Cows and Vacuums – Chukat
זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' לֵאמֹר דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין בָּהּ מוּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל. (במדבר יט, ב)
The mitzva of Parah Aduma is called חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה - THE חק of the Torah.
There are three types of mitzvot in the Torah.
עדויות are mitzvot that “bear witness” or commemorate a certain event, for example Tzitzit to remember יציאת מצרים. עדויות are easily understood, the reason for their existence is logical and makes sense.
משפטים are mitzvot that humans can fathom on their own, you don’t need HKB”H to tell you not to kill or to respect your parents, basic human instinct dictates that. HKB”H made them mitzvot, even though we would observe them anyway – to give us extra זכויות.
חוקים are mitzvot that have no logic and make no sense. If HKB”H would not have told us to observe them, we would never have thought of doing so ourselves.
There are many חוקים in the Torah – Pesach, Matzot, Trumot, Kohanim washing their hands and feet in the Kiyor before Avodah in the Mikdash, the issur to eat blood or chelev, the Minchat Chavitin of the Kohen Gadol, Yom Kippur, Lechem Hapanim, and many others. If so, why is Parah Aduma davka referred to as חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה when the others are not - they are all חוקים?
Chazal say - because Parah Aduma is the “archetype” חק. Nothing about it makes sense. The טהור Kohanim preparing the ash of the Parah Aduma themselves become טמאים. When a טהור Kohen sprinkles the ash of the Parah Aduma on someone who is טמא, the person who has the ash sprinkled on him then becomes טהור but the Kohen doing the sprinkling becomes טמא. If the ash of the Parah Aduma is holy, it should purify everyone who touches it, including the Kohen making it and the Kohen sprinkling it. It makes absolutely no logical sense.
This therefore, is the very foundation of a חק – that we have to observe it even if we do not understand it, even if it seems nonsensical or even ridiculous to us. Also, just as this phenomenon is the essence of Parah Aduma, so too with all the other חוקים in the Torah, even if we think we understand the reasoning behind them. For example eating Matzot on Pesach – we think we know the reason behind it, but we observe the mitzva, not because of what (we think) we understand to be the reason, but simply because HKB”H tells us to, ככה! Why do we observe Yom Kippur? ככה! Why do we give Trumot and Ma’asrot? ככה! As David Hamelech said in Tehilim, אשרי העם ש"ככה" לו, we serve HKB”H with blind obedience, simply because He tells us so.
You would think, after that preamble, that nobody would even bother to try to understand Parah Aduma, what would be the point?
However we know that Shlomo Hamelech did try to delve into the secrets of Parah Aduma, but he failed to understand it אָמַרְתִּי אֶחְכָּמָה וְהִיא רְחוֹקָה מִמֶּנִּי (קהלת ז, כג). Rashi also tries to understand the reason for Parah Aduma and brings the drush of Rebi Moshe HaDarshan - משל לבן שפחה שטינף פלטין של מלך אמרו תבא אמו ותקנח הצואה כך תבא פרה ותכפר על העגל. The purpose is to atone for the eigel hazahav, that the mother, the פרה, will come to atone for the son, the עגל.
So we see that our forefathers did try to find the reasoning behind it and that the Mefarshim did try to understand it. So, what should be our approach to Parah Aduma? should we explore it, or not?
Rashi (במדבר יט, ב) says that there is a reason for Parah Aduma (just like there is a reason for Matzot), and that reason is a כפרה for the eigel. However, Rashi says, we should not overly engage in discussing Parah Aduma in the presence of goyim – because the very mention of it in front of them, conjures up the memory of Am Yisrael’s sin with the eigel and this arouses קטרוג by the שטן in Heaven.
So, according to Rashi, it is OK to try delve into the Parah Aduma and understand it, however if a goy asks you, “What is Parah Aduma?” you must reply “It is a חק and something that HKB”H told us to observe, even though we do not understand it!” and not elaborate further.
That said, in this shiur we will attempt to peel away a few layers of the conundrum that is the Parah Aduma, although I can tell you straight off, that if Shlomo Hamelech could not fully understand it, I will certainly not pretend to.
The function of the אפר of the Parah Aduma is to purify someone who is a טמא מת, someone who has come into contact with a dead body. There is a machloket (משנה פרה, ג, ה) how many Parot Adumot existed in history. The Rambam says there were nine and that the tenth and final one will be revealed when Mashiach comes. The first one was prepared by Elazar Hakohen in the Midbar and each of the subsequent preparations of the אפר of the Parah Aduma were mixed with a remnant from the previous batch.
Preparation of the אפר of the Parah Aduma is as follows.
The Parah Aduma (reddish-brown, not red) is taken to Har Hazeitim, to a special spot facing the entrance of the Heichal in the Mikdash. A Kohen dressed in Bigdei Kehuna, who has been separated from his home/wife for seven days, shechts the Parah, takes the blood in his hand and sprinkles it seven times toward the entrance of the Heichal. Between each sprinkling, a new handful of blood is taken.
The entire Parah Aduma is then burnt on a wood fire, to which are added an עץ ארז - stick of cedar wood, a clump of אזוב - hyssop (Origanum syriacum) and a thread dyed with the red dye of the תולעת שני which is wound around the cedar and hyssop. While it is burning, the Kohanim involved in the preparation are not allowed to engage in any other activity, and by their involvement they themselves become טמאים until the evening of that day.
After the fire goes out, all the remains (bones etc.) are ground up into ash and divided into three portions by another, pure Kohen. One portion is stored for posterity in the חיל (the area between the walls of Har Habayit and the סורג – the inner perimeter surrounding the Mikdash). The second portion is given to the Kohanim for their personal use (to purify other Kohanim) and the third portion is used to purify the rest of the טמאים in Am Yisrael.
To purify someone from טומאת מת, a Kohen fills a vessel with water from a spring and adds to it a pinch of the אפר (even the tiniest amount – remember the ash from nine Parot Adumot lasted for a period of 1311 years!). The Kohen then takes a clump of אזוב – hyssop, dips it in the water/ash mixture – מי חטאת - and sprinkles it over the טמא מת on the third and seventh day after coming into contact with the dead body. After the sprinkling on the seventh day, the טמא then immerses in a mikvah and is now טהור. The Kohen who sprinkled the water/ash mixture himself becomes טמא until the evening of that day.
It is not easy to conceptualize טומאה and טהרה, spiritual purity. Perhaps an “easier” way to understand it is to first understand the structure of the human organism.
When HKB”H created man, He gathered dust (by doing Kemitza – Meir Panim) from all corners of the earth (the Or HaChayim says that in doing so, HKB”H was in fact doing Hafrashat Challah from the earth – that man himself is Hafrashat Challah). This earth was mixed with water and this mixture (dough – for want of a better word) HKB”H inflated with נשמת חיים. In other words, man is a hollow “vessel” that is filled with a נשמה.
Even physically, anatomically, the human body has the structure of a “hollow” vessel, with numerous openings on various ends and even though this vessel is “perforated” in multiple places, miraculously we do not “deflate”. This is the essence of the bracha of אשר יצר we recite after visiting the bathroom.
The human organism, the hollow “vessel”, cannot exist as a vacuum, it must be filled with something. Our default human organism is inflated with נשמת חיים when we are created by HKB”H (born). When a person dies, the נשמת חיים departs the human organism. Since the structure cannot exist as a vacuum, the now “empty” space is invaded by רוח הטומאה.
Similarly, when a person is alive, his “inner space” is either occupied by טהרה or טומאה – depending on his actions. The “inner space” is either governed by the Torah or the יצר הרע (the proportions vary according to each individual). The purpose of man in this world is to drive out the יצר הרע and achieve total inflation with טהרה - the state of birth. This is the reason we refrain from eating chametz on Pesach, because chametz symbolizes the יצר הרע which inflates the dough/body (Meir Panim).
When a person comes into contact (or close proximity) to a source of טומאה, that “aura” of טומאה rubs off and “infects” him. To remove it, a person must drive out the רוח הטומאה and replace it with נשמת חיים. This is the purpose of the אפר of the Parah Aduma and also the purpose of doing נטילת ידיים when we exit a cemetery or when we wake up in the morning. While we are sleeping, our bodies are devoid of our neshama, which rises up to Heaven to “recharge”, and we are therefore likened to a “dead body” המחזיר נשמות לפגרים מתים. To cleanse the impurity of a טומאת מת we pour water three times over each hand (in the morning when we wake up and when exiting a cemetery), as opposed to only two times when we exit the bathroom or before eating bread, or before davening – which is to cleanse impurity that is not טומאת מת. Why three times, why two? These are Kabbalistic concepts beyond the scope of this shiur.
If the אפר of the Parah Aduma has inherent purity (it is used to purify), then logically, everyone who comes into contact with it should be purified. However, as we see above, the Kohanim preparing and sprinkling it become the opposite – טמא! How does one understand this? Shlomo Hamelech couldn’t and neither can I, but perhaps we can get some kind of hint or direction from Newton’s first law of thermodynamics.
Most people are familiar with this law, under a different name – The Conservation of Energy, which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed - it can only be changed from one form to another (potential/kinetic/thermal/etc.).
If we regard טומאה and טהרה as different forms of “spiritual energy”, then according to the first law above, energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only undergo a change of form. Therefore a Kohen who is טהור, who has pure energy, is able to transfer that pure “energy” to a טמא מת via the medium of the אפר פרה אדומה, but in doing so, loses that pure “energy” and he himself becomes טמא. In preparing the אפר, the pure “energy” from the Kohen is transferred to the אפר and in doing so, the Kohen loses that “energy” and becomes טמא. It is all about a transferal of energy, if you give it to someone else, you lose it.
I have no clue whether that is the way it really works, but I like to use that “allegory” to help conceptualize it on our human level. Just like we cannot conceptualize the true essence of HKB”H, we can only do it by attributing to Him various “human characteristics”, like anger, mercy etc. similarly with טומאה וטהרה.
There are many other facets to this subject, like why davka a פרה אדמה and not a black and white spotted cow? This is connected to חטא אדם הראשון and the involvement of “water” (ואד יעלה מן הארץ) in the sin which ultimately introduced death, טומאת מת to the world. The gematriya of the word אד in its “full form” אלף דלת is אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה (Meir Panim). Why the three “additives” – cedar, hyssop and red thread? They are all connected to the sin of the eigel hazahav (Rashi). These need to be explored further, bli neder another time.
I hope, after this shiur, that we have all gained a greater insight to this “hidden world” of conflicting forces that are not yet quantifiable by science or visible to the naked eye, but most certainly exist.
Ultimately however, our understanding of it is irrelevant. We just have to obey it even if we do not understand it – that is what a חק is. All we need to understand is that HKB”H demands of us קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ - we, as individuals, are required to be filled with טהרה and to drive out the טומאה. We are required as a nation וְהָיָה מַחֲנֶיךָ קָדוֹשׁ – to remove all טומאה from our camp.
It begins with the individual increasing the inner presence of Torah and controlling/banishing the יצר הרע. That is our purpose in this world, each with their personal יצר הרע and challenges.
And it extends to our nation, the factions amongst us, driving out our national יצר הרע and increasing the inner presence of the unity of the Twelve Tribes.
When we achieve that, we will merit the גאולה via אחישנה, without the suffering and pain of the גאולה via בעיתה. The “baby” is on the way, whether we like it or not, we are almost at the end of the אלף הששי. The only question is whether it will be an “epidural” birth or one of excruciating pain. That is our choice.