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Hukkat 5782 ~ July 8, 2022

Remember the days of children’s questions and the answers we tried to respond with? One of the beautiful, yet confounding, aspects of this week’s Torah reading is the fact that it opens with a concept that begs a question. The concept is also the title of this week’s Torah reading: Hukkat.

What is a hok? It is a law that seems to defy rational explanations.  And while we might be able to convince ourselves that we do understand its premise, the fact is that it is okay, just as with other questions that our children asked, when we simply respond: “I don’t have an answer. It just is what it is.” However, in Jewish tradition… we say it is a law handed down from God at Mt. Sinai, and we simply accept it. Such is the case of the concept of the Red Heifer and its ashes that were used to purify an individual who had come in contact with a corpse. While today, the ritual of the Red Heifer cannot take place because of the fact that 1) there is not Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem where the sacrifice of the animal can take place; 2) a red heifer that is pure red is so rare that one has not been found in centuries. But even if we can explain the concept of the Red Heifer (perhaps related to the sin of the Golden Calf), the “why” is still confounding.

I found it quite interesting that at a recent unveiling service, one individual asked me the question, “Why do we wash our hands when we leave the cemetery after a funeral or perhaps even a visit to a loved one’s grave?” Which begs a second question of “Why do some people throw some grass over their shoulder when they leave the cemetery?”

In a similar manner, as I prepare to join Liza and Benji in the celebration of their marriage, both with their aufruf on Shabbat morning at services, and at their wedding ceremony, I wondered how many people might ask why the bride and, in today’s world, the groom circle from right to left in a counterclockwise manner? Might it be similar to the halakhic dictate that when one gets up in the morning and puts on one’s shoes that the tradition is that we put on our right shoe first? Might it be for the same reason we put the tefillin on our left hand, if we are a righty?

Some say that the counterclockwise circling with the bride going to the right of the groom represents joy.  It represents God’s lovingkindess. Conversely, circling from the left side represents mourning and judgement. Others suggests that circling from the right comes from the halakha that when one approaches the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem, one would take the shortest distance. However, if the distances were similar, one would always approach from the right. Since the chuppah is representative of a new house for the bride and groom, approaching from the right would be similar to going to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  How does one arrive at this conclusion?  Since the groom is looking towards the friends and family, as the bride circles around her beloved, the groom is welcoming the bride into their new home.   As such their home becomes their own mikdash me’at, their own miniature sanctuary to God.  One would use the same approach as one would to the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem.

Or perhaps walking to the right might symbolize Psalm 21’s declaration that “the Lord is your guardian, the Lord is your protection, at your right hand.” Just as the groom breaks the glass to ward off any thoughts or superstitions of an evil spirit haunting the marriage, so too, the bride’s walking to the right symbolizes the protective powers that God brings into this marriage, which according to tradition, is all that God has been doing since creation was completed.

So many questions… and sometimes, not so many answers. We will explore more of these questions related to Benji and Liza’s wedding during their aufruf on Shabbat morning.

I  hope you will join us to celebrate together with them.

On a second note, a todah rabbah to Judy and Kirk Engel for hosting our Dinner and Daven Kabbalat Shabbat this evening, and once again thank you Michael Cohen for making the trip to Chani’s in Worcester to pick up the Shabbat meal.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi K

Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783