Parshat Chukat, Numbers 19:1–22:1
Aman went into a private audience with the Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad Rebbe. “Rebbe, please help me! I need a blessing for my health. I also need a blessing for livelihood. And I also want to have a better relationship with G‑d. Please bless me, Rebbe.” The Alter Rebbe responded: “You list the many things you need. What about the things that you are needed for?”
This week’s Torah portion teaches us the laws of the red heifer. The ashes of the red heifer were to be used for a special procedure that purified someone who became impure through coming in contact with a dead body. The laws of purity versus impurity are not about cleanliness or physical contamination; they are simply a decree from G-d that a corpse is impure and anyone who comes in contact with it is impure as well. These laws belong to the category of mitzvot (commandments) called chukim — decrees whose defining criteria is that they transcend human understanding.
This category of mitzvot shows a very deep connection between us and G-d; a connection that is far above our understanding. We fulfill these commandments solely because it is G‑d’s will and not because there is a logical rationale or reason for it. This expresses an essential and intrinsic connection between us and G-d, where we establish that we are committed to Him through thick and thin, whether it’s convenient, comfortable and sensible — or not.
Because of the deep bond expressed through the red heifer, we can understand a bit of the purification process. Even though coming in contact with a corpse (lack of life) can render one so impure, he can always rectify it and purify himself through this mitzvah — thereby revealing his commitment and connection to G-d (the life-giving source).
Although the red heifer doesn’t apply today, its message still does. No matter how impure a Jew may find himself, no matter how detached from his divine source he may be, there is always an opportunity to re-establish his connection to G-d.
The red heifer also teaches us another important lesson. The kohanim, priests, would prepare the ashes of the red heifer to be used in the purification process. These very same ashes that would remove the most severe of all impurities actually made the kohanim who were involved in its preparation become ritually impure themselves. As Jews it is our responsibility to reach out to our brethren and help them re-establish their connection to G-d, His Torah, and our precious heritage. It is our duty to make sure that our fellow Jews all have the ability to express their intrinsic connection — prepare the ashes for them. This can, at times, come at a price. We might need to forgo some of our physical comforts, and possibly some of our spiritual pursuits, but this is the responsibility that we have as a nation. Just like the priests who assisted the Jew in becoming pure became temporarily impure.
This past week commemorated the yahrtzeit of my mentor and teacher the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory. Upon assuming the leadership of Chabad, the Rebbe set himself a goal — the goal of the red heifer: to reach every person and inspire them to reconnect to G-d. The Rebbe encouraged every Jew to do what he can to ensure that his friend or neighbor is touched and inspired to re-establish his connection. At times, like the priest involved in preparing the ashes, we must forgo our physical and spiritual comforts. It may require that you leave your comfort zone and do something that doesn’t come natural. However, helping a fellow Jew reconnect to G-d and our heritage is what you are needed for. JN