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Home » Chabad, Chukat, Education

Chukat: For Another

Submitted by on June 25, 2017 – 2:31 pm2 Comments | 431 views

Only G-d

The best way to reach G-d is to sacrifice everything for another. We learn this from a fascinating detail about the Red Heifer.

When Moses was told that it is possible to be purified even after contact with a dead body, he was surprised. Death, the absence of life, represents a total separation with G-d, Who the force of all life. How is it possible to reconnect with G-d after separating so completely as to have contact with death?[1]

The answer is that only G-d can reset the connection after we have crossed such a great gulf. If we sin and separate ourselves from G-d marginally, we can reset the connection by our own resolve and repentance. But if we sever our connection completely, we have nothing left to build on. In this case, the only way to reconnect, is if G-d chooses to initiate it.

For Another

This answer prompts a new question. How does one arrange for G-d to initiate a reconnection? If we are too distant to reach out to G-d, who initiates the initiation?

The answer brings us to the primary point of our essay. Although we have severed our connection so completely as to be touched by the contaminant of death, another Jew, who is still connected, can ask G-d on our behalf to reset our connection. But there is a caveat. For another’s advocacy to reach G-d, he needs to be ready to sacrifice everything for us. If he is reserved in his compassion, in his willingness to risk all on our behalf, G-d won’t respond.

Red Heifer

We learn this from the process of purification. When a person contracts impurity through contact with a dead body, he or she must be sprinkled with a mixture of water and ash from the burned carcass of a red heifer. Anyone can do the sprinkling, so long as they are pure. However, something profound occurs at the time of sprinkling. As the sprinkled becomes pure, the sprinkler becomes impure.

Now stop and think about this. The sprinkler lifts another from his impurity, yet, the purity does not go away. It transfers from the sprinkled to the sprinkler.[2] Where is the justice in that? Why is sprinkler punished for his good deed?

The answer is that it is not a punishment. It is the sprinkler’s way of showing G-d how much He cares. When the sprinkler asks G-d to purify another, G-d asks how much the sprinkler cares. When the sprinkler demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice his own purity for the sake of that other, G-d is moved.

G-d’s Children

Nothing moves G-d more than seeing His children love one another. The impure person does not deserve to be purified. That person has contracted the highest degree of impurity and has severed his connection with G-d. But when G-d sees a fellow Jew sacrifice everything for another to the point of risking his own purity, G-d responds in kind and confers upon the impure unearned purity. As the sprinkler was moved by unearned love, so is G-d.

This teaches us a profound lesson. When we see another, who was not raised in a religious home and is not familiar with Jewish traditions, it is our responsibility to share our knowledge with him or her. Even if we have little knowledge, we need to share what little we have.

Similarly, when we see another person in need, we must reach out to help. If a child is unhappy, we must engage them. If a friend seems preoccupied, we must probe. If a colleague’s marriage is suffering, we must offer to help. If an acquaintance or a loved one is in need, whether they are being abused by others or are abusing themselves, our job is to reach out.

The obvious concern is that we don’t have the time or the energy to devote to another. We are busy with our own lives; our careers, hobbies, and families, all take up time, and there is little left to share with another. Moreover, even if we find the time, what if that person ends up influencing us rather that us influencing them? Can we risk our own purity, happiness, spiritual and emotional wellbeing for the sake of another?

The Torah comes along and teaches us that we may not look away when another is in need. Even if it entails a sacrifice of time, energy, or even our purity, we must still reach out and help another.[3]

If a sibling were in need, we would reach out and offer everything we have. The Torah teaches us that every Jew is our sibling. Every Jew is worthy of our sacrifice. When we reach out to another with all we have, we effectively reach all the way to G-d. When we place G-d’s children first, G-d places us first. When we look after G-d’s children, G-d becomes a presence in our home.

Conversely, if we ignore G-d’s children, G-d wants little to do with us. The path to G-d, is through His children. We can’t claim to love G-d, if we don’t demonstrate a love for His children.

An Empty Sukkah

Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz was a holy man and everyone wanted to be in his Sukkah. Not only the living, but also the souls of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Moses and Aaron, who visit every Jewish Sukkah. Rabbi Pinchas could perceive these souls, but the people who crowded his Sukkah made it impossible for him to pay attention to the special souls that visited him. This distressed him.

One year Rabbi Pinchas announced that no one was welcome in his Sukkah. On the first night of Sukkot, he was giddy with excitement, anticipating a meaningful night with his spiritual guests. Yet, they did not enter. He sat and waited for them, but the Sukkah remained empty. Rabbi Pinchas stepped out of the Sukkah to see if they were coming and he saw them standing just beyond his Sukkah door.

He invited his holy guests, but they refused to enter. What is the problem, stammered Rabbi Pinchas? Abraham finally spoke up. How can I enter your Sukkah, when my children are not welcome there?

Preserved Ash

A little bit of ash from each Red Heifer was set aside as a memento and was not used to purify the impure. This jar of ash was not intended for those who needed sprinkling, it was for those who did the sprinkling. We might think that if we are meant to risk our purity by reaching out to another on the lowest rung of the moral ladder, then any impurity that might rub off on us, is justified.

The preserved ash reminds the sprinkler that even though he was contaminated for the sake of another, he is not absolve from the need to purify. We must reach out to others, no matter what the spiritual cost might be, but we mustn’t allow ourselves to slide down the moral ladder ourselves. If we have compromised our own moral integrity while reaching out to another, the preserved ash reminds us to return. Don’t be satisfied with impurity. Work hard and rehabilitate.[4]

[1] Bamidbar Rabbah 19:4.

[2] The sprinkled’s impurity is not as severe. It requires immersion in a mikvah and the next evening he is pure again.

[3] Just as the Kohen left the Temple grounds to prepare the Red Heifer, so should we leave the safe shelter of our Jewish communities to help a fellow Jew.

[4] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos v. 4 pp. 1056-1061

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2 Comments »

  • Give says:

    B”H Yasher Koach. Thank you for this thought-provoking essay, Rabbi. A few questions, please:

    1. If the sprinkler becomes impure and also needs sprinkling, this seems like there will always be one sprinkler who is Impure? Infinity ad nauseum…?

    2. How does one maintain “purity” when helping another who is a negative influence? This assumption can be compared with the adage of birds of rhe same feather flock together. Another parallel: assimilation.

    3. What if the person who is a negative influence does not want any help? Or refuses to listen? What then? What are next best steps.

    4. What is the limit in helping someone who needs help (e.g., is one own’s death and safety considerations in providing such help)? In my mind, sacrificing purity and being negatively influenced are the same as physical death and safety.

    Thank you. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. A Guten Shabbos.

    • Lazer Gurkow says:

      1, in one of the footnotes, I pointed out that the sprinkler contracts a much milder form of impurity that only requires immersion in a Mikvah and not sprinkling. So, there is no endless parade of impure sprinklers.
      2, One maintains purity by focusing on being an influence rather than being influenced. Because this is difficult to achieve on a regular basis, the Torah provides the reminder to help us check in with ourselves every so often and determine what kind of imrpovements we need to make in order to retain or regain our purity.
      3, Most often those who refuse help, are not refusing the help, but the helper. We need to begin by embracing the other with non judgemental love, and the rest will follow.
      The Torah does not require that we jeapordise our safety to save another. However, that is only with respect to physical safety. The Torah does not speak about spiritual safety. This essay makes the argument based on the perspective of the Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM that it is worth risking our own spiritual safety to save another’s spiritual safety.

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