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This is the statute of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded, saying, speak to the children of Israel and they shall take to you a perfectly red cow, which has no blemish and upon which a yoke has not come. (Bamidbar 19:2)
Regarding the parah adumah we may ask three questions. First, the posukim continue to relate that those who were involved with the preparation and application of the ashes of the parah adumah become tamai in the process whereas the contaminated person upon whom the water and ashes were applied becomes pure. We may ask, if the parah adumah has the capacity to purify the contaminated then at the very least it should not contaminate the pure? Second, why is the purification process of parah adumah limited only to corpse contamination? Why did the Torah not require the same process for all forms of contamination e.g., bodily emissions and contact with animal and insect corpses? Third, chazal relate that as a reward for Avraham declaring I am but dust and ash (Bereishis 18:27), his descendants were gives the mitzvah of parah adumah. We may ask what is the connection between the ashes of parah adumah and Avrahamstatement?
Chazal instruct us that we may not perform any mitzvah in the presence of the dead. For example, one must be careful that his tzitzis are not openly displayed in their presence. The reason is that it would appear as if we are mocking the dead. By performing a mitzvah in their presence we silently display our superiority in that we can still perform mitzvos whereas they cannot. We may derive from this law that contact with the dead involves at the very least the risk of subconscious thoughts of superiority and haughtiness.
Let us suggest that these subconscious thoughts of superiority are the root cause of corpse contamination. The remedy lies in being sprinkled with the ashes of parah adumah. As the ashes are applied, the contaminated person is forced to reflect on the humbling words of Avraham, I am but dust and ash. This rude awakening is sure to counteract any prior feelings of superiority. We may now understand why this method is only performed for corpse tumah. With regard to other forms of contamination their source has no connection to feelings of superiority.
Above we noted that those who were involved with the preparation and application of the ashes of the parah adumah became contaminated in the process. Certainly, the trait of humility is noble, honorable and worthy of pursuing. However, this is only true when one brings himself to a such a state of humility. Surely, it is not the place of any person to humble another no matter how noble and grand his intensions are. We may learn this from the parah adumah. The application of the ashes served to humble the contaminated person by reminding him of Avrahams humbling statement, I am but dust and ash. However, those who prepared and applied the ash water became contaminated in the process. This is because they were involved in overseeing the humiliation of another. This is comparable to coming into contact with the dead. Both cases breed subconscious thoughts of superiority.
The parsha of parah adumah begins with the words this is the statute of the Torah. The commentators are perplexed as to why the word Torah is connected with the laws of parah adumah. Seemingly, the posuk should have been written, This is the statute of the parah adumah. By linking the word Torah to the laws of parah adumah the posuk suggests that Torah in general has much in common with parah adumah. What is the connection? As noted above the theme of parah adumah is humility. So too as a prerequisite for accomplishment in Torah one needs the trait of humility. Indeed, the posuk elsewhere compares the Torah to water. Chazal teach us that just as water descends to the lowest levels, likewise Torah only attaches itself to those who are truly humble in spirit.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001