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Home > Torah Portion > Dvar for Parshas Ki Sisa

Parshas Parah
Yechezkel 36:16
by Rabbi Dovid Siegel

This week's Haftorah, read in conjunction with Parshas Parah, describes the Jewish people's state of purity in the time of Mashiach. . The prophet Yechezkel says in Hashem's name, "And I will sprinkle pure waters upon you which will purify you from all your impurities and repulsive actions." Yechezkel refers here to the Jewish people's ultimate perfection when Hashem will totally cleanse them from sin. The prophet compares this experience to purification from ritual impurity. It is worthwhile to focus on the particular symbolism he used. He did not compare their purification to the traditional immersion process rather to the purifying waters of the red heifer. This detailed and mysterious procedure purified one from his direct contact with a corpse. Such contact transferred a severe state of ritual impurity which required a unique purification process. Yechezkel's symbolism suggests a direct corollary between association with sin and association with death. Apparently, ultimate removal of any relationship to sin is similar to removal of the ritual effects of death.

Let us examine the nature of the red heifer process in order to understand its relationship with sin. We are taught in the Torah portion of Parshas Parah that the kohain was commanded to slaughter the heifer and sprinkle its sacrificial blood outside the Bais Hamikdash's walls. The kohanim then burned the heifer's body and mixed its ashes with spring water producing the ritual mixture. The mixture was then sprinkled on any person who came in direct contact with a corpse, yielding ritual purity. Our Rabbis (see Rashi to Bamidbar 19:2 II) comment on the unique nature of this sacrifice and reveal that it atoned for the Jewish nation's sin of the golden calf. They demonstrate how each step of the sacrifice ran parallel lines with each step of the golden calf experience and its ramifications.

This displays a direct relationship between spiritual impurity of death and the golden calf experience. Because, as we see, the purification process from death began with a sacrificial atonement for the sin of the golden calf. The purifying ashes were, in fact, a product of the atonement of that sin. Whenever the Jewish nation needed ashes of purification they atoned for the golden calf thereby producing the necessary ashes. Apparently, this sin's impact was so far reaching that it left an everlasting effect on the ritual purity of the Jewish people. Yet, this atonement was directly related to contact with a corpse and was only required when producing the purifying waters.

We can appreciate this intriguing phenomenon through the profound insight of our Sages in Mesichta Avoda Zara (5a). The Talmud teaches us that when the Jewish people received the Torah they momentarily transcended the curse of mortality. They cleaved to Hashem's will with such intensity that they transformed their physical bodies into semi spiritual entities. For once, their bodies cooperated with their souls and produced a harmonious unit of perfect service of Hashem.

Unfortunately, this experience was short lived and, after forty days, the Jews succumbed to fear and anxiety. They doubted if their revered leader Moshe Rabbeinu would ever return. They desperately sought a qualified replacement which allowed their Egyptian comrades to seduce them into idolatry. The Jewish nation's sinful plunge resulted in their return to mortality. Their bodies reverted to their total physical state replete with all their earthly urges and cravings.

We can further develop this thought with a deeper understanding of the red heifer and the ritual waters it produced. Sefer Hachinuch (see Mitzva 263) explains ritual impurity of death in the following manner. When one passes away, the soul departs from the body leaving behind a total physical entity. Now, barren of any trace of spirituality, the body projects a penetrating image of vanity. The body, all by itself, reflects a lifetime of earthly urges and sinful practices. Direct contact with the body in this form is spiritually damaging and renders one ritually impure. This status, in itself, yields a positive result and one begins viewing his physical body in a different light. His predicament reminds him that the body was meant to serve the soul and he begins to sense how repulsive it is to indulge in earthly pleasures.

In truth, the body's vanity and sinful association trace themselves back to the shameful plunge of the golden calf. At that point the Jewish body reverted to its physical state and began generating ritual impurity. During that infamous scene the Jewish people exchanged an inseparable relationship with Hashem for shameful worldly cravings. This thought points to the true potential of the Jewish people. The Har Sinai experience proves that a Jew need not be bound to his earthly drives and that these drives can be totally directed to Hashem.

We now understand the crucial role of the red heifer sacrifice in the purification process. Atonement from the golden calf experience was, in fact, a prerequisite for ritual purity. Ritual impurity was intended to assist one in detaching himself from his physical cravings. His impure state sent a clear message about the body's shameful role in sin. Yet, fulfilling one's physical cravings is not necessarily part of the Jewish psyche. There was a time in our glorious history when the Jewish nation craved and desired something of real content - association with Hashem. After one understood how harmful were his physical drives he could begin his ritual purification. After detaching himself from the deep rooted urges of the body the red heifer waters completed the process and detached him from the ritual impurities of that body. The ultimate goal was the unity of body and soul harmoniously focusing on achieving spiritual perfection.

We can now attempt to understand the corollary between ultimate purity and the effects of death. The prophet Yechezkel describes our ultimate purity in the following words, "And I shall give you a new heart and place a new spirit in your midst and remove the stone heart from your flesh." (36:26) Ramban explains that these words refer to our pure desire to fulfill Hashem's will. The time will finally arrive for the body and its urges to take a back seat. In the Messianic era we will revert to man's perfect state before his involvment in sin and its devastating effects. Our single minded desire will be similar to the Jewish people's during their first forty days at Har Sinai. We will totally detach ourselves from our physical passions and crave for a closer and closer relationship with Hashem. (see Ramban to D'vorim 30:6) This process will eventually lead us to our semi spiritual state at Har Sinai. This time, however, it will be an everlasting experience and Hashem will permanently remove the curse of mortality from us. (see Daas T'vunos 3:40)

The symbolism of the purifying waters is now complete. Throughout the years, these sacrificial waters purified us from our sinful association with the body. They cleansed our ritual impurity and helped us reduce our sinful urges and drives. The atonement process alerted us of the innermost cravings of the Jewish soul, to cleave to Hashem and His perfect path. The process linked us to our glorious experience at Har Sinai when we became semi spiritual beings. It even motivated us to aspire to our glorious future when we will return to this level. And it will ultimately fulfill its role to perfection and remove us from all association with the ills of this physical world.

Our Sages teach us that the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt in the month of Nissan and will be ultimately redeemed in the month of Nissan. We read this haftora in anticipation of our long awaited redemption and in preparation for that great moment when our sole desire will be to unite with Hashem.

Rabbi Dovid Siegel
Kollel Toras Chesed Phone: 847-674-7959
3732 West Dempster E-mail:
Skokie, Illinois 60076 URL:

Haftorah, Copyright 2001 by Rabbi Dovid Siegel and
The author is Rosh Kollel (Dean) of Kollel Toras Chesed, Skokie, Illinois.


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