The Red Heifer

In this week’s portion, parshat chukat, we read about the Red Heifer.  Reb Zalman writes: 

“The issue about the Red Heifer has puzzled people through the ages.  Many a time, they have come and given a reason to it.  But according to the basic understanding, the red Heifer and its rules are a chok, that is to say, a law that is not up to reason.

[NOTE:  Not up to reason, meaning that whether or not it makes sense is not relevant.  The three kinds of Mitzvot:  Mishpatim, Edut and Chukim, are compared to three kinds of K’tav practiced by scribes.  Each type of mitzvah is engraved inside of us to a greater or lesser degree.    Chok, compared to otiyot chakika / letters of engraving, is the most deeply engraved and the hardest to erase.]

“And I have the sense that it has a certain kind of shamanic element about it.

“It is also something that has a great paradox in it:  

While a person who became impure after touching a dead body becomes pure when a little bit of the ashes of the red heifer is mixed with the right kind of ingredients and is then sprinkled, with the right kind of botanicals, upon hir, the one who prepares the red heifer and the ashes becomes impure in the process. 

“So, one of the questions is:

‘How,’ as the Rabbis put it, ‘could that very same thing which is cleaning those who are impure, make impure those who prepare it?’

“And perhaps, the answer is this moral teaching for us:

When a person is involved in helping so many people to move from impurity to purity, there is that moment in which they might become very proud of what they have done and their pride might grow into arrogance which defiles a person.

“This is an explanation for us to consider and from which we can learn why they may have needed to take a day off from their work and be in seclusion for that time, to wash their garments and purify themselves before they could come back into the community:  It was for them to recognize that it was not they alone doing this.  They were fulfilling God’s decree; they were just serving as the instrument in the purification of the many.”

[NOTES by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor]

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