As indicated by the very first words in this week’s parashah, the mitzvah of Parah Adumah is a chok — a decree aspects of which even Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men, acknowledged was beyond his grasp. While we are not permitted to question it, there is much we can learn from this lofty mitzvah which — as Rashi, quoting Harav Moshe Hadarshan, teaches — is atonement for the sin of the egel hazahav.
Though there are various types of impurities, the ashes of the Parah Adumah are used solely to cleanse the tumah caused by contact with the deceased. Chazal (Avodah Zarah 5a) teach us that, after Mattan Torah, Bnei Yisrael had reached a level so lofty that they were equated to the angels, and, had they not sinned with the egel, they would have stayed alive forever. It was the egel that caused death, and the Parah Adumah that purifies the impurity caused by death.
The name “Levi” is associated with terms meaning to accompany, connect and bond. The Sochatchover Rebbe, zy”a, states that the power of Shevet Levi was that, even during the times when the relationship between Bnei Yisrael and Hakadosh Baruch Hu appears to be hidden, it is this Shevet that ensures that the bond isn’t broken.
When Bnei Yisrael miscalculated the time of Moshe’s return from Shamayim, they declared “… this man Moshe, who brought us up from Mitzrayim, we do not know what became of him.”
Members of the other Shevatim felt themselves unable to refrain from sinning with the egel, because they didn’t feel their connection to Moshe Rabbeinu. The members of Shevet Levi, however, continued to sense their bond with their spiritual leader, and therefore didn’t sin with the egel.
The Kozhiglover Rav, Hy”d, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, explains that the Jewish soul is a spiritual entity, thus it is eternal. After Mattan Torah, Bnei Yisrael were on such a high spiritual level, the Leviim were able to ensure that the bond between Bnei Yisrael and their eternal souls remained so strong that, even at the times when aspects of the relationship seemed to be hidden, the connection wasn’t severed, and it was possible for those who didn’t sin to stay alive forever.
Before the sin of the egel, the bodies of even those who would have passed away because of a personal sin they may have committed would still have stayed connected enough to the holiness of their souls that a deceased individual wouldn’t have been a source of tumah.
But when the sin of the egel took place, and Bnei Yisrael didn’t maintain that lofty level of connection during a time of hester, they lost the ability to be able to live eternally, and the impurity associated with a deceased became reality.
The Parah Adumah is the purification and cleansing of this impurity, and the rectification and atonement for the sin that caused it. Sefarim teach us that objects in this temporal world consist of four primary elements: fire, water, air and earth. Through the burning of the Parah Adumah, all four elements were disintegrated. As it was burning, the component of fire within the Parah was removed with the flames, the water within it dried up, the component of air dissipated through the smoke and the component of earth remained behind in the ashes.
In the process, the Parah underwent the greatest metamorphosis possible, as all its essential elements were disintegrated. Yet the ashes are still considered “afar chatas — ashes of purification,” and the waters with which they are mixed are called “mei chatas — waters of purification,” symbolizing that, despite all the changes, it remained connected and bonded with the holiness of the Parah Adumah which has been set aside for the lofty purpose of purifying the Bnei Yisrael.
The sin of the egel hazahav was about being disconnected; the Parah Adumah symbolizes being connected.
(Adapted from a teaching of the Kozhiglover Rav, Hy”d.)
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Harav Mordechai of Slonim related the following mashal, which he heard from his father, Harav Yehudah Leib, zy”a.
A rooster was once stolen from a Jew. After searching everywhere, he reasoned to himself, “I’ll go to the slaughterhouse and apprehend the thief when he brings the rooster to be slaughtered.”
One day, he saw a man bringing in a rooster. Some of the rooster’s feathers had been cropped in an attempt to disguise it. Despite the changes, the Jew cried out, “Thief, thief! That is my rooster!”
“This is not your rooster! Did your rooster look like this?” the thief responded.
The Jew answered him, “It is true that you cropped its feathers, its wings are bedraggled and you are holding it tightly. But it is my rooster! Release your hold on the rooster and we will see to whom it will run.”
So says the yetzer hara to the malach Michoel, the defender of Klal Yisrael: “Are these Jews yours? Can you recognize these Jews? They are not wearing tzitzis, they have cut off their peyos, there are no visible signs of their Jewishness.”
“You are right that they are not wearing tzitzis and are missing the merits of Torah and mitzvos,” Michoel will answer. “But let us run a test. Let go of them even for one moment. Then we will see to whom they will run.” Without the influence of the yezter hara, the Jews will only want to cleave to Hashem.
In reality, in all circumstances, we always remain connected to Hashem. But while we can’t possibly fathom the greatness or the nisyonos of a Dor Dei’ah, the teaching of the Kozhiglover Rav reminds us that our challenge is to ensure that even during times of hester, we impress upon ourselves the truth of this eternal bond, and act accordingly.