Friday, March 16, 2012

Parshas Parah 5631 First and Second Ma'amarim

1.  What is the nature of spiritual impurity (טוּמְאָה) and spiritual purity (טָהֳרָה)?  The Chiddushei HaRim[1] explains that spiritual impurity means that one’s internal spiritual vitality has left.  The spiritually impure person can get it back by subordinating himself to God’s will.  By disregarding his own desires in favor of God’s he can renew his spiritual vitality.  We learn this from the law of the Parah Adumah (red heifer).  The ashes of the Parah Adumah are mixed with water and sprinkled on the impure person thus purifying him.  According to the Chiddushei HaRim these ashes suggest a nullification of one’s self.  The lesson of the Parah Adumah is that by nullifying our own desires in favor of God’s, we come close to Him thereby renewing our own life force.  This is why Parshas HaChodesh follows Parshas ParahParshas HaChodesh represents renewal (חוֹדֶשׁ/Month has the same root as חָדָשׁ/new.)

The Sfas Emes understands this from the first Midrash[2] in Chukas.  The Midrash begins, “זֹאת חֻקַת .../This is the law …” and then brings a pasuk from Iyov, “מִי יִתֵּן טָהוֹר מִטָמֵא לֹא אֶחָד/Who produces purity from impurity.  No one!”  The Midrash translates this pasuk as, “Who produces purity from impurity?  Is it not the One?”  Producing purity from impurity seems impossible.  However, it is only impossible if we believe that impurity has an autonomous existence.  If we understand that even the impurity has a point of spiritual vitality at its core, that God gives existence to the impure as well, it becomes clear that the only difference between purity and impurity is how revealed that spiritual point of vitality is to us.  This spiritual point is simply God’s life force. 

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that this life force, because it is ubiquitous and is the same for all, is called זֹאת/This in the singular.  The parsha of Parah Adumah appropriately begins with this word instead of אֵלֶה/These.  The Parah Adumah contrasts with the golden calf where the idol worshipers said, “אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל/Israel, these are your gods.”  The ashes of the Parah Adumah teach us to subordinate ourselves to the one God, in contradistinction to idols that symbolize disparate forces in the world.  In fact, Chazal teach us that the Parah Adumah is a rectification for the sin of the golden calf.

2.  Chazal tell us that we must keep the mitzvah of Parah Adumah simply because God decreed it.[3]  This implies that it has no reason.  However another Midrash in the parsha tells us that God said He would reveal the reasons for this mitzvah to Moshe Rabbeinu![4]  Yet another Midrash tells us that Shlomo HaMelech understood the reason behind every mitzvah except for the mitzvah of Parah Adumah.[5]  Regarding Parah Adumah Shlomo HaMelech tells us in Koheles (7:23), “... אָמַרְתִּי אֶחְכָּמָה וְהִיא רְחוֹקָה מִמֶּנִּי/… I said I will become wise but it eludes me.”

It is clear from these Midrashim that the mitzvah of Parah Adumah has reasons.  Why, then, are the reasons so elusive?  The Sfas Emes explains that the reasons are above the natural world.  A direct approach to finding the reasons therefore, will not work.  The correct approach is to accept the mitzvah simply because God decreed it even though we do not understand.  Then, paradoxically, God grants us an aspect of understanding as well.  This is why God revealed the reasons to Moshe Rabbeinu.  Moshe Rabbeinu represents the knowledge repository and highest level of the nation of Israel.[6]  On that level, God grants understanding.  Shlomo HaMelech, on the other hand, wanted to understand the reasons for this mitzvah in order to become wise, “אָמַרְתִּי אֶחְכָּמָה/I said I will become wise.”  Because of his approach, understanding was kept from him, “וְהִיא רְחוֹקָה מִמֶּנִּי/but it eludes me.”

[1] See Chidushei HaRim Parah
[2] Bamidbar R. 19:1
[3] Yalkut Shimoni Chukas 759
[4] Bamidbar R. 19:6
[5] Bamidbar R. 19:3
[6] Eitz Chaim 32:1, Sha’ar HaPesukim Shmos from “ve’ata neva’eir inyan ge’ulasam


Anonymous said...

1. how then the impure, insubordinate passion (vitality) for idol worship?

2. did Shlomo refuse to say in his heart "na'aseh v'nishma"?

Moshe David Tokayer said...

1. Spiritual impurity does not necessarily mean that there is no spirituality. The golden calf was a high level of spirituality. Idol worship can be a high level of spirituality. Spiritual impurity means the connection with Hashem is missing. The spirituality is misguided. It assigns autonomous power to creations.

2. Shlomo Hamelech did not, God forbid, condition his worship of God on understanding. Of course he served God unconditionally.

The Sfas Emes is stressing the importance of intent. Shlomo Hamelech wanted to understand the Parah Adumah in order to gain knowledge. This therefore eluded him.