Kenneth Cohen

Know How To Answer the Heretic

The Keli Yakar makes an observation about the redundancy of the wording in the Torah. The Mitzva of the פרה אדומה, the Red Heifer is introduced at the beginning of Parshat Chukat.

Usually, a section begins with instructions from Hashem to Moshe, and ends with the word, “לאמר,” to teach it to the nation. In this instance, the word, לאמר, is said a second time in the very next Pasuk.

The explanation for this redundancy is to remind us of our obligation to know how to explain the truth of the Torah to Gentiles and heretics. This is especially true when we are presented with a Mitzva that is extremely difficult to comprehend.

The ashes of the Red Heifer were needed to atone for one who came in contact with the dead. The difficulty comes from the fact that the Kohanim who handle this animal, become impure, while the one who was impure, becomes pure. Even King Solomon could not understand this Mitzva.

This serves as a recognition that it is our duty to be so well versed in the Torah, so that we be able to explain it to others. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot tells us, דע מה להשיב לאפיקורס, “know how to answer the heretic.”

Some say that we get a pass regarding the Para Adumah. The nations of the world might see us observing these inexplicable laws, and they marvel at us by saying, “Only a wise and understanding nation, could have such statutes.”

Nevertheless, we are confronted today with missionaries and cults that try to undermine the validity of the Torah. We must be equipped with basic answers to show the fallacies of their philosophies.

The benefit of having this knowledge, is that we get strengthened ourselves when we realize how easy it is to refute the New Testament and other challenges to our religion. We must know that there is only one truth in the world and that is Hashem and the Torah.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at