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Chagim U Zemanim - Parshat Parah

Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari

“Let the heifer come and atone for the sin of the golden calf”, (Rashi, Bamidbar, 19:2). The Pararah Aduma is different from all the other korbanot in that their flesh, fat and blood are offered while here it is completely consumed by fire and only the ashes are used. The fat and blood are the life giving forces of the animal, representing the pulsating and growing nefesh, while the ashes are powerless to give fruit or life; in the other korbanot the trumat hadeshen removes any life-giving element even from the ashes and then the dead ashes are removed. This is because all the other korbanot express the transformation of Mankind’s material desires and lusts into the worship and service of Hashem [the meaning of “bechol velavcha-with both your yetzerim (Berachot, 54a). On the other hand, the Parah Adumah, whose unfertile ashes are the sole use, reflects the trait of despair and spiritual malaise. In the Shaar Hakedushah, R.Chaim Vital writes that this trait must be cast aside and cannot be transformed into holiness, since holiness is simcha-gladness and chedva- delight, while from the Zohar (Part 3, 8) we see that it is impossible to draw closer to kedusha without simcha and the baal teshuvah is assisted by the simcha and song of the Kohanim and the Levites. Now the Parah Adumah whose whole worship is only the unfertile and unproductive ashes corresponds to the trait of despair and withdrawal in the human beings. Tumat met is the personification of that trait in that the dead corpse causes deep sleep to fall on the one who is impure so that they become like immovable stone or like the dead flesh that does not respond to the cuts of the chisel and all their actions and spiritual behaviour are cold and mechanical, having neither ecstasy nor life-force. The taharah for this is the sprinkling of the mixture of the living waters and the dead ashes that are the sole avodah of the Parah Adumah. The ashes are the self- negation and humility; “Because Avraham said, behold I am dust and ashes, his children merited the ashes of the Parah Adumah” (Hulin, 88b). We must understand ‘living water’ as it is written “The source of living water [is] Hashem” (Yirmiyahu, 17:13 ).Through the mixtures of these living waters, the distraught heart and humbled spirit are brought to simchat hanefseh, chedvah and life-giving ecstasy. It is important to note that some of the water was first poured into a vessel, then the ashes were added and only afterwards the rest of the water was added. So too the sinners should be as humble as the hyssop or the worm and allow the waters to completely surround them.

The Avnei Nezer taught that the fact that the Parah Aduma [in contradiction to all the other sacrifices] was slaughtered outside all 3 camps in the desert [corresponding to the body, the nefesh and the mind], comes to teach us that the sinners should consider themselves as though they stand beyond the camp of Israel and should trouble themselves accordingly. The hearts should be broken and the people consider themselves as though they were reduced to ashes. They should realize that only the addition of the mayim chayim that is Torah, can serve to purify them.

In considering his teaching, we should understand that there are 2 types of surrendering and humbling ourselves, namely that of the mind and that of the nefesh; each one of them has positive attributes that are missing in the other. That of the nefesh occurs when the sinner acknowledges his own lack of any worth and considers that in his delinquent state, he stands outside all 3 camps of Israel. Then he is filled with self-pity and remorse. The humility of the mind occurs when he is able to negate his own wisdom, understanding and opinions, and to acknowledge that compared to the divine wisdom of Torah they are only vanity and error; then he will subject them to the will of G-d. The submission of the nefesh has a beneficent value in that it awakens the mercy from on High, even though he is truly worthless and undeserving. On the other hand, the humility of one’s mind brings one to happiness at the greatness of G-d and to rejoicing in it. However, that of the nefesh can also lead to dejection and depression, that is the worst of all spiritual ills, while that of the mind can lead to arrogance, so that the sinner needs both these forms of submission, in order to benefit from their positive forces.

Tumat met leads to a clouding of the heart and of the spirit, and that leads to a submission that brigs one to despair and the blackness of despondency. Just as in death there is the separation of the body and all its spiritual, emotional and human components, so its impurity likewise leads to the separation of the submission of the nefesh from that of the mind. The ashes of the Parah Adumah comes from an offering that is done outside all three camps, and since it is the submission of the nefesh that may lead to pervasive despair and dejection, it makes impure all those that are involved in its sacrifice. Now the living waters that are added to the ashes are like the submission of the mind; “Why are the words of the Torah compared to water? In order to teach us that in the same way as water flows from a high place to the lowest, so too the Torah words may only be acquired by one who abrogates his mind and submits all his thoughts to its wisdom” (Taanit 7a). However, this submission, as we mentioned already, brings to a strengthening, rejoicing, and ecstasy, so that the addition of the living waters to the dead ashes reunites the two forms of submission, with the resultant elevation of the submission of the nefesh. That is why the purification for tumat met is through the sprinkling of the ashes encased in living waters in the vessel plus the living water added after the addition of the ashes.

We can now understand the order of the four parshiot whereby Parshat Parah is followed by Parsha HaChodesh. The former brings purification both of submission of the nefesh and of the mind that gives Israel the uplifting joy and spiritual pleasure necessary to enter the first mitzvah given to us [Kiddush HaChodesh] and then the redemption of Pesach.

Shem Mi Shmuel, Ki Tisah and Parah, 5671; 5675


Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.

Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.


 






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