Blog Chukkat Tammuz 10 5779 בלוג חֻקַּת, י’ תמוז תשע”ט
Chukkat comes from the Hebrew word chok – חוק which means statute, ordinance or regulation that alludes to the fact that there is no clear understanding of the meaning. Even King Solomon in all his wisdom could not explain how something unclean could make something clean and vice versa. Our sages say that after Moshe received the tablets the people sinned with the Egel Zahav, the Golden Calf and this was cleansed by the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. Now, this portion jumps ahead 38 years to where the new generation is about to enter the Promised Land; that first generation had all died in the desert. Here we read about the deaths of Miriam, the sister of Moshe as well as Aaron, his brother, the High Priest. We also read about how Moshe would not be allowed to enter the new land and about his own passing. This passing of the baton demonstrates the continuity of life through future generations.
How can we apply these teachings to our lives today? It is important to remember that many of these instructions were given specifically for the times in which they were living, for a purpose that no longer applies to us today, however, there are principles that can be gleaned. When we experience the loss of a beloved, we might lose the capacity to move forward, the desire to keep living. This is not what our God wants for us since He is the God of the living. The Torah tells us that Aaron was “gathered to his people” which is a euphemistic way of saying that he died. It also contains the idea of continuity.
I see it opening up another dimension in which we are not limited by time. We have all been made in the likeness and image of the Creator and an essential element of that is that we have been imbued with His Ruach, His Spirit which never dies. We are too limited by our two-dimensional vision to be able to understand the fourth dimension. This should keep us humble enough to accept our limitations. Not one of us is perfect despite what religions teach. We live on the earth, not in the air.
Let’s examine the Parah Adumah in this perspective. When you have a friend, who is going through tough times and you sit and listen to him/her in order to bring comfort, you are taking some of his pain upon your shoulders while lessening his. In the process of making him lighter, but you become heavier. As a rabbi, I have shared some very difficult moments with people during which I have empathized with their pain. It is very heavy but then I needed to digest it and do some inner cleansing. This is the idea of the Parah Adumah. Although the death of a person is the end here, it is not a disease that contaminates us, it makes us tamei in our spiritual life. The two words “tahor and tamei” do not mean “clean and unclean” as many teach; it means that we are not fit at that moment to be in the presence of the King because we are overwhelmed with our own heaviness which needs to be lifted. How many of us have become so depressed that we think we cannot go on? Little by little, we need to unload the areas causing the heaviness of our souls. How do we do that? It is difficult. That is why it is so important to search for the Creator’s Presence and to talk to friends, relatives, people who are close to us who can help us. Whenever we unload ourselves, remember, someone else is taking it on.
The Creator offers us a better life and it is so important to live today. In Deuteronomy 30:19 the Creator says,” I call heaven and earth to witness against you, I am offering you life and death, blessing and cursing: then choose life, so that both you and your descendants may live”. What is death? There are many terms in the Torah for death, one of which is “caret”- כרת to be cut off, for example being disowned by your family. The only way to restore this is to find another family. After the red heifer, we read about the death of Miriam. She was like the mother of Israel and deeply mourned by the people. Miriam, Aaron, and Moshe, three siblings, were very important in the lives of the people of Israel. When our leaders die, it is similar to having our parents pass away. Our relationship with them has been cut off.
We are each important in this world having a special role to play even if we don’t always see it. We make a difference even though we don’t always give ourselves the credit. Psalms 139 tells us that we are each made in a marvelous way. My desire, by telling you about the deaths of these leaders, is to demonstrate that in the same way that they passed the baton to others, we need to do the same for our youth. That second generation needed to relearn the lessons that their parents had to learn. The older generation has the responsibility to teach this next generation.
We are living in dangerous times in which we have lost our morals and have a lack of decency. Those who follow the Torah are considered to be narrow-minded and blind. However, when we see danger, we need to call it out for what it is. People today are being submitted to the rule of the majority whether right or wrong. The Red Heifer can no longer make this world clean; it is changing the principles of God, declaring that it does not need a Creator, that now we have new gods, new leaders who can only lead us on the path to destruction. The Creator gave us spiritual eyes to see and we are the ones to carry the baton that was passed down to us from our three leaders, Miriam, Aaron, and Moshe. In this community we can share with each other our triumphs and defeats, while balancing those who are struggling with those who are succeeding. Are you able to take on the pain of someone you care about in order to help alleviate their pain? That is the lesson of Red Heifer.