may not be used to or understand all of the spiritual and psychological laws, Hizkuni reassures us that what seems like paradox is correct and real.
May we see the paradoxes in the world for what they are and make the most of them.
To those struggling with the paradoxes of the World Cup. How Switzerland (underdog) beat Spain (top team) while surprising is merely a soccer/football paradox (perhaps related to respective economies). (my bets are on Brazil…)