There are many mitzvoth in the Torah that are called chukim (commandments for which we cannot find any good reason), but there is only one that has a parsha in the Torah dedicated to it.  That is because the other chukim are understood in part, while there are other details that are not understood.  But, the chuka of para aduma – the red calf – was totally not understood in any detail, and that’s why our parsha – Chukat – is dedicated to it.

The purpose of the red heifer was to purify those who came into contact with human death, who were defiled by being in the same room or otherwise in contact with a human corpse.  Moshe and Shlomo, the wisest of all men, were mystified by the mitzvah, which consisted of killing a red heifer (a very rare occurrence in nature) and burning it, then mixing its ashes with water and sprinkling it on the person who needed purification.  Aside from the mechanism itself, two side details also perplexed Moshe and Shlomo (and others): 1) The sprinkling took place outside of the Temple walls (other sacrifices and offererings were all brought within the Temple precinct) and 2) The person who performed the sprinkling himself became defiled and impure.

We can gain an inkling of what took place during this mitzvah by looking closely at the person who received the mtizvah and transmitted it to us – Moshe Rabeinu himself.   Moshe was well known for his dedication to the Jewish people – at one point he even told God to “wipe my name out of Your book” if God were to destroy the Jewish people – if so, Moshe had no existence independent of the Jewish people themselves.  Because of his deep and essential connection with the rest of the Jews, Moshe was given to understand that it was the ashes of the red heifer that could lift a Jew out of the deep spiritual torpor that is associated with the impurity of death.  Death means spiritual disconnection, and Moshe could not see anyway in which one who had become disconnected (“dead”) could be revived and regain his connection.  Therefore, God showed him the secret of the red heifer.  The secret was:  1) It is necessary to go out of your own territory in order to rescue others.  That is the reason why the sprinkling took place outside of the Temple walls – inside the walls, people were connected with God, while outside is where the disconnected souls waited.  2) In order to rescue a fellow Jew, it is necessary to lower our own spiritual status.  We cannot stay in the shul and in the study hall and expect to uplift and educate one who never enters the shul or study hall.  We have to go out to meet him or her and that entails leaving behind our own higher spiritual level to do so.

There was another curious fact associated with the purification process: the ashes of very red heifer were divided into three jars, one of which the ashes were taken from to mix with the ashes of every subsequent red heifer (there was one during the first temple, eight during the second, and there will be one more when the meshiach comes).  So, there are ashes from the very first red heifer offered by Moshe Rabeinu mixed in with all subsequent red heifers.  This is in order to remind us that every time we get involved with educating and spiritually uplifting a fellow Jew, Moshe Rabeinu is in the background.  He was the first to care enough to get out and help another Jew. The lessons: 1) Whenever we feel disconnected or meet a disconnected Jew – remember Moshe – he was the one who gave us the power to revive and purify the most distant (“dead”) Jewish souls.

2) If we wonder, “why me?”  Why do I have to be the one to go out of my way, then we have to recall that to purify another Jew, it was necessary to go outside of the Temple, to leave our own territory, even if that meant temporarily forsaking our own spiritual level. The descent is only for the sake of a greater elevation that comes later.

3) If we’re successful in educating and uplifting another Jew, we cannot take the entire credit to ourselves: some of it goes all the way back to Moshe himself.

4) We cannot entirely forget about our own spiritual level. From time to time, it is necessary to renew and reJewvenate the connection with Moshe Rabeinu, and then return to the work of Jewish education with even greater vigor!

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From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 4, page 1056-1061

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