9 Tamuz, 5761
June 29-30, '01
We'll be talking about heifers this week.
No. I'm not kidding.
Our parsha begins this week with the mitzvah of Parah Adumah-the perfectly red heifer whose ashes are used in the process of spiritual purification for someone who came into contact with a dead body. This mysterious mitzvah is famous for exemplifying a spiritual concept that is beyond human comprehension. What's so baffling about this bovine? For starters, the person upon whom the heifer's ashes are sprinkled becomes spiritually purified, but the ones who prepare the ashes for sprinkling become spiritually defiled. How can the same ashes purify one and defile another? This is beyond our understanding.
To be honest, the whole idea of how the ashes of a red heifer can spiritually purify anything is more than a little enigmatic. What is the connection between burnt red heifers and spiritual purity anyway?
A Midrash offers a hint of the connection, noting that the Parah Adumah is unusual among sacrificial offerings, in that the Torah specifies that a female animal is required. "Why are all the other communal offerings male and this one (the red heifer) female? Said Rav Ebo: this is likened to a maidservant's child who makes a mess in the palace of the king. The king commands: let his mother come and clean up the mess! So too, the Holy One, Blessed Be He commands: let the heifer come and atone for the incident of the golden calf!" (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:8).
We see from here that the red heifer in some way atones for the sin of the golden calf. After the Jewish People received the Torah at Mount Sinai, we were elevated to the pure level of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But then we made that golden calf, popping our spiritual balloon and sinking us back down to the level of mere mortals, similar to the state of Adam and Eve after they sinned and got booted out of
Gan Eden. Burning the red heifer represents nullifying those thoughts and emotions that were seduced by the lure of the golden calf and all its seductive successors, which attempt to lure us after the temporal temptations of this world, away from our higher calling of serving G-d. (See Michtav M'Eliyahu IV, p. 172.)
Still don't completely get it? Don't worry. You're in good company. King Solomon had trouble with this mitzvah too. Regarding the red heifer, the wisest of all men wrote: "All this I tested with wisdom; I said: 'I will become wise!' But it is far from me." (Ecclesiastes 7:23) The end of the verse, "But it is far…", is written in Hebrew, "v'hee rechoka…" The phrase, "v'hee rechoka…", has the same gematria (Hebrew numerical value) as "Parah Adumah" (341). King Solomon tried to uncover G-d's hidden reason behind every mitzvah. He thought he had them all figured out until he got to the mitzvah of Parah Adumah. The world's wisest man found himself stumped-"But it is far from me." How far? King Solomon realized that if he couldn't resolve the red heifer with the same reasoning he used to make sense out of all the other mitzvahs, then he really couldn't claim a true understanding of any mitzvah, for his method of reasoning itself was obviously lacking.
King Solomon's confusion should be reassuring to us. How can confusion be reassuring? Because we're confused too. Life is so complex. Sometimes we feel like we're not even sure where we're going, but we have to speed up anyway because we're afraid we might miss whatever it is we're supposed to be trying to catch. So we keep on going. Is this the right thing to do? It depends. Of course, not all confusion is good. But the confusion that necessarily confronts us when we are pursuing the normal goals that every Jew must strive towards (like raising a family and earning a living and helping the community) is normal and expected and sometimes even manageable, if we trust in G-d and do our share.
Parah Adumah-the red heifer is an ancient mitzvah, but it is perfectly suited for our times. We don't understand it, but we know that it helps us-like so many things in our lives. It's reassuring to know that we don't have to understand everything (especially considering that we don't understand everything). We do have to try to understand. That's what learning Torah's all about. And the more we study, the more things become clear. But the limits to our understanding should not get us down. They're not our fault. They're part of our nature as finite human beings. The mystery of the red heifer brings us in touch with that nature. It helps us to recognize who we are. Not bad for a red cow! Only our Torah gives us this kind of insight.
Insights Into Exodus
Insights Into Leviticus
Insights into Numbers
Miss the Kollel’s Thursday Night Parsha
Class at 8:00 PM in the BB Chapel.
To get in touch with STEP, call Rabbi Shulman at (912) 303-9591 or Rabbi
Edelstein at (912) 351-0469. E-mail us at STEPKollel@netzero.net
Call us, or we'll call you.
Printed at the Ben Portman Computer Center
This Dvar Torah page created and hosted
courtesy of OU.ORG. No responsibility for its contents may be
implied or taken by the OU