june 28th 2014
sivan 30th 5774
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The Mitzvah of the Red Heifer Leads to Complete Repentance
by Rabbi David Pinto Shlita
It is written, “This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded, saying: …they shall take to you a completely red heifer…. Someone shall burn the heifer before his eyes…. The one who burns it shall immerse his clothes in water…. This is the law [regarding] a man who dies in a tent: Anyone who comes into the tent, and everything that is in the tent, shall be unclean for seven days. … Anyone who touches, in the open field, one slain by the sword, or a dead body, or the bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days” (Bamidbar 19:2-16).
Let us explore the details of this mitzvah. What do all these actions refer to, and what do they mean? How are we to understand the choice of the heifer (Hebrew: para), and why must it be red (Hebrew: aduma)? For what reason must it be burned, and why must a person who is impure be sprinkled with its ashes? Furthermore, we need to understand why the Torah declares that a person who comes into contact with a dead body, or with human bones, becomes impure for seven days. We also need to understand why the Torah decrees that the purification process must include the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer. Finally, we need to understand why the kohen who burns the heifer of purification becomes impure himself.
Our Sages teach, “If a man sees that painful sufferings come upon him, let him examine his conduct. … If he examines it and finds nothing, let him attribute it to neglect in the study of Torah” (Berachot 5a). When the Temple stood, whoever came into contact with a dead body was declared impure. Now given that the Torah commands us to be holy (Vayikra 19:2), a person who found himself in such a situation was led to think: “What sin did I commit, such that now I’ve become impure?” It goes without saying that he erred, and that Hashem wanted to awaken him so he could repent. Such a person would then search his soul, look for his sins, and sincerely repent.
Nevertheless, teshuvah (repentance) must be complete. If only partial, it cannot be considered as returning to G-d. Still, many among us get ensnared by often doing incomplete teshuvah, something that cannot be considered true repentance. By commanding the red heifer to be burned and its ashes sprinkled upon an impure person, the Torah is alluding to the fact that we come from dust (ashes), and that to dust we must return. This reminder will help us to completely rectify our ways, as our Sages have said: “Let him remind himself of the day of death [as protection against the evil inclination]” (Berachot 5a).
Furthermore, we must underline that the term para (heifer) is composed of the same letters as rapha (to weaken). Thus a person is led to becoming impure when he weakens in the study of Torah. As the verse states, “Amalek came and battled Israel in Rephidim” (Shemot 17:8) – for they had weakened (raphu) in the study of Torah (Tanchuma, Beshalach 25). Likewise, the term aduma (“red”) evokes the term din, which is connected to justice. Hence whoever neglects the study of Torah draws upon himself the attribute of strict justice. A person who has become impure will then understand that he is the object of [Divine] accusations, for he has weakened in the study of Torah.
Let us return to our Sages’ affirmation, which we mentioned above: If someone sees that he is assailed by troubles, he should examine his conduct. If he finds nothing objectionable in it, he should attribute his troubles to the fact that he has neglected the study of Torah. Thus when a person is led to becoming impure, he must examine his deeds and determine which of his actions may have led to his present condition. After such introspection, if he still has not found anything, he will then understand that his condition is the consequence of a lack of diligence in learning Torah. He will certainly realize that he has weakened in his fulfillment of mitzvot, and that he is now under G-d’s strict justice. The expression para aduma refers to rapha din, meaning that a person who weakens in the study of Torah draws strict justice upon himself. He must then be sprinkled with the ashes of the heifer in order to be reminded of the day of death, and to be led to complete repentance before G-d.
In another article, we already gave a detailed explanation as to why the kohen responsible for burning the red heifer became impure as a result. In reality, the Torah feared that he would otherwise grow proud of his role, insofar as he was the only one selected from among all the kohanim to perform this task.
To remove such pride from his heart – for pride ruins, demolishes, and destroys all good things – the Torah declared him impure.
After having resolved all these difficulties, it seems that we have understood the mystery of the red heifer. However the Torah affirms: “This is the chukat [decree] of the Torah” (Bamidbar 19:2) – “I have decreed it. You have no right to challenge it” (Tanchuma, Chukat 7). Thus no person knows the true meaning of this mitzvah, and the reasons that we have mentioned are really only minor allusions.
Furthermore, even in regards to Korach, the Midrash relates an astonishing explanation: What did he see, such that he rebelled against Moshe? Korach saw the red heifer! He understood certain secrets pertaining to this mitzvah: He knew that it allows a person to achieve complete teshuvah, that it evoked the day of death, that a person drew strict justice upon himself whenever he weakened in the study of Torah, and that the kohen who burned the heifer became impure so as not to grow proud. Now although Korach was aware of all this, he still did not learn any lessons from it, for he did not repent. The result was that he was destroyed by his own pride, which is precisely what Korach is criticized for. All this must serve as a lesson to us as well.
Unfortunately, some people can be struck by painful sufferings and yet not examine their conduct. People speak during prayer, thereby transgressing a prohibition (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 124:7). They also engage in gossip, even though the Torah commands: “You shall not go as a talebearer among your people” (Vayikra 19:16). Instead of taking these commands into consideration and refraining from speaking, they sin by continuing to act in this way.
How do people end up acting this way? It is due to pride. We are aware of these prohibitions, but our pride prevents us from repenting and examining our conduct. We don’t even allow ourselves to even consider the possibility that we have sinned! We must be extremely vigilant in regards to this character flaw. We must repent, and above all we must eradicate our pride and yield before G-d.
The Words of the Sages
The Forgiveness of the Tosaphot Yom Tov
It is written, “The people came to Moshe and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against Hashem and against you! Pray to Hashem that He remove the serpent from us.’ Moshe prayed for the people” (Bamidbar 21:7).
Rashi states that from here, we learn that when someone asks us for forgiveness, we must not be so cruel as to not forgive him. In the time when Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller (known as the “Tosaphot Yom Tov”) served as the Rav of Prague, he led that great community in righteousness and established good customs for it, especially in regards to the taxes that the government imposed on the Jews of Prague from time to time.
Until the Tosaphot Yom Tov’s arrival in Prague, the collection of taxes was supervised by the most determined men in the community. Some of these men used force to burden the people with taxes, so that the wealthy members of the community would not have to contribute in proportion to their means.
Rabbi Yom Tov Heller was extremely sensitive to this. He intervened and managed to appoint himself as the head of the tax collectors. He was therefore able to organize the collection of taxes and distribution of funds in proportion to the wealth and position of each resident in the community.
This aroused the furor of a group of wealthy men in the community. Losing all sense of self-control, they went in a rage to denounce the great Rav, accusing him of seeking to fuel an uprising against the government. As proof, they pointed to an excerpt from his book Ma'adanei Melech.
Most enraged of all these men was a wealthy individual by the name of Raphael. He began scheming in every possible way to make Rabbi Yom Tov lose his position, but he was unsuccessful on account of the love which the residents of the city had for their great Rav. Yet this evildoer continued to use every trick he could find, without respite, in order to make the Rav lose his position, regardless of the cost.
What did he do? He remembered that he had business dealings with government ministers from Vienna, for he served as the money changer in the royal court.
Each of these ministers was indebted to him for 40,000 to 50,000 gold dinars. The wealthy Raphael therefore went to see them with an “offer.” He was prepared to cancel a portion of their debt, but only if they helped him remove Rabbi Yom Tov from his rabbinical position in Prague.
He was then able to entice one of the dayanim and another scholar who were among the Rav’s enemies. They understood German well, and he asked them to finish the job [of destroying the Rav’s reputation]. They recopied and falsified passages from Ma'adanei Melech, such that Rabbi Yom Tov Heller openly appeared to be a dangerous enemy of the state.
His scheme worked, and Rabbi Yom Tov was arrested and imprisoned. These vile informers believed that their denunciation of the Rav would lead to his removal from office and his expulsion from the country. However the authorities reacted much more severely than they imagined, and Rabbi Yom Tov found himself facing the death penalty – and the Jews of Prague found themselves facing expulsion!
Nevertheless Hashem, the Guardian of Israel, sent the cure before the illness, as clearly explained in Rabbi Yom Tov’s book Megillat Eivah. Rabbi Shemuel Heller, the son of Rabbi Yom Tov, had returned from the Metz yeshiva completely unaware of this catastrophe. It also happened that Rabbi Shemuel Heller had saved the lives of the wife and young son of the French consul in Vienna. Since the French consul was grateful to him, he did all that he could to help Rabbi Shemuel’s father. After a great deal of effort, he succeeded in having Rabbi Yom Tov liberated. However Rabbi Yom Tov was forced to pay a hefty fine, one that completely ruined him financially. Afterwards, Hashem punished the informers and they died, both them and their children, one after the other, even though Rabbi Yom Tov had sincerely forgiven them.
At that point the wealthy Raphael, the Rav’s foremost adversary, fell ill.
He realized that his punishment had now come. Rabbi Yom Tov wanted to pay Raphael a visit, for this wealthy man had apparently been among those in the community who greatly loved him. However the Rav didn’t have the courage to go, for he was afraid that Raphael would think that he had come to see his vengeance being exacted, and that he had wanted to rejoice in his calamity. While still confused and pondering if he should go and see Raphael, the latter’s servant arrived and asked the Rav to come and visit him, for he had something very important to say.
The Rav immediately went to his home, where he found Raphael confined to bed and in great pain. Raphael turned to Rabbi Yom Tov and said, “Rabbeinu, you whom I loved! I realize that you know that I was the one who persecuted you and caused you all these problems. I made you poor and needy, and I almost caused all the Jews of the city to be expelled. Nevertheless, Hashem is my witness that I never had such evil intentions. Rabbeinu, you who were so dear to me!
“I tell you this as Haman to Mordechai: You have done more with one handful of your offering than I have done with all my money. Hashem was with you, and prepared the cure before the illness.”
At that point, the wealthy Raphael burst into tears and said: “You, Rabbeinu, you who are a holy man – have mercy on me! Take pity on my soul! Forgive me and also ask for Divine mercy for me from the Merciful One, that He may heal me of my illness and pain, and that I may have time to rectify the evil that I’ve done!” He didn’t have the strength to say more, and he burst into violent sobbing. Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller replied, “I forgive you with all my heart, and I will also ask Hashem to heal you of your illness.”
I Am Prayer
The Secret of the Maggid of Dubno
In the introduction to Sefer HaMiddot on the Maggid of Dubno, may his merit protect us, his disciple the gaon Rabbi Avraham Berish Flahm Zatzal recounts that every day, as he was learning with his disciples, the Maggid would usually sit down for a moment near the place where the Kol Bo siddur was found. There he would recite a few psalms with tears in his eyes, and then return to learn with his disciples. He did this every day, year after year, though nobody knew why.
When the Maggid of Dubno died and was being accompanied to his final resting place, the shamash of the Beit HaMidrash said that he believed that he understood what those tears meant: The Maggid had secretly ordered the shamash to let him know if anyone had a problem in the community. Now the community of Zamosc was very large, and each day the shamash would announce: “So-and-so is sick,” “A certain woman is having difficulty giving birth,” and so on, according to whatever problem arose.
Guard Your Tongue
We Must Watch Our Mouths
From here we also learn that if someone has obtained a loan from another person, but then goes and tells the whole world how good the lender has been to him, he will cause wicked man to assail him [the lender], who will be unable to rid himself of them. We must therefore watch our mouths and our tongues.
– Chafetz Chaim
At the Source
The Allegorical Mind
It is written, “This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded” (Bamidbar 19:2).
An idolater asked Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai: “These rites that you perform look like some kind of witchcraft. You bring a heifer, burn it, pound it, and take its ashes. If one of you is defiled by a dead body, you sprinkle upon him two or three drops and say to him: ‘You are clean!’ ”
Rabbi Yochanan asked him, “Has the demon of madness ever possessed you?”
“No,” he replied.
“Have you ever seen a man possessed by this demon of madness?”
“Yes,” he said.
“And what do you do in such a case?”
“We bring roots,” he replied, “and make them smoke under him, and then we sprinkle water upon the demon and it flees.”
Rabbi Yochanan said to him: “Let your ears hear what you have said with your mouth! Likewise this spirit is a spirit of uncleanness, as it is written, ‘I will also cause the prophets and the spirit of uncleanness to pass out of the land’ [Zechariah 13:2]. Water of purification is sprinkled upon the unclean and the spirit flees.”
When the idolater left, Rabbi Yochanan’s disciples said to their master: “Master! This man you have put off with a mere makeshift. Yet what explanation will you give to us?” He said to them, “By your life! It is not the dead that defiles, nor water that purifies! The Holy One, blessed be He, merely says: ‘I have laid down a statute, I have issued a decree. You are not allowed to transgress My decree,’ as it is written: ‘This is the decree of the Torah.’ ”
– Bamidbar Rabba 19:8
A Tzaddik in His World
It is written, “Speak to the Children of Israel, and they shall take to you a completely red heifer” (Bamidbar 19:2).
Rabbi Acha said in the name of Rabbi Yossi bar Chanina: When Moshe ascended on high, he heard the voice of the Holy One, blessed be He, Who was sitting and studying the passage on the heifer. He said, “My son Rabbi Eliezer says: ‘Calf means a one-year-old cow, and heifer means a two-year-old cow.’ ”
Moshe said, “Sovereign of the universe, the upper and lower worlds are under Your authority, and You sit and declare the Halachah in the name of a creature of flesh and blood!”
He responded, “In the future, one tzaddik will stand in My world. He will open with the passage on the heifer first: Rabbi Eliezer says: ‘Calf means a one-year-old cow, and heifer means a two-year-old cow.’ ”
Moshe answered Him, “Sovereign of the universe, may it be Your will that he will issue from my loins.” The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: “By your life, he will issue from your loins,” as it is written: “The name of the other was Eliezer” (Shemot 18:4). The name of that special one was Eliezer.
– Midrash Tanchuma
The Same Decree for All
It is written, “This is the Torah: When a man dies” (Bamidbar 19:14).
The angels said to the Holy One, blessed be He: “Sovereign of the universe, why did Adam, the first man, die?” He answered, “Because he did not apply My precepts!” They retorted: “But Moshe applied Your laws” [meaning that he should not have died]. He replied, “It is My decree – the same applies to every human being – as it is written: ‘This is the Torah: When a man dies.’ ”
– Sifrei Devarim
Settling with Accusations
It is written, “The Children of Israel, the whole assembly, arrived at the desert of Tzin in the first month, and the people settled in Kadesh” (Bamidbar 20:1).
Everywhere the term “settled” appears, the Satan brings accusations. For example: “Abraham settled in Beersheba” (Bereshith 22:19), which is followed by “Sarah died” (ibid. 23:2); “Jacob settled” (ibid. 37:1), which is followed by the sale of Joseph; “Israel settled in Shittim” (Bamidbar 25:1), which is followed by: “The people began to commit harlotry” (ibid.).
Complaining and Quarreling
It is written, “The people quarreled with Moshe” (Bamidbar 20:3).
Moshe and Aaron wept inside [the tent], and the people wept outside. Moshe did not hear from the Children of Israel for six hours, after which they went to him and said: “For how long will you weep?” He replied, “Should I not weep over my deceased sister?” They answered, “Rather than weep over a single person, weep because we have not had any water to drink!”
He immediately arose and went out, and saw them quarreling over a dry well. He then told them, “I said to you at that time, saying: ‘I cannot carry you alone’ ” [Devarim 1:9].
– Midrash HaGadol
The Underlying Lesson
It is written, “G-d sent poisonous serpents against the people” (Bamidbar 21:6).
Why serpents, rather than some other punishment?
It is because G-d had told the serpent, “Dust shall you eat all the days of your life” [Bereshith 3:14], and yet it did not complain. It was therefore just for the serpent to punish the Children of Israel, who complained about their food.
– Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer
The Faithful Ones
Who is the Most Powerful?
One day it was Rabbi Yehoshua Derhy’s turn to serve the tzaddik Rabbi Haim Pinto Hakatan, may his merit protect us. (Note: Rabbi Yehoshua lived a long time, and our teacher, Rabbi David Pinto Shlita, heard the following story directly from him.)
Although Rabbi Haim had told him that he would serve him for a few days, suddenly a wealthy Jew appeared, a man who was violent by nature, and he told Rabbi Yehoshua: “I want to serve the Rav now. Return home so I can serve him.”
Rabbi Yehoshua was astonished. “But I’ve been waiting a long time to serve the Rav! Now you’ve come and suddenly want to take this great honor away from me?” he said.
The wealthy man responded aggressively: “If you don’t let me serve the Rav, you’ll be severely beaten.”
Fearing these threats, and having no other choice, Rabbi Yehoshua agreed. On the following day, the wealthy man went to see Rabbi Yehoshua and asked him for forgiveness. “I can’t serve the Rav – the work is too difficult,” he said.
“How so?” asked Rabbi Yehoshua.
The wealthy man explained:
“When I started serving the Rav, he asked me: ‘Why do you want to serve me? Is it to meet numerous people, or just to eat?’ [As we know, Rabbi Haim visited many homes in order to collect tzeddakah for the poor, and everywhere he went, people offered him food. Rabbi Haim would taste a little, and then order his shamash to eat the rest.] I told him that I didn’t want to eat anything.”
Throughout the day, the wealthy man experienced all kinds of difficulties, and he grew very tired. Now this fatigue originated from Hashem, for the wealthy man had taken someone else’s place. That night, Rabbi Haim asked him: “Hashem gave you wealth in order for you to serve Him, not to act violently and push people away. Return home and don’t dare come and serve me by taking someone else’s place.”
“When someone prays for others, his prayer is more selfless than when he prays for himself,” wrote Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin Zatzal. The reason is that when a person prays for himself, his concentration and obedience in prayer serves the purpose of what he is asking for, and therefore his prayer is not selfless. Yet when we pray for others, we have no intention of personally obtaining what we are praying for, and we recognize that no one but G-d can fulfill the needs of others. In doing so, we rectify what is lacking first among ourselves, and then among those for whom we are praying. This is because we are not acting on our own behalf when we need the very same thing, and our focus is not on ourselves.
As the verse says in regards to Abraham, “Abraham prayed to G-d, and G-d healed Avimelech” (Bereshith 20:17). In other words, Abraham’s prayer was focused solely on Avimelech. Likewise for Job we read, “When he prayed for his friends” (Job 42:10) – his focus was not at all on himself, but rather for his friends, and Hashem compensated him for his losses.
Praying for others is useful even during trials, as we learn from Abraham and Job. As the Gemara (Bava Kama 92a) points out, Sarah gave birth only because Abraham had prayed for Avimelech. In regards to Job, G-d compensated him only when he prayed for his friends. It seems that one who prays for G-d to help others, while he himself is in need of the same thing, will be answered first, even if he has not prayed for himself (Ressissei Laila).
Praying for the Wicked
We must even pray for the wicked by asking that they repent, as the Zohar states: “It is a mitzvah to pray for the wicked, in order for them to repent and not enter Gehinnom, as it is written: ‘But as for me, when they were ill, my clothing was sackcloth’ [Tehillim 35:13]” (Zohar I:105a).
As Beruriah said to Rabbi Meir, “It is written: ‘Let sins cease’ [Tehillim 104:35]. Does it say ‘sinners’? It says ‘sins’! … Pray for them to repent” (Berachot 10a).
The verse, “He interceded for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12) explicitly tells us that the person in question prayed for mercy in order for the sinners of Israel to repent. Likewise, Moshe prayed for the wicked to do teshuvah.
On the verse, “He shall call out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ ” (Vayikra 13:45), the Sages say: “He must make his grief publicly known, so that the public may pray for him” (Shabbat 67a). This verse deals with the leper, who received a fitting punishment for having spoken Lashon Harah, which is why he must remain alone, outside of the camp. Nevertheless, we must pray for him.
The Gemara teaches that anyone who has the ability to pray for someone else, but fails to do so, is called a sinner (Berachot 12b). The Zohar declares something else that is terrifying: Whoever has the ability to praise the Creator, but fails to do so, of him it is said: “Even if you were to intensify your prayer, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15).
It is obvious that anyone who fails to pray for others transgresses the prohibition against shedding the blood of his fellow. This is explicitly mentioned in a teaching of the Sages, according to which anyone who does not visit the sick is likened to a shedder of blood (Nedarim 40a).
Anyone who fails to visit the sick will not pray for him in any way – neither for life nor for death. The Rosh explains that this is a great evil, for if a person were to visit him and pray for Divine mercy, it is possible that his prayer, if said at a favorable time, would be answered.
Thus by not visiting the sick, a person may provoke his death. The Halachah (Rema, Yoreh Deah 235:4, citing the Ramban) is that the main purpose of visiting the sick is to pray for them.
– Be’er Moshe, Parsha Kedoshim
In the Light of the Parsha
by Rabbi David Hanania Shlita
The Shira by the Power of Moshe
It is written, “Then Israel sang this song” (Bamidbar 21:17).
If the Children of Israel felt a need to sing by the well, the commentators ask why they waited 40 years before doing so, just before entering the Holy Land – even though the well had stopped giving water by that time!
Furthermore, for what reason did they not sing at the beginning, when they benefited from all kinds of supernatural events? After all, Hashem provided them with water and food in a place that was inhabited by serpents and scorpions!
I thought that I would explain this by saying that Moshe Rabbeinu avoided singing by the well with the Children of Israel after 40 years. He did this despite having sung when they crossed the sea, as we read: “Then Moshe sang” (Shemot 15:1). Our Sages affirm that when the people left Egypt and arrived before the sea, Moshe wanted to guide them in Hashem’s ways by teaching them to constantly thank Him for all His miracles. Hence Moshe himself sang this song and had the Children of Israel sing it after him. However the people did not truly invest themselves in this song, for they only followed Moshe by being carried along by a spirit of holiness [Ruach HaKodesh] that reigns over a prophet.
As soon as Moshe transmitted this teaching to them, he no longer had a desire to sing, for he wanted the people to invest themselves in singing. He wanted them to now initiate a new song, for one sung without effort does not have the same value as one sung with effort.
Be that as it may, although Moshe did not sing the song of the well, the Children of Israel were aware that they only reached the level of prophesy and could sing by the well due to the power of Moshe Rabbeinu. Because Moshe had sung with them as they crossed the sea (“Then Moshe sang”), the Children of Israel could now merit being infused with Ruach HaKodesh by the well (“Then Israel sang”).
What did the Children of Israel sing? “Well that the princes dug.” Our Sages state (Tanchuma, Chukat 21) that these princes represented the Patriarchs. This teaches us that this song was dependent upon the merit of the Patriarchs, and also upon the merit of Moshe Rabbeinu, as it is written: “With the scepter, with their staff” (Bamidbar 21:18) – the scepter corresponding to Moshe (Zohar Chadash, Chukat 83:1).
This is why they did not sing by the well until 40 years had passed, for it is taught that a man can only truly discern the thoughts of his teacher after 40 years (Avodah Zarah 5b). After these years, the Children of Israel recognized that they only merited all the miracles and this level of song by the power of Moshe Rabbeinu. Just as he taught them to sing the song and to be grateful for the miracle of water, it was now their turn to sing after 40 years by the water and the well.