10 Tammuz 5782
To listen to recorded message from Ranebi’s 5779 message, click on https://youtu.be/DRHYf1Wus2U
Are you willing and able to comfort a friend?
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The word Chukkat comes from the Hebrew, chok – חוק meaning statute, ordinance, or regulation, which according to our sages has no logical explanation, and needs to be accepted by faith, emunah. This parashah introduces the mystery of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer whose ashes would make a clean person or thing, become unclean and the unclean become clean. To give you a little background, while Moshe was up on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the people were afraid that he wasn’t coming back so they built the Egel Zahav, the Golden Calf to lead them back to Egypt. Our sages say that this sin was cleansed by the ashes of the Red Heifer. That was at the end of the second year in the desert but now, we jump ahead 38 years when our people were ready to enter the Promised Land. This is a completely new generation with the first generation having all died in the desert. Here we read about the deaths of Miriam, the sister of Moshe, as well as his brother Aaron, the High Priest. We also read about how Moshe would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land and about his own death. This passing of the baton to the next generation demonstrates the continuity of life to future generations.
My desire is to take these stores in the Torah and see how we can apply them to our lives today. It’s important to know that many of these instructions were given specifically for those times in which they had the Ochel Moed and later the Temple. They were for a purpose that no longer applies to us today, however, the principles that we can learn from them remain unchanged.
After the story of the red heifer, we read about the death of Miriam. Beloved by the people of Israel, she was like their mother, and they mourned her passing deeply. The three siblings Miriam, Aaron, and Moshe were very important in the lives of our people. When our leaders die, it can be like having our parents pass away, as if our relationship with them has been “caret”, cut. We have wonderful memories of them which can be passed on to our children. But what is death? There are many terms in the Torah for death, one of which is“caret”- כרת – to be cut off. What happens if you are disowned by your family, cut off from them? How do you feel? The only way that you can restore this is to find another family, another relationship. It is so important to remember that we are not alone, and that we each have special role to play, and we make a difference, even if we don’t always see it or give ourselves the credit.
Sadly, many of us have learned to be self-destructive, thinking we are good for nothing, incapable…but as Psalms 139 tells us, we are each made in a marvelous way. My desire, by telling you about the deaths of these special leaders, is to demonstrate that in the same way that they passed the baton to others, we need to do the same. That second generation had to relearn the lessons that their parents had failed to learn. The older generation has the responsibility of teaching the next generation.
When we experience the loss of a beloved, we can lose the capacity to move forward, the joy to keep living. It can be a very hard hit. But this is not what our God wants for us because He is the God of the living. The Torah tells us that Aaron was “gathered to his people”. This is a euphemistic way of saying that he died implying the idea of continuity. If we will be with our parents, they must still be alive.
Without exception, 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 a part of Him, His Ruach, His Spirit which never dies. As a professor of thermodynamics and a student of physics and of Einstein, I was so excited to learn about the fourth dimension in which we are not limited by time. I realized how can we possibly understand it when we have trouble with the third dimension because we have two-dimensional vision. This should keep us humble enough to accept our limitations. The Creator teaches us in the Torah that no one is perfect, while other religions teach that there are things that we can do to achieve perfection. These usually include strict regulations and diets, beating ourselves into submission to eliminate our egos. Most prefer to float in the air while the Torah teaches us how to live on earth.
Let’s examine the Parah Adumah in this perspective. When we have a friend, who is going through tough times, and we sit and listen to them to bring comfort, we are taking their pain upon our shoulders as we alleviate theirs, thus we are lightening their burden. In this process, we become heavier. As a rabbi, I have shared some very difficult times with people during which I have empathized and taken their pain upon me. It is very heavy but then instead of complaining to others about this great burden, I needed to digest it and do some inner cleansing. This is the idea of the Parah Adumah. It’s a reflection by the Creator telling us that although a person has gone through the process of death, and we won’t see that person here anymore, it is not as if it is a disease that contaminates us (make us tamei), it contaminates 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, the Creator, because we are overwhelmed with our own heavy thoughts which need to be cleansed, lifted. How many of us, after going through very difficult times, have become depressed, we go into overload; we lose our capacity to deal with things? When we have this heaviness in our soul, how do we unload? It is difficult. That is why it is so important to seek the Creator’s Presence and to talk to friends, relatives, and people who are close to us who can help us. But whenever we unload ourselves, remember, someone else is taking it on. We may feel better, but they may feel heavy. The Creator has wonderful ways to deal with this and to help us make a better life; that is the beauty of the Torah. 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: therefore, choose life, so that both you and your descendants may live”. He tells us to “choose life”.
We are living in dangerous times in which we have lost our moral compass, in which there is a terrible lack of decency. Those who follow the Torah are considered to be narrow-minded fundamentalists who are blind. I am neither, but when I see danger, I need to call it out for what it is. People today are being submitted to the rule of the majority even when the majority is wrong and are leading us to jump off a cliff. The LORD has given us spiritual eyes to discern right from wrong, which the majority does not see. For that reason, the Red Heifer can no longer make this world clean; for most people do not want to see the Presence of the Creator; they are declaring themselves to be their own gods. They think that they are in control of their own destiny and do not need a Creator even as they are destroying the world.
The death of our three leaders, Miriam, Aaron, and Moshe teaches us that to carry the baton passed down from them, we need to bring the principles of the Torah to the next generation. If we change these principles, we bring chaos and destruction. In this community we share our triumphs and defeats so that we can carry each other’s burdens; those who are down, we bring up and to those who are up, we bring balance.
Are you willing and able to take on the pain of someone you care about to help alleviate their pain? That is the lesson of Red Heifer.
Ranebi (Rabbi Netanel ben Yochanan)