For some time now, I have been outspoken about my aversion to the whole concept of "denominations" within the Jewish world. Opposition to the labels "Orthodox, Conservative and Reform" does not imply a monolithic view of the Jewish world. Far from it: Not only do differences in custom exist between Asheknazim and Sephardim, but the Jewish world is replete with different levels of observance, personal stringencies, and the like.

Perashat Hukat dwells at length on the mitzvah of the Red Heifer. Of all the laws of the Torah, the Red Heifer is the one that Shelomo Hamelech, King Solomon, could not totally wrap his mind around:"I said I will become wise, but it is beyond me." (Kohelet 7:23)

Para Aduma is a Hok, a law whose rational basis is unclear.

Rav Yosef Levinson writes that when a person observes a mitzva that he understands, as sincerely dedicated as that person is, the observance itself does not necessarily indicate that he has become an "Oved Hashem" - one who serves G-d. The litmus test of whether one is performing mitzvot as part of service of Hashem - is the Hok. When a practice lacks a degree of rational appeal, and we nevertheless commit ourselves to its observance, we exhibit faith in a source of wisdom beyond our understanding.

One of the first formal breeches in the Jewish people's national acceptance of Torah and mitzvot was the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885. Its drafters recognized "in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine." In other words, the Torah's laws had some value at the time. "....and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization."

So the rule to determine what would remain binding Jewish practice was, "the views and habits of modern civilization."

The implications were clear: Kashrut - a classic Hok - was summarily erased with the fourth clause of the Platform, as were all laws governing the status of Kohanim: "We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation."

In 1999, a sequel to the original Platform was drafted. It was less radical, and represented a turn towards tradition, expressing more openness to learning: "We are committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of mitzvot and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community."

The message was less direct than in 1885, but it clearly implied: We will learn all the mitzvot, but we will not fulfill those mitzvot that fail to fully "speak to us."

Instead of dwelling on the perasha of the Red Heifer and accepting the challenge of becoming an "Oved Hashem" - much of the Jewish world sadly bought into a new system in which mitzvah fulfillment became conditional upon the mitzvah's ability to strike either a spiritual or logical chord in the heart and mind of the Jew.

It is from this change of course that we have never fully recovered, and from which we plummeted into the fallacy of "denominations".

Let us all use Perashat Hukat 5774 as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the concept of a Hok, of a lofty Divine Mind that transcends our own.

Shabbat Shalom!