Parshas Chukas is a parsha which we expect to be difficult for us to understand. Shlomo Hamelech already said about the mitzvah of Parah Adumah (Koheles 7:23) as follows:
כָּל־זֹ֖ה נִסִּ֣יתִי בַֽחָכְמָ֑ה אָמַ֣רְתִּי אֶחְכָּ֔מָה וְהִ֖יא רְחוֹקָ֥ה מִמֶּֽנִּי:
I have tested every wisdom; I said that I would become wise but it is distant from me.
Says the Midrash (Midrash Zuta, Koheles 7:23):
כל זה נסיתי בחכמה. ר’ יצחק פתח כל זה נסיתי בחכמה, אמר שלמה לא הנחתי חכמה בעולם שלא עמדתי עליה, וכיון שהגעתי לפרשת פרה אדומה, אמרתי אחכמה והיא רחוקה ממני.
I have tested every wisdom – R. Yitzchok opened his exposition “I have tested every wisdom – Shlomo said “There is no wisdom in this world that I did not learn and fully understand – until I got to the Parah Aduma. Then I said ‘I will be wise [i.e. add this wisdom to the list of all the others] but it is distant from me.’”
So this one is a tough call for us. If Shlomo Hamelech didn’t understand it, then it would seem to be a futile endeavor for us to even think about trying to get a handle on it. However, the truth is that we need not throw in the towel right away. Although we are guaranteed by the Torah not to understand this mitzvah, we need to first understand what it is that we cannot understand. After all, there is a lot that we do understand about it! There are many areas in Shas which deal with the Parah Adumah and those are of course sugios which each and every single Jewish man is obligated to learn and expected to know! Obviously those issues discussed therein are not concealed from us and do not fall under these words of Shlomo Hamelech. This is an issue which we shall return to soon with the help of Hashem.
Let us try to first get a handle on the opening salvo of the Torah (Bamidbar 19:2):
זֹ֚את חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְקֹוָ֖ק לֵאמֹ֑ר דַּבֵּ֣ר׀ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֣וּ אֵלֶיךָ֩ פָרָ֨ה אֲדֻמָּ֜ה תְּמִימָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֵֽין־בָּהּ֙ מ֔וּם אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹא־עָלָ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ עֹֽל:
This is the legislation of the Torah that Hashem has commanded to say: “Speak to the Bnei Yisroel and they shall take for you a red cow that is perfect that has never borne a yoke.”
Chukah as used here is a language of legislation, one which denotes the creation or formulation of a law. Thus, this mitzvah that we are about to learn about is a “legislation of the Torah”; that is to say, it is a legislation whose creation is demanded by the precepts of the Torah itself. It is that which separates between us and the nations of the world which demands this mitzvah, and those dwelling on the other side of the fence do not miss that fact. Let us bend an ear to Rashi:
זאת חקת התורה – לפי שהשטן ואומות העולם מונין את ישראל לומר מה המצוה הזאת ומה טעם יש בה, לפיכך כתב בה חקה, גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה:
This is the legislation of the Torah – because the Satan and the nations of the world taunt Klal Yisroel saying “What is this Mitzvah and what reason is there for it?” Therefore the Torah wrote it in the language of a chukah, to say “This is my command, you have no permission to question it!”
One thing that should hit us squarely in the face is the fact that Rashi voices this question through the mouths of our antagonists. What about our own questions? We also want to understand this mitzvah, why not allow us to ask it in our own context? Rashi’s choice to do the opposite seems to indicate that our respective questions are of a different sort. Let us take a look at the Midrash Rabbah where this is illustrated vividly (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:8)
שאל עובד כוכבים אחד את רבן יוחנן בן זכאי אילין עובדייא דאתון עבדין נראין כמין כשפים אתם מביאים פרה ושורפין אותה וכותשין אותה ונוטלין את אפרה ואחד מכם מטמא למת מזין עליו ב’ וג’ טיפין ואתם אומרים לו טהרת, אמר לו לא נכנסה בך רוח תזזית מימיך אמר לו לאו, ראית אדם שנכנסה בו רוח תזזית אמר לו הן א”ל ומה אתם עושין לו אמר לו מביאין עיקרין ומעשנין תחתיו ומרביצים עליה מים והיא בורחת א”ל ישמעו אזניך מה שאתה מוצא מפיך כך הרוח הזו רוח טומאה דכתיב (זכריה יג) וגם את הנביאים ואת רוח הטומאה אעביר מן הארץ מזין עליו מי נדה והוא בורח לאחר שיצא אמרו לו תלמידיו רבינו לזה דחית בקנה לנו מה אתה אומר אמר להם חייכם לא המת מטמא ולא המים מטהרין אלא אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא חקה חקקתי גזירה גזרתי אי אתה רשאי לעבור על גזרתי דכתיב זאת חוקת התורה
An idol worshipper once asked Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai “These actions that you do look very much like sorcery! You take a female cow, you burn it, grind it down, and take its ashes – then, when one of you becomes contaminated by the dead, you sprinkle two or three drops of this concoction on him and you say “You are now purified!” He [Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai] said back to him “Have you never been possessed by the spirit of Tezazis?” He [the idol worshipper] replied “No”. “Have you ever seen someone who was possessed by the spirit of Tezazis?” “Yes.” “And what do you do for him?” The idolater responded, “One brings herbs and causes them to smoke, then they spray water over it and the spirit flees.” Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai responded “Let your ears hear what is coming from your mouth! It is precisely the same with the Parah Aduma. This spirit is one of impurity as it is written “And the prophets as well as the spirit of impurity I shall remove from the land.” We sprinkle on it the waters of the Parah Aduma and it flees.” After the idolater left, his students said to him “Rabbeinu! This one you pushed away with a cane. What are you going to tell us?” He answered “By your lives, it is not the dead body that contaminates, and it is not the water that purifies. Rather, HaKadosh Baruch Hu says, “A statute I have legislated, a decree I have decreed, you are not allowed to violate My command, as it says “This is the legislation of the Torah!”
Here we have held side by side, the answers to the respective questions of Klal Yisroel and the nations of the world. From them we can clearly see that there is a world of a difference between the way that we view death and the way that they view it. The way they see it, death draws down a ghastly spirit of impurity. Just pass through their neighborhoods come October time and you can see the associations that they make with the concept of death! Every form of ugliness and cruelty rears its head in various nylon and vinyl forms!
We however know that the truth is very different. Though impure spirits are very real – we wash negel vasser every morning in order to rid ourselves of the Bas Melech – they are not a product of death! It is not the dead body that contaminates, and it is not the water that purifies! Rather, Hashem has decreed that tumah come into existence when one dies. Any spirit of impurity which is hanging around is only due to the fact of Hashem echad! All of creation is held in existence by the one Ribono Shel Olam, and everything that exists, whether spiritual or physical is interconnected. The physical world that we inhabit is in reality only the most shallow layer of the infinite spiritual world that overlays it.
Thus, the physical reality that we experience is reflective of the spiritual reality that underlies all physicality and therefore, once Hashem imposed a spiritual decree of tumah upon the deceased body, we witness the effects of that decree in the form of the ruchos of tumah that are in fact present. But death itself is not impure and does not of itself cause any of this tumah to come about.
This weltanschauung gives for a very different set of questions! The nations of the world look at what is going on as belonging to the netherworld which they imagine to be opened before them – hence they can only conclude that we are practicing sorcery! But we know that death does not open the chasm to ghouls and ghosts. It is merely a very sad parting of two dear friends who have worked together for a lifetime. What room is there in such a setting for sorcery! What takes some work at understanding is why such a parting requires this interesting shower, but questions of sorcery? There couldn’t be a more ridiculous notion than that!
What’s not to Understand?
Let us go back to the part of the chukim that we don’t understand. What is it that we don’t understand? We pointed out earlier that there are many, many mishnayos about the Parah Adumah which we do understand! In what sense is this halacha such a chok?
כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר יְקֹוָ֔ק אִם־לֹ֥א בְרִיתִ֖י יוֹמָ֣ם וָלָ֑יְלָה חֻקּ֛וֹת שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָ֖רֶץ לֹא־שָֽׂמְתִּי:
So says Hashem, [just as] it is not possible to annul my covenant with the day and the night; nor is it possible to undo the statutes of heaven and earth.
In this pasuk the Navi refers to the laws of nature as chukim. He does not mean to say by this that we don’t understand the force of gravity or the laws of motion. Modern science understands a tremendous amount about these laws and their application, just as we understand vast and profound insights into the Parah Adumah. The status of chok does not mean total obfuscation! What it does mean is that the reason it must be that way is hidden from us. There is no professor alive who can explain to you why objects fall down. That there is a force known to us as gravity which pulls them down can be explained, and we can tell the exact rate and speed at which any given object will fall. But why did Hashem make such a force? Why did Hashem make every action have an exact equal and opposite reaction rather than a half of one? No one can explain that, just as no one could possibly explain why the mazeh and tamei are tahor while an outside party who touches the waters becomes tamei. With this knowledge we can better understand the meaning of our first pasuk:
זֹ֚את חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔ה…
This is the legislation which the Torah demands…
It is not in the human ken to understand the imperative for this halacha, but this much we do know. It’s existence is one which is completely in sync with the precepts and principles of the Torah. The very existence of the Torah demands that this be the halacha! There must be a parsha of tumas meis and Parah Adumah.
Having set forth the issues that are not within our grasp, let us think about what we might be able to understand. As we have explained we are not asking “Why” questions for those are not within the purview of our mind’s ability to understand. What we are asking are the “How” questions. Given the demand of the Torah for such a parsha, how does it work?
A good place to start here is with the Ramban. In the beginning of our parsha he tells us as follows:
זאת חקת התורה – לפי שהשטן ואומות העולם מונין את ישראל לומר מה המצוה הזאת, לפיכך כתב בה חקה, גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה, לשון רש”י מדברי רבותינו (יומא סז ב). וכבר כתבתי בענין שעיר המשתלח (ויקרא טז ח) מה טעם לאומות שיהיו מונין אותנו בזאת יותר משאר הקרבנות שיכפרו ויש מהם שיטהרו כקרבנות הזב והיולדת, כי מפני היותה נעשית בחוץ יראה להם שהיא נזבחת לשעירים על פני השדה, והאמת שהיא להעביר רוח טומאה ושריפתה כריח ניחוח בחוץ:
This is the legislation of the Torah – “Because the Satan and the nations of the world taunt Klal Yisroel, saying “What is this Mitzvah?” Therefore the Torah wrote it in the language of chukah, it is a decree from before Me and you have no permission to question it.” This is the language of Rashi, who quotes from our teachers. Now I have already written in regards to the sa’ir hamishtalei’ach why the nations specifically taunt us about this sacrifice; why it is more noteworthy to them more than any of the other sacrifices which atone, or more specifically which purify such as the sacrifices of the zav and the new mother. Their plaint is due to the fact that these services takes place outside of the Beis Hamikdash, and as such they appear to be offered up to the demons out in fields. The truth however is that they serve as an “air freshener”; they remove the spirit of tumah, and their burning is like a pleasing aroma outside the Beis Hamikdash.
This is what the nations of the world simply cannot understand. They have no problem with korbanos. Those are offered up in the Beis Hamikdash, in the four walls that designate the place where Hashem rests in His presence in this world. They understand the concept of bringing a korban and they have no issue with that. But how can one bring a korban out in the fields? A korban is supposed to be makriv oneself to Hashem, to bring oneself into Hashem’s fold as it were – how can that be done in a place where there is no hashra’as haShechina!? It must be that this is no korban at all, rather some sorcerous rite that is used in connection with all that is necromantically associated! So in what way are you, the Klal Yisroel any better than we? We are quite good at necromancy ourselves, you know!
What is the truth? The truth is that the whole big fuss that they make here about the Beis Hamikdash is simply not true! The Ribono Shel Olam is מלא כל הארץ כבודו! His glory fills the entire universe! In the terms of hashra’as haShechina there is not one whit of a difference between my backyard and the Kodesh HaKodashim, save that on my limited level I personally find it a whole lot easier to access the divine when I am in the proximity of the Beis Hamikdash. But should Hashem’s desire be for me to access him out in the field then there is no reason why I cannot do so! Necromancy? Sorcery? Are you out of your minds?!
Turning Distance to Closeness – The Life of the Yid:
But the truth is that it does not end here. What do we do with the Parah Adumah? We slaughter it and collect its blood. The body of the cow gets burned. What about the blood? The Kohen takes it and sprinkles from it seven times toward the Ohel Moed. Remember, all of this takes place outside of Yerushalayim and the blood has no hope of making it anywhere near the Ohel Moed. But that makes no difference to us here because what we are doing is creating kedusha out in the open field! Obviously it is not the same level of kedusha, but by fulfilling Hashem’s will in this mitzvah of Parah Adumah we banish the general miasma of tumah that interrupts between us denizens of this world and Hashem and allow ourselves access to His kedusha, even out here in the wild blue yonder!
This concept is something which we practice every single morning. We mentioned earlier the halacha of washing negel vasser and the effect that it has of banishing the spirit of Bas Melech that rests on our hands when we wake up each morning. The truth is however that there is far more that goes into this halacha. The Mishna Berurah tells us the following in the beginning of Siman Daled (O.C. 4:1:1):
מחבר – ירחץ ידיו ויברך על נטילת ידים
משנה ברורה – יש ע”ז שני טעמים [א] הרא”ש כתב לפי שידים של אדם עסקניות הן וא”א שלא יגע בבשר המטונף בלילה לזה תקנו חז”ל ברכה על הנטילה לק”ש ולתפלה והרשב”א כתב לפי שבשחר אחר השינה אנו נעשים כבריה חדשה דכתיב חדשים לבקרים רבה אמונתך צריכין אנו להודות לו יתברך שבראנו לכבודו לשרתו ולברך שמו ועל דבר זה תקנו בשחר כל אותן הברכות שאנו מברכין בכל בוקר לכן גם דבר זה תקנו בשחר להתקדש בקדושתו וליטול ידינו מן הכלי ככהן שמקדש ידיו מן הכיור קודם עבודתו.
Mechaber – One should wash his hands [upon arising] and recite the blessing of Al Netilas Yadayim.
Mishna Berurah – There are two reasons for this halacha:
1) The Rosh writes that the reason is because one’s hands rummage around constantly and it is impossible that they did not touch parts of the body that are soiled at any point during the night. Therefore Chazal enacted the blessing of Al Netilas Yadayim when one washes his hands for Kerias Shema and Tefillah.
2) The Rashba writes that the reason is because in the morning, after we have slept, we are rejuvenated and are made entirely anew, as the pasuk writes “Renewed every morning, how great is your trust”, therefore we need to thank Hashem Yisbarach for having created us for his glory, to serve Him and to bless His name, and it was concerning this matter that they enacted all of those blessings that we recite every morning. In the same vein they enacted this matter as well, that each and every morning we sanctify ourselves with His kedusha and wash our hands from a vessel in analogy to the Kohen who sanctifies his hands from the Kiyor before performing his service.
Did you ever think of your morning routine in this light? That you are a Kohen, that your daily grind demands preparation in exactly the same way that the Kohen must prepare himself to do the Avodah!? He washes his hands from the Kiyor and heads off to offer up the Ketores; you wash your hands from the negel vasser basin and head off to Daven, grab a bite of breakfast and then spend the day wrangling with grumpy customers – seemingly there is nothing more different from the Beis Hamikdash’s schedule than that which takes place in my own office – yet the two demand the exact same preparations! Whether I am in sync with this fact or not makes little difference. My little ole’ life is potentially as chock full of kedusha as that of the Kohen doing his Avodah during the days of the Beis Hamikdash! Thus, the parsha of the Parah Adumah teaches us at one and the same time both what death is all about as well as the purpose of the life that precedes that death as well. Its lessons then are as follows:
- The knowledge that the administration of its waters is nothing more than a decree that we must unquestioningly obey teaches us that death is merely the separation of the soul from the body, and it is not in any way a degeneration of the person. There is no impure spirit that must be banished! That is the stuff only of the most perverted and idolatrous imaginations!
- The procedure of the Parah Adumah teaches us that kedusha is not exclusive to the Beis Hamikdash! The fields outside Yerushalayim are just as capable of holding the kedusha required for the avodah of the Parah Adumah as the Kodesh HaKodashim is capable of holding that required for the avodah of the ketores. In much the same vein as the Parah Adumah takes the mundane and ordinary field and transforms and elevates it, so too does the Yid do the same with every single aspect of life in this world. His life is lived this way to such an extent that he must literally run to sanctify his hands before leaving the vicinity of his bed, lest he lose the opportunity to elevate the first moments of his day with the proper preparation!
* * *
The Concept of Death:
Let us take a few moments to think a little bit further into the concept of death. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai revealed to us that there are no miasmas or impure spirits to be associated with death. Death is nothing more than a severely traumatic event in the life cycle of a person. What exactly occurs at and after death? Let us take a look at the Ramban back in Parshas Bereishis (Bereishis 2:7) where he details to us the order of Adam’s creation as follows:
ואם כן יאמר הכתוב וייצר ה’ אלהים את האדם – יצירת תנועה שהיה האדם נוצר, כלומר בעל תנועה, כי היצירה היא החיות וההרגש, שבהם הוא אדם לא גבול העפר, וכמו שאמר ויצר ה’ אלהים מן האדמה כל חית השדה ויבא אל האדם (להלן ב יט), ואחרי שיצרו בהרגשה נפח באפיו נשמת חיים מפי עליון להוסיף הנפש הזאת על היצירה הנזכרת, ויהי האדם כולו לנפש חיה – כי בנשמה הזאת ישכיל וידבר, ובה יעשה כל מעשה, וכל הנפשות וכחותן לה תהיינה:
והלמ”ד הזו למ”ד הקנין, כמו אדוני המלך לך אני וכל אשר לי (מ”א כ ד), לקונה אותו לדורותיו (ויקרא כה ל), לך אני הושיעני (תהלים קיט צד):
Thus, it emerges that when the pasuk says “And Hashem Elokim created man” it refers to Hashem’s creation of the motion means that Hashem created a being that was capable of motion only, (because the meaning of the word yetzirah is to instill vitality and senses into a person, thus differentiating him as being a human and not a clump of earth). This is similar to how the pasuk says (2:19) “And Hashem formed from the earth all the wildlife of the field and He brought them to Adam”. Then, after having created him with sentience, Hashem blew into his nostrils a living soul from the mouth of the Supreme One, thus adding the speaking soul to the aforementioned creature, and then the Adam became entirely possessed by the Nefesh Chayah – for through this soul he is intelligent and can speak; through its medium he can do all of his actions and all of the lower forms of the soul with their respective abilities are controlled by it.
In this sense, the letter lamed is an expression of acquisition, as we find in the pasuk (Kings I 20:4): My master the King! To you am I and all that is mine!” or (Vayikra 25:30) “To the one who acquired it for his generations. (Tehillim 119:94) “To you am I, save me!”
In the formation of life, we find that man took his first steps on earth in the guise of a humanoid animal. Brutely he ambled about, with all the intelligence of a chimpanzee, presumably eating and drinking – all without the slightest inkling of humanity to him. Then came a complete paradigm shift. “And He breathed into his nostrils a nishmas chaim!” Suddenly a human being winked into existence! This new life force, the nishmas chaim gave the Adam an entirely new existence! What was previously a brute now became a hman, and all of his bodily functions now come under the purview of that speaking and intelligent soul. This is how human life began. How does it end? Let us skip ten pesukim and see how the Ramban explains Hashem’s warning to Adam not to eat of the Eitz Hada’as:
כי ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות…
…ועל דעת רבותינו (עיין שבת נה ב) אלמלא שחטא לא מת לעולם, כי הנשמה העליונית נותנת לו חיים לעד, והחפץ האלהי אשר בו בעת היצירה יהיה דבק בו תמיד, והוא יקיים אותו לעד, כמו שפירשתי במלת וירא אלהים כי טוב (לעיל א ד): ודע כי אין ההרכבה מורה על ההפסד אלא לדעת קטני אמנה כי הבריאה היא בחיוב. אבל לדעת אנשי האמונה האומרים כי העולם מחודש בחפץ אלוהי פשוט, גם הקיום יהיה בו לעד כל ימי החפץ. וזה אמת ברור: אם כן ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות, שאז תהיה בן מות, לא תתקיים לעד בחפצי.
According to our teachers (Shabbos 55b) had Adam not sinned he would never have died, for the neshama from on high would give him life eternally and the desire that Hashem had for his existence at the time of his creation would cling to him constantly, and that desire would keep him in existence for eternity (notwithstanding the weaknesses of the body as a composite mass that must naturally degenerate, see earlier in the Ramban), as I have explained in the words of the pasuk “And Hashem saw that it was good (ibid 1:4).” Now you must know that the fact that that which is a composite must degenerate is only inviolate according to those who have little faith, and believe that the world’s existence is a given. Those who have true faith and know that the world is new, held in being by the plain will of Hashem, they know that everything exists for as long as Hashem continues to desire its existence, and this is the immutable truth. Thus, when Hashem says here that “On the day that you eat from it you shall die”, what that means is that from that day on you shall be bound to death, for my will shall no longer be for you to last forever.
This is what death is. This beautiful neshama that was granted to us at the inception of life would have kept us alive forever! Its source is on high; as the cheilek Eloka mima’al we are connected through it to the Ribono Shel Olam who is the source of all life and through that connection we could live on forever. But now, through the sin of the Eitz HaDa’as it was decreed upon us that that neshama does not remain with us forever! From here on after, the neshama is not a gift but rather a longer- or shorter-term loan, to be called back sooner or later. When that happens, the body reverts to the state that it was in before it was granted the nishmas chaim!
The inanimate body, a creation that has not existed since the nishmas chaim was granted to us has just winked back into existence, and to those who still have their neshamos ensconced in their bodies, the encounter is very traumatic. When we encounter death we abruptly come face to face with the magnitude of our lowliness. For all of our vaunted capabilities and intelligence, the reality is that we are no more than a very sophisticated mudball! Once the lifeforce is taken from us we are finished! There is nothing left but a cadaver that before our eyes begins to putrefy and decompose! This trauma manifests itself in tumah. We come to sudden terms with our mortality, with the abject lowliness of the human condition. We really are nothing more than ashes, blood and bile. Our end can so easily be naught but shame, putrification, and maggots! The shockwave of that realization overwhelms us and catapults us into a state of tumah wherein physicality takes on a very real feeling!
It is to this end that the Torah gave us the mitzvah of Parah Adumah. It is really a mitzvah rabbah to take down the Rav Hirsch Chumash and devote an hour or so to learning how he understands this parsha. What we will suffice here with noting is that initially we burn the Parah Adumah into אפר or ashes:
וְאָסַ֣ף׀ אִ֣ישׁ טָה֗וֹר אֵ֚ת אֵ֣פֶר הַפָּרָ֔ה…וְ֠כִבֶּס הָאֹסֵ֨ף אֶת־אֵ֤פֶר הַפָּרָה֙ אֶת־בְּגָדָ֔יו…
And a pure man shall gather the ashes of the heifer… and the one who gathered the ashes of the heifer shall cleanse his clothes…
But then after the process is complete what do we read?
וְלָֽקְחוּ֙ לַטָּמֵ֔א מֵעֲפַ֖ר שְׂרֵפַ֣ת הַֽחַטָּ֑את וְנָתַ֥ן עָלָ֛יו מַ֥יִם חַיִּ֖ים אֶל־כֶּֽלִי:
And he shall take for the one who is tamei from the dust of the burning of the chatas and he shall place upon it living waters in an earthenware container.
It is interesting to note that this living water is really no longer living! Having been constrained into the vessel it is no longer connected to the replenishing, lifegiving spring and it’s status changes. That is such a beautiful mashal for death. While still alive the person had the ability to shape who he was, to grow and accomplish all that he was placed in this world to do. But now he has died and with death he is constricted. He cannot accomplish and he can no longer grow. He is very similar to the contained living waters! What however do we do with this water? We mix into it the ashes of the Parah Adumah and then something remarkable takes place. Those ashes turn into dust. What is the difference? There is no time to go into it here, but ashes are the epitome of uselessness. There is nothing that can grow from them, they do no good to anybody. But dust is the exact opposite! Everything derives its existence from the dust! The soil of the earth contains the nutrients for all life on this planet! Don’t you see the Torah’s message here? Ashes to ashes and dust to dust is such a Goyishe concept! We see the world in a completely different perspective! We know that the truth is really “Ashes to dust”! That is the job of the Yid in this world, to take transience and turn it into permanence. To take mortality and lift it up into immortality. That is the message of the Parah Adumah and Tumas Meis.
The Placement of Parshas Chukas:
With this we can understand why the Torah put the parsha of the Parah Aduma here in Sefer Bamidbar. We must realize that between the parshiyos Parshas Shelach Lecha and the latter half of Parshas Chukas almost thirty eight years elapse about which the Torah tells us precisely nothing. What happened during those years? Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik once pointed out that the reason the Torah tells us nothing is because indeed nothing happened. Those thirty-eight years were spent dying! Every year another generation of the Anshei Milchamah who were decreed upon turned sixty and passed away. Year after year, for thirty-eight years, the sugia that Klal Yisroel was learning was the parsha of dying. Thus, Parshas Chukas is the precise parsha to serve as an interlude for almost the entire midbar experience. Through it we learn what death is all about, and conversely what the life that preludes that death is supposed to look like.
- Perhaps these morbid and gruesome exhibitions can be traced back to a fundamental misunderstanding that the world at large has of life in general. As scions of Eisav and his realm of Olam Hazeh, the nations of the world view the living body as the epitome of perfection. Death, the state in which that perfect existence comes to an often-abrupt end can only be a degradation of the existence that the living body experienced. Without any knowledge of what happens to the person after death, the Olam Hazeh oriented mind can only fathom infinite variations of tortured existences, unable to attain the perfection that the body had while still alive. Tellingly, many of the constructs they have imagined for themselves (zombies, vampires etc.) feature an insatiable hunger to feed on the living.
We, the descendants of Yaakov and bearers of Olam Haba’s standard, know that there is no such degradation! While it is true that the body does degrade back into dust, that has no bearing on the person himself! The body was only ever a coat, it was never the person himself! The person himself is the nefesh which lives on eternally in the main place where life is experienced, that is in the artzos hachaim of Olam Haba! Our entire life in this world was that degraded experience which the nations of the world imagine the afterlife to be!
Thus, we can perhaps frame our disagreement with the world at large in the following terms: Where they view life as split into life and what comes afterward, we know that there is no “afterlife”. There is really only “pre-life” in this world and life itself after we leave it. What we make of our lives on this world is the “maaseh avos siman l’vanim” for how our real life will look when we get to the next world! This knowledge itself, that we are only pre-living our lives should galvanize us into action! In its light, everything that Chazal teach us about the dire need to prepare ourselves while still here in this world for Olam Haba takes on a very real and desperate urgency! There is really no time to waste because whatever time we waste is the pre-life for an infinity of wasted time in the real life that is to come! [ZB] ↑
- The sentence finishes in the next pasuk as follows:
גַּם־זֶ֣רַע יַעֲקוֹב֩ וְדָוִ֨ד עַבְדִּ֜י אֶמְאַ֗ס מִקַּ֤חַת מִזַּרְעוֹ֙ מֹֽשְׁלִ֔ים אֶל־זֶ֥רַע אַבְרָהָ֖ם יִשְׂחָ֣ק וְיַעֲקֹ֑ב כִּֽי־אשוב אָשִׁ֥יב אֶת־שְׁבוּתָ֖ם וְרִחַמְתִּֽים:
So too shall I never disgust the seed of Yaakov or of Dovid my servant, from taking of his descendants to rule over the progeny of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, for I shall yet return their captivity and be merciful to them. ↑
- I do not believe that the Ramban means to say that these korbanos work in the same manner as negel vasser, and that they cause a particular spirit such as the Bas Melech or Tezazis to flee. I believe that this reference to the “spirit of tumah” refers to the general tumah that we encounter when we come into contact with death as part of Hashem’s decree of chukah chakakti. ↑
- Conclusion of the Mishna Berurah:
ולהלכה אנו תופסים כשני הטעמים לחומרא לענין נטילה וכדלקמן בזה הסימן. ואם לא בירך ענט”י קודם התפלה שוב לא יברך אחר התפלה לכו”ע [ח”א]
As far as the practical halacha is concerned, we take on the stringencies of both positions as we shall see later on in this siman. If one did not recite the blessing of Al Netilas Yadaim before praying, according to all opinions he does not recite the blessing after davening. [C.A.] ↑
- And we are not speaking of simple levels of Avodah if there is any such thing. The Rambam in the second perek of Hilchos Yom HaKippurim tells us that every single time that the Kohen Gadol removed one set of clothes and donned another he was required to immerse in the mikvah and then sanctify his hands and feet by washing them from the Kiyor. He immersed five times and sanctified his hands and feet ten times. The Rambam delineates that Avodah ↑
- אבל אונקלוס אמר והות באדם לרוח ממללא. נראה שדעתו כדברי האומרים שהם נפשות שונות וזאת הנפש המשכלת אשר נפחה השם באפיו היתה בו לנפש מדברת. וכן נראה לי מדעת רבותינו, ממה שאמרו (סנהדרין סה ב) רבא ברא גברא שדריה לקמיה דרבי זירא הוה מישתעיה ליה ולא אישתעי, אמר דמן דחבריא את תוב לעפרך. ובויקרא רבה (לב ב) אמר רבי אבין בשעה שאדם ישן הגוף אומר לנשמה, והנשמה אומרת לנפש, והנפש אומרת למלאך. וכן רוחו ונשמתו אליו יאסוף (איוב לד יד), יורה כפי משמעו שהן שתים:
But Onkelos renders the pasuk differently so as to say the following: “and it was in man to be a speaking spirit”. It appears that Onkelos is of the opinion that there are various different forms of soul in one’s own body, and this last and most important one, the sentient soul that Hashem “blew” into man’s nostrils – that is the one who animates man’s power of speech. It would appear to me that this is the opinion of our teachers as well, as is evident in the following story:
“Rava created a humanoid and sent it to R. Zeira. Upon its arrival at R. Zeira’s house, R. Zeira tried to converse with it but it would not respond. Seeing this, R. Zeira said “You are a creation of the Rabbis, return to your earth!”
Similarly we find in Vayikra Rabbah (32:2) “R. Avin says ‘while man is asleep the body converses with the neshama, the neshama converses with the nefesh, and the nefesh converses with the malach.’” In a similar vein we find the pasuk in Iyov (34:14) that says “His spirit and his neshama shall be gathered in to Him”. This pasuk too seems to fit in with this concept that there is more than one soul in man. ↑
- This is something which we talk about every single morning in the blessing of Elokai Neshama. There we say as follows:
אלקי נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא אתה בראתה, אתה יצרתה ואתה נפחתה בי ואתה משמרה בקרבי ואתה עתיד ליטלה ממני ולהחזירה בי לעתיד לבא, כל זמן שהנשמה בקרבי מודה אני לפניך ה’ אלקי ואלקי אבותי רבון כל המעשים אדון כל הנשמות ברוך אתה ה’ המחזיר נשמות לפגרים מתים.
My Lord, the neshama that you have placed within me is pure; You have created it, You have formed it, and You have breathed it into me, and You are the one who preserves it within me and You are destined to take it from me and to return it to me in the future; so long as the neshama is within me I give thanks to You Hashem my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, master of all deeds, Lord of all souls; You are the source of blessing, Hashem, He who returns souls to dead cadavers.
This is the body’s ode of thanks to the Ribono Shel Olam for the wonderful gift that He granted it in the form of the neshama. It is this gift which grants it life, and the body recognizes that that life exists for only so long as it contains the neshama. Once the neshama is removed from it, death ensues and that will happen. But we know that that death is really only a temporary state. After a relatively brief stint in which the body disintegrates back into its earthen component matter, Hashem is going to recreate the body and reinstall the neshama within it. It is clear from this beracha that so long as the neshama is within the body the body lives on. This connection with the neshama is the source of life and in order to stop the body from living it is necessary to actively remove the neshama. This is exactly the message of the Ramban! The body is capable of living on forever, should the will of the Ribono Shel Olam be to keep it alive through the neshama. Now that Adam sinned, Hashem no longer wishes for that to be the case and so He has promised to remove that neshama temporarily. But, it is only a temporary measure. Hashem has promised us that in the future He will renew the body in such a way that it will be worthy of maintaining that eternal connection in the way that He had initially created it. ↑
- If you learn like those who understand that all life came to the body with the Nishmas Chaim, then the body reverts exactly back to that stage, to the clump of earth that it was when life began. And if you learn like Onkelos that man was a sentient animal then it goes back to even a further stage, to the very initial gathering of his earthen material, before he was formed at all. ↑
- Rav Moshe Schwab zt”l the Mashgiach in Gateshead Yeshiva recounted an incredible story about his older brother Rav Mordechai Schwab zt”l. For a period of time during his stay in Yeshivas Kaminetz the two brothers roomed together. He noticed then that his brother would carry around a small matchbox wherever he would go. This was curious because Rav Mordechai zt”l was not a smoker and could not have had much use for those matches. What did he want with them? His curiosity took hold of him, and at some point when his brother was out of the room he opened up the matchbox to see what was so special about it. But his curiosity only got worse when he saw what was inside. The whole little rectangular container was packed tight with dirt! Later he confessed to his brother that he had taken a peek into his matchbox and couldn’t figure out what was so special about that dirt! He never forgot his brother’s response: “I keep that dirt with me at all times to remind myself that dos is der mentch! Whenever I feel the Yetzer Hara welling up the feelings of arrogance inside myself I open the matchbox and recall exactly what I am.”
Coming face to face with our mortality is such a terribly crushing experience and is magnificently successful at taking the wind out of the Yetzer Hara’s sails. But that is only when the ship that he is sailing is the Gaavatanic! When he tries to get us to live in the wreckage of the titanic disasters that we can often make out of our lives he can use this very same matchbox to deal us a devastating blow. “Look at what you are! Nothing more than a tightly packed rectangle of dirt! You will never amount to anything and you can give up trying!” When he says that it is the time to pull out the parsha of Parah Adumah and deal him a good right hook. ↑
- See Parshas Tazria-Metzora in Depths of Majesty, Essays on the Parsha by Rabbi Moshe M. Eisemann for an elaboration of this idea. ↑
- See Sotah 5a. where R. Yochanan learns the words אד”ם בש”ר to be acronyms for אפר דם מרה, בשר סרוחה רמה. (The letter samech replaces the phonemically equivalent letter sin) ↑