This week, besides the regular Torah reading, we also read parshas Para
Adumah – the laws of the Red Heifer whose ashes were sprinkled on anyone
who had become defiled by exposure to a dead body. Parshas Para begins:
And Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aaron, saying, “This is the law of the
Torah which Hashem commanded, saying…”
Two questions: 1) Why is the law of Para Adumah referred as the law of the
Torah more so than other mitzvos? 2) There seems to be an extra “saying”?
The Torah is eternal. Sefarim write that even in our times, when we read
the section of the Red Heifer – which in its time purified the most severe
form of contamination – we connect to it and are purified. (To be clear,
reading the parsha can not remove true contamination from exposure to the
dead. Still, inasmuch as this section of the Torah teaches the laws of
purity, its study too has the power to impart purity.)
The Maggid of Koznitz in Avodas Yisrael says this concept explains the
double “saying”: The Torah is hinting that a time will come during which
we will not be able to perform the ritual of the Para. Even so, by saying
and studying the parsha and its laws, we will experience the pureness it
was meant to give over.
It is interesting, he notes, that Chazal (our Sages) derive that “studying
the laws of the sacrificial offerings is equivalent to performing them”
from the verse, “And our lips will fulfill the [lost] heifers.” The
prophet could have spoken about any one of the sacrificial animals (cow,
goat, sheep, etc.), or not mentioned any animal by name, yet he singles
out heifers. Perhaps he alludes to the Red Heifer, for which the Torah
hints we will one day receive its sanctity through the study of its laws.
Many people recite the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith daily, some
even more than once. A talmid once asked his rebbe: “How can I recite the
Thirteen Principles if in my heart I know that my faith is not as strong
as it should be? Look – if I really, truly believed that ‘Hashem will
reward those who perform mitzvos and will punish those who sin,’ I would
never sin, right? Obviously, I’m lacking in faith. So how can I lie and
say, ‘I firmly believe…’?”
“The Thirteen Principles,” the rebbe replied, “are also a prayer. We ask
Hashem to grant us the wisdom to believe.”
The Ropshitzer Rebbe quotes the verse, “Speak – that you should be
righteous!” Since when does speaking make us righteous?
He explains that people often get depressed because they feel, rightly,
that they’ve fallen behind. They’re not where they want to be in life.
They feel alone and abandoned, like they’ve strayed, and have no idea how
to get back on the path.
Instead of keeping it inside, he says, speak it out. Tell Hashem you’re
upset. That you feel out of the loop and don’t know how to get back
inside. That you want to believe, but you don’t feel it. That you want to
overcome your shortcomings, but they keep getting the better of you. That
you want to be more neshama (soul) and less guf (body).
Even though the choice to change is ultimately ours, when we “speak our
hearts” to Hashem, telling Him how hard it is and how badly we want to
change, Hashem helps us by steering us in the right direction. Even more;
we just have to open our mouths, he says, and begin pouring out our
hearts. Once we take that initial step, Hashem helps by sending us the
proper words and prayers. Speak – your heart, and you will be righteous –
with Hashem’s help.
This, the Ropshitzer Rebbe explains, is the hidden meaning of the “son who
knows not how to ask” in the Haggada:
The son who doesn’t know how to ask – you open things up for him, as it
says, “Tell your son on that day, saying, ‘For this Hashem took me out of
To some extent, he explains, we all lack the ability to ask. We feel
distanced, and we worry our words lack sincerity, and are perhaps better
unspoken. To this the Haggada counters: Open things up – don’t worry about
speaking your heart. Don’t allow the ‘silence of sincerity’ to prevent you
from speaking your heart to Hashem. Even if at first it seems forced, keep
saying, Hashem took me out of Egypt… Hashem took me out of Egypt… Speech
has the power to sway the heart; to turn the insincere into the palpable.
Going back to Para Adumah, we now see that it’s not only through learning
the laws of the Red Heifer that we connect to its sanctity. By using our
speech, which emanates from the neshama, to call out – reminding ourselves
that we are holy, even if we don’t feel it, and asking Hashem to guide our
words and thoughts – we achieve a measure of purify, and begin the process
of setting ourselves free of our inhibitions and past shortfallings.
This is why, the Bobover Rebbe Shlita explains, the Torah refers to Para
Adumah as chukkas HaTorah, the law of the entire Torah. Although the Torah
expresses the concept here, the idea that by learning, speaking and
beseeching we connect to kedusha, overcoming obstacles and reaching levels
we are incapable of on our own, is central to the entire Torah.
One of the themes of the Para Adumah is that its explanation remains a
mystery. It is the one mitzvah that can’t be understood. The Sanzer Rebbe
implies that although on a grand scale the mitzvah will forever be a
mystery, on a personal level, every Jew is capable of achieving some level
of understanding of the mitzvah according to his/her neshama.
In light of the above, this is not surprising. In fact, it goes a long way
to explaining why the mitzvah of Para Adumah – which contains the hidden
mystery of connecting to Hashem through speaking one’s heart even when he
doesn’t feel sincere – is both an eternal mystery, and something so
intimate it can only be understood in the deepest chambers of one’s
neshama. Have a good Shabbos. [Based on Imrei Kodesh of the Bobover Rebbe,
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org