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When We Can’t Understand

A red heifer standing in a green pasture

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The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: “This is a requirement of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. — Numbers 19:1-3

As we begin a new year and a new decade, let the pursuit of wisdom be one of our top goals. Enjoy this collection of devotions on wisdom throughout the month from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s timeless teachings.

As we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this month, download our complimentary booklet on the historic and spiritual bond between the Jewish and African-American communities.

King Solomon is said to be the wisest man who ever lived. God had offered to grant him any request, and Solomon — wisely — asked for wisdom. With his divinely given intelligence, Solomon was able to understand the reasons behind every one of God’s laws written in the Bible.

Or so he thought. The Jewish sages teach that when Solomon came to the laws concerning the red heifer are given in Numbers 19:1-8, Solomon was finally stumped. He then concluded that if he could not discern the reason for this one law, perhaps he didn’t really understand any of God’s laws.

These specific laws were based on godly levels of wisdom that Solomon obviously did not possess since he could not figure out why the ashes of a red heifer made the pure impure and the impure pure. That is what Solomon was referring to in the book of Ecclesiastes when he wrote, “All this I tested by wisdom and I said, ‘I am determined to be wise’– but this was beyond me” (Ecclesiastes 7:23).

As Solomon finally understood, God’s wisdom is beyond us – both when it comes to His laws and also when it comes to our lives.

As human beings, we want so much to understand everything that is going on in our lives. We’d like to see everything that has happened and everything will happen in a neat box all tied up with a pretty ribbon. However, God doesn’t work that way. You can’t place God in a box. Our God is way too big and far too great to be contained. He works in ways that we can’t possibly comprehend. As it says in Proverbs 20:24, “A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?” No, we can’t understand how God works – and that’s a good thing.

If we could understand God’s ways, then His actions would be limited to our intellectual capabilities. I don’t know about you, but I want a God who is limited by nothing! A colleague of mine once put it this way: “I don’t want to pray to a God who I can understand!” I want God to have ways to make things happen in my life when I don’t see a way. I want a God who can make sense out of my messy life when I can’t see a way to clean it up myself. I want a God who is bigger and smarter than me!

Friends, let’s remember that when we go through things in life that we can’t understand, it’s OK. We don’t have to understand. God understands and that’s all that matters. As it says in Proverb 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD . . . lean not on your own understanding . . . and he will make your paths straight.”

Download your complimentary copy of our booklet, On the Frontlines of Faith, which explores the historic and spiritual bond between the African-American and Jewish communities during the civil rights movement.

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