Parashat Chukat. A chok. No joke. But certainly… a riddle. A riddle which we actually read all about twice yearly; in this parasha, and earlier in one of the four significant extra parashot. And so, as many a “parasha sheet” has queried, we ask… “How is it, that a mystical mitzvah matter is capable of possessing two diametrically opposing properties.
Yes, Parah Adumah, the completely red, young, unworked heifer, blended and burned along with an incomprehensible addition of ingredients, creates a perplexing potion with the ability of at once purifying the tameh, the ritually unpure, while simultaneously ‘tameying,’ rendering unpure the kohen who sprinkles it, as well as others involved in its preparation.
And the answer (not provided on those same parasha sheets,)… It’s a PARAHdox!!!
Ouch! But once your ears have adjusted to the painfully parahly parasha pun, perhaps you will consider the seriousness of the facts in this pair of points.
It is in fact a PARADOX, one of those brain tickling facts pondered by the puzzlers among us. If the headlines of this illustrious blog were to state, “All new and improved methodically researched content,” while within, each article claimed, “Cover story cover-ups. Headlines all lies!” Some of us might go back and forth wondering which could be true. One? Neither? Both? How?
Most of us though, comprehend, that this is a world of paradoxes. The same food that tastes soooooo goooood, is bad for us. The more expensive moisturizer, causes wrinkles. The parent, who spends little time with her children, has sweet nachat from them, while unfortunately ditto the reverse.
But particularly, as, we have long known… ours is a nation of paradoxes. We are told, to give ma’aser, so that we may become rich. Though counter-intuitive, the more we give, the more we receive. As a nation we have been persecuted throughout the generations. Though perpetually downtrodden, we have risen to the greatest of heights in every field and in virtue as well. We can be both, as it states in next week’s parsha, “… עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן וּבַגּוֹיִם לֹא יִתְחַשָּׁב” a nation that dwells alone, not considered by the nations, as well as, “וישב ישראל לבטח בדד,” living secure alone.
And ours is a land of paradoxes… We let the land lay fallow every seven years, resting within the promise that it shall increase in bounty. In our homeland, outnumbered by enemies who seek to destroy us, we have been magnificently victorious, “רבים ביד מעטים” many falling in the hands of few. And we have been learning, that in this land, reaching out in peace, promotes war.
There are some paradoxes where one reality discounts the other, and some where two opposing realities exist simultaneously. “ישראל אורייתא קודשא בריך הוא חד הוא”. Am Yisrael, the Torah, the Holy one, Blessed be He, are one. And, “shivim panim laTorah.” This oneness is multifaceted.
Paradoxical though, does not mean, hypocritical. We are not meant to profess, “Do as I say, not as I do.” We are not meant to learn Torat Emet, while practicing otherwise. We cannot say in every one of our tefilot, “Oh, build for us our holy Yerushalayim,” while b’mherah rushing to procure the finest marble for building our summer resort mansion in Waspiland.
Though differences are par (ouch) for the course, we are meant to exist as one, to create unity and harmony, peace among the paradoxical, particularly within our precious people.
The (ok, my) second response to this ‘conundrumous’ question is that the question itself requires re framing. Is it accurate to say that the Parah Adumah, causes the pure to become tameh? One may touch it, toss it, or be sprinkled with it at no consequence. It is only when one is involved in purifying another with the ashes of the Parah Adumah, that he is rendered figuratively “unclean,” and then only until nightfall.
I believe that it is crucial that we comprehend this reality. All that is good, even purely and sublimely so, has its cost. Imagine the man who oversleeps one morning, misses his minyan, his shiur, and his daily Starbucks, along with the 8:00 train to get him to the World Trade Center on “time,” for what he expects to be work. Imagine if this man, a month after 9/11 were to bemoan the daf ha’yomi that he missed. It is davka that missed daf for which he is grateful. It is precisely the lack that causes the gain.
Yet we do it all the time. “Oh remember that delicious squash and watermelon that we ate in Mitzrayim?” Helloooooo. Reality check. You are on en route to the land of ultimate good. You have been enslaved. And now that you are free, you are free to think objectively, rationally, and appreciatively. DeserTravel menus do not include cultivated vegetables. If you were able to plant, you would not be in the process of being yourself replanted and blossoming. And we,who are already taking root in the real, how is it that we so fondly remember the plastic pseudopoooooliiiiteness of past?
We, who live the blessing of fully stocked refrigerators, do not question the inconvenience of its (paradoxical? ha) crowded shelves. We joyously spit the pits that grow sweet cherries, and many cherish, rather than bemoan dirty diapers, nighttime wake up nudges, and wonderful twos. We pinch ourselves as we count and recount our blessings, “she’hecheyanu l’zman ha’zeh.” For whatever or own zman ha’zeh may be, each knot and overlap on the back of our tapestry is necessary for the magnificent artwork we display.
We look out at the awesome blessing of Eretz Yisrael to which “shavnu l’gvulenu,” and we are at times swallowed in paradox. Today, we again contend with how it is, that two so outwardly similar in human form, can be such opposites, one shining with holy goodness, the other capable of sickening barbarism.
As we read this parasha, this topic, we can actually contemplate the reinstatement of this most enigmatic mitzvah, for we see all around us the fulfillment of the nevuot in the return to our home, the joyous song in the mountains of Yehudah, and the streets of Yerushalayim. Yet, within all that we see is all that we cannot begin to comprehend, and even in the daily pain, we are aware of being part and parcel of an overwhelmingly miraculous process.
Perhaps this process is alluded to as we grapple with the Parah Adumah, the tameh and tahor, pure and impure, life and death, war and peace, the advancement and regression of civilization as we know it. Shall we be able to select for ourselves, within the confusion of opposing realities, the choices that lead us to life? Shall we be able to use our time, energies and resources, for the good that is truly good, not just sweet tasting? Shall we see perhaps, in all our ‘niknet be’yesurims’ the purest of purchases of what is truly ours?
It is said that when Mashiach arrives, we will receive a Parah Adumah. I’d like to posit, that in order to “get” a Parah Adumah, we have to geeeet the Parah Adumah. We have to be able to hold opposing realities in our minds and hearts. We have to live our own perspectives, while allowing our equally legitimate brothers, who too strive for truth and purity from their own vantage points, to live theirs. We have to be able to see what is around us, the goodness and the challenges of our times, without our heads in the sand. We have to appreciate and use the magnificent bounty and potential with which we have been blessed.
And then… in this, “ארץ אשר אראך” in this “land that I will show you,” more and more will gradually be revealed. The conundrums will be comprehended, the paradoxes plain.
And… with the fulfillment of, “יברכך ה מציון וראה בטוב ירושלים” we will be able to see clearly, and as with a finger point with zero ambiguity…
Aaahhh, “!זאת חקת התורה”