The Mitzvah mentioned in the beginning of today’s Sidra is very puzzling. A red heifer had to be slaughtered, burnt, and the ashes were to be mixed with water and sprinkled on one who has become spiritually defiled, or טמא. With this ritual the person will be purified. The Talmudic Sages tried to understand the rationalization of this procedure but did not succeed. They tell us that even Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men, could not understand it. Indeed, the Torah itself tells us זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה, “This is the decree of the Torah…”. (Num. 19,2) A decree implies we cannot understand it. It is a decree from Hakadosh Baruch Hu which we must observe though we cannot comprehend its meaning.
Despite all that has been said, Chazal in the Midrash do give us a reason why this law had been given. They tell us that the red heifer was to atone for the sin of the golden calf. This in itself is an enigma. What connection is there between this law and the terrible sin committed by the Children of Israel with the golden calf when Moshe was receiving the Tablets of Stone?
A very unique explanation had been suggested. Why did the sin of the golden calf come about? The reason was because the Children of Israel lost their faith in Hashem when Moshe did not return from the mountain. Losing faith after standing at Mt. Sinai and hearing the Ten Commandments proclaimed was a great shortcoming of the people. To atone for this failing they were given a law that they could not understand but had to keep simply in good faith that this was what Hashem required.
In keeping this incomprehensible law the people demonstrate their faith in Hashem and thus can atone for the lack of faith they displayed at Mt. Sinai.