Published Date: June 29, 2020
This week’s music: Yehudah Katz V’hamagal
I can’t imagine a more inexplicable “mitzvah “ in the Torah than this week’s reading about the “Parah Adumah,” Red Heffer. After all, how wild can we get? A person becomes spiritually impure from coming in contact with a dead body and how is he purified? By sprinkling the ashes of a red heffer who did not have one single black or brown hair on its body. Make sense doesn’t it? Not to me.
The explanation which makes so much sense to me, is one that I consider to be my personal “cash Torah.” Though I first merited to learn it more than 35 years ago, I find that each year I must dust it off of the shelve and find a way to apply to my life as it is right now.
Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov implies the question. “Why does our Torah portion of “Chukat” introduce the concept of the Red Heffer with the words “zot chukat haTorah,” this is the law of the Torah, implying that this is the law of all laws, when in reality, it is only one of many laws for whom we do not know the reason for it being commanded upon us. It should have simply written, “zeh chok,” this is a law.
In truth, Reb Levi Yitzchak explains, this law and it’s inexplicability, is the perfect representative to us all as to why we are expected and drawn towards heeding this and all “mitzvot,” heavenly commands. It is only because Hashem command us to keep and uphold His “mitzvot.” No other reason applies. As much as we would like to know the reasons for all “mitzvot,” and for that matter, everything that happens in our lives, the reality is that we can’t truly comprehend the Godly reasoning behind it all. So why do we choose to follow them?
The Rebbe continues, “my neshama,” soul, that is carved out of God’s seat of glory, wants to serve Him always without even stopping for one second. However, my body, mind and heart, are not so comfortable with that arrangement. We want a reason that tells us why we should perform this or that specific “mitzvah.” If not, we are not inclined to do it willingly. If my body knew the reasons for the “mitzvot” it too would clearly want to serve.
The soul’s connection is so powerful, says the Ari zt”l, that it is attached to the seat of God with a spiritual umbilical cord which can never be broken. “Ki ner Hahsem nishmat ha’adam,” because the candle of God is a person’s light force (Mishlei 20.27). No doubt, as Rebbe Nachman teaches, I can cover it with layers of doubt and pride, but make no mistake about it, deep down this spiritual connection is always alive. As such the soul does not need any further reason. Our souls naturally know the reasons because they are so connected to their source. There is nothing else I would rather do than the will of Hashem. Thus, we have at our footsteps the road of “mitzvoth” to travel on as a vehicle to strengthen and actualize our potential to connect to Hashem. I need to direct my daily practice of “mitzvot” to their source. The Gerer Rebbe teaches us that Hashem gives us all the “koach,” potential, to do just that every day. This is my ticket that motivates me to keep my mind open to the clues in life which are sent daily to help perform that day’s specific task in life. This situation is our daily struggle with life. My soul wants so much to perform, but my body says, not until you show me why.
Quite a high task to aspire to and yet, very doable. Takes some serious commitment to fundamental belief in God and a daily heightened application of “bitachon,” full security, knowing in application that every aspect of our lives is in Hashem’s hands. Certainly this concept of commitment has been the subject of discussion in philosophical circles throughout history. The Talmud in Tractate Kedushin (31.a) responds to the question, who get’s more credit? Is it someone who is commanded to do the mitzvah or one who simply does so on their own accord and reasoning? Most of us today would probably give more credit to one who voluntarily does the mitzvah.” He/she he has made a wise and valuable personal choice. Seems like a smart, honorable and sensible law to follow. The “gemara,” however quotes Rabi Chanina as teaching, “Gadol ha-mitzuveh ve-oseh me-me she-aino metzuveh ve-oseh.” Someone who is commanded to perform a “mitzvah” and does so, is greater than someone who performs the commandment without being obligated to do so.” The highest form of doing “mitzvot,” is as Reb Levi Yitzchak, teaches, only because Hashem commanded to do so.
The Rambam (“Shmoneh Prakim,” 6th Chapter of Rambam’s introduction to Tractate Avot) adds an interesting twist to the behavior of a person as they asses their commitment to “mitzvot.” It is clear to me that my soul always wants to perform, but how do I know that I am truly committed to this way of life. I can only know that if I am aware of how much I owe to my soul for steering me away from the negative spiritual side of life. Let me explain. I remember many years ago when living in Los Angeles ironically the business next door to the synagogue I prayed in was the famous non kosher “Pink’s Hot Dogs” stand. It was always crowded with clearly satisfied customers. I had two choices. I could walk a half a block north on La Brea Blvd and thus avoid having to pass by “Pink’s” in order to get to shul. Alternatively I could pass “Pink’s, “take a whiff, and get a clear sense of what I was missing, from my body’s perspective. Yet by aligning with the commandment of kashruth and not ever thinking to eat there this experience further strengthen my commitment to God’s laws. I am not suggesting flirting with the “yetzer hara,” but rather to be aware of my bodily desires and be “b’simcha” that I choose to overcome them in the name of wanting to do Hashem’s will. The Rambam seems to say that there is great merit to the knowledge that my body would really like to transgress the word of Hashem , but because of exactly that, it is the word of Hashem, I cannot allow myself to do so. I desire to know and do the will of God. I want to live daily in the world which God has set up just for me
Korach wanted it differently. He wanted to recreate God’s world by replacing the giver and receiver life model to a world where “we are all Holy” so we can all decide for ourselves how the world should be run. I wondered recently how Korach would have responded to the experience that we have been going through in the past few months. Would he hear Hashem calling out loud to us or would he prefer to remain in his own world and be able to compartmentalize Corona as a natural phenomenon that we humans could eventually learn to deal with? Over the past week three wonderful 20-35-year-old acquaintances all said the same thing to me. “I can’t wait until this ends and we can go back to normal.” My response to them all was, “This is not necessarily going to end and we certainly don’t want to go backwards to the way things were before.” There is no end to this plague as we call it, as there was no beginning in March. Hashem is always finding ways to make us aware of His plan to redeem us and I imagine He will continue to do so until we decide to fix our ways. This has happened to us over and over again in our history. Look at the perfect example in this week portion of “Chukat” (21.6-7). Once again the B’nai Yisrael, as we too have often done in the past 60 years, doubt Hashem’s plan and kingdom in our world and they are duly punished for this behavior. Only when they admitted to have sinned with their negative rhetoric against God, were they forgiven, healed and ready to be elevated to their auspicious entry into The Holy Land.
I want to live in God’s world therefore, I need to fix myself and define who I am from within the framework of Godliness. Living there I can hope to see clearly and be worthy of being connected on that level. This situation is far from finite. It is the exact opposite. It is clearly being sent down by The Ein Sof, the infinite One. Of course, nowhere does He make this clearer than in The Holy Land, where revealed miracles are happening in front of our eyes daily. It is all right in front of our eyes if we choose to see them.
May we all be blessed to listen to our souls and give them permission to live on a higher plane than our bodies want us to do. This way, we can allow ourselves the luxury of heeding Hashem’s words, connecting to His will and desire, individually and collectively, as we fix our path to open the gates for the “Geulah,” final redemption, in our immediate future.