April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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The section of the Torah we read as Maftir this Shabbat—Parshat Parah—has baffled scholars and commentators for all of our history. Taken from the parsha of Chukat, it is known as the chok par excellence, the most perplexing of all the seemingly unknowable statutes of the Torah. Said Shlomo HaMelech: Amarti achkimah, v’hi rechokah mimeni,” “I thought I could become wise, but it is beyond me” (Kohelet 7:23).

The ashes of the red heifer, when blended with various other ingredients, created a compound that somehow managed to spiritually purify those who had been defiled after coming into contact with a dead body. Yet, at the very same time that the person was purified, the Kohen who administered the compound was himself rendered tamei!

How can this be? How can the very same item have the exact opposite effect on two different people? It seems logically absurd!

To me, this is not the most challenging part of the puzzle. I find it even more mysterious that the ashes of a dead thing can bring one back from the dead; i.e. remove the stain of death from one who had touched death. Now, I can understand how some acts—such as immersion in a mikvah—can serve to alter, or negate, the imprimatur of death, for in that instance it is life (in the form of water, which is a primary source of all life) which dispels death. But how can death cancel death?! This is indeed mystifying.

While I certainly do not claim to be smarter than Shlomo HaMelech, I do have a thought on the matter.

In the circle of life, there is a very close proximity of death to life. For example, a leaf dies when it falls off a tree, but when it flutters to the ground it enriches the soil, which will then give life to new plants. A woman giving birth to a child will cause her reproductive system to (temporarily) go sterile, but she will then recover, regenerate and be capable of bearing other children. A person dies, but at the moment of death, he or she enters into life eternal; and so a cemetery is referred to in Jewish tradition as a beit chaim, a house of (eternal) life.

On a national level, our greatest moments of life are connected to the bitterest pangs of death. So it was when we reached the lowest level of degradation in Egypt, only to be followed swiftly by our redemption. And so it was 70 years ago, when from the ashes of the Shoah there arose the rebirth of our great nation Israel. It is as if Hashem cannot bear for us to remain tamei for long; we must always return to vibrant, dynamic, active life.

That is why I believe that all the trauma, all the pain, all the terrible loss that we have suffered in the war against Hamas will ultimately lead to a stronger, more secure Israel and, by extension, a safer world. Why we have to endure so many tears and so much anguish is an enigma as puzzling to us as, well, as that of the Para Aduma. But I believe wholeheartedly that when we emerge—im yirtze Hashem may it be soon—we shall toast l’chayim—to life!

Rabbi Stewart Weiss is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana and a member of Mizrachi’s Speakers Bureau (mizrachi.org/speakers).

The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.

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