Friday, March 09, 2007

Tisa & Parshas Parah 5631 First Ma'amar

1. What is the nature of spiritual impurity (טומאה) and spiritual purity (טהרה)? The Chidushei HaRim explains that spiritual impurity means that one’s internal spiritual vitality has left him. The spiritually impure person can get it back by subordinating himself to God’s will. By disregarding his own life 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 Chidushei 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 Parah. Parshas HaChodesh represents renewal (חודש/Month has the same root as חדש/new.)

The Sfas Emes understands this from the first Midrash in Chukas. The Midrash begins, “זאת חקת .../This is the law …” and then brings a pasuk from Iyov, “מי יתן טהור מטמא לא אחד/Who produces purity from impurity. No one!” The Midrash translates this pasuk, “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.

Since this life force is ubiquitous and is the same for all, the Chidushei HaRim refers to it as, זאת/This (singular). The parsha of Parah Adumah appropriately begins with this word instead of אלה/These. The Parah Adumah contrasts with the golden calf where the idol worshipers said, “אלה אלהיך ישראל/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. The Midrash says that we must keep the mitzvah of Parah Adumah simply because God decreed it. 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 Rabeinu! Yet another Midrash tells us that Shlomo HaMelech understood the reason behind every mitzvah except for the mitzvah of Parah Adumah. Regarding Parah Adumah Shlomo HaMelech tells us in Koheles, “... אמרתי אחכמה והיא רחוקה ממני/… I said I will become wise but it eludes me.”

It is clear from these Midrashim that the mitzvah of Parah Adumah has reasons. 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 Rabeinu. Moshe Rabeinu represents the knowledge repository and highest level of the nation of Israel. 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, “אמרתי אחכמה/I said I will become wise.” Because of his approach, understanding was kept from him, “והיא רחוקה ממני/but it eludes me.”

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