The Purifying Effect of the Red Heifer – A life of Divine Providence
The night of the Pesach Seder, a little after midnight, Reb Chaim sits in the company of his family around a table laden with silverware and delicacies. His eyes are becoming heavy and making their way with great difficulty through the text. Nishmas, Hallel, Hodu La’Shem, one page after the other. He is struggling to articulate the words of the story; they seem heavy, as if each one weighs a ton. He searches for a melody to arouse his heart but this too evades him. A sigh of distress escapes from inside him: ‘what’s happened to me, what is missing? I prepared so well and performed all the Mitzvos meticulously, nothing was missing, neither physically nor spiritually…’
The truth is that from the very commencement of the Seder things weren’t going smoothly. The heart simply refused to take part and nothing in the story touched him in particular. He sincerely tried to do what he could, made use of insight, searched in the commentaries for an idea – something to create a connection. Yet his heart only sank even deeper – it just wasn’t interested and nothing seemed to speak to it. When nothing happened by Kiddush, Reb Chaim was sure it would come by the telling of the story and when nothing got moving there either, he placed his hope in the eating of the Matzah – surely then, at such an auspicious moment, something would happen.
When his heart refused to budge even then, Reb Chaim raised his hands in despair; until now he was somewhat patient but what the continuation of the story after Benching demanded of him, was just too much. The songs and praises appeared one after the other as if they would never end. ‘Seriously,’ he bitterly thought, ‘what do they want from me? I have no connection to all this – it doesn’t speak to me – I’m just not in the right frame of mind for this whole celebration.’
Suddenly a more logical thought entered his mind: ‘where did this whole story begin, wasn’t it by the actual exodus from Mitzrayim? The original Pesach was a result of the Jews leaving Mitzrayim. They experienced firsthand the suffering and the miraculous redemption that followed, they surely rejoiced with all their hearts. If I would have seen the ten plagues and splitting of the sea, I too would have sung the songs and praises with tremendous liveliness and passion. But NOW, what do they want from me, how can they demand of me in the middle of real life, amidst a sea of problems and troubles, to forget everything and celebrate freedom, I’m not at all there!’
Honestly, what do they want from our dear friend…?
Okay, so let’s try and tell this same story with a few minor changes:
On the outskirts of a quiet town stood a small house built of mortar sunk halfway into the ground with its roof stooping to the ground. In it lived Reb Chatzkel the wagon driver, together with his twelve sons. Reb Chatzkel’s Shabboses were as destitute as his weekdays – anything rather than to be dependent on others. Spring arrived, and with it the Chag of Pesach, but there was not too much work to be done in the house whose floors had never seen bread crumbs. Yet just as a crumb of bread was not to be found, neither was a crumb of Matzah; wine and other necessities were not even a dream. The eve of Pesach arrived and Chatzkel the simple Jew, put his faith in Hashem. Already at midday he donned his ‘Yom Tov clothes’, took his Machzor and made his way to the Beis Ha’knessess. Then, as in all good stories, out of nowhere – a horse and wagon appeared and stopped next to his house. Rugged porters emerged from the wagon carrying baskets filled to the brim with meat, fish, wine, Matzahs and more. The family members stood mesmerized with their eyes peeled wide open and when the wagon went on its way they heard the echoing call of the wagon driver: “More work to be done, hurry, sunset is on its way…”
That wondrous Pesach night, Reb Chatzkel looked like one of the great Tzaddikim. His face radiated with a heavenly light, Kiddush was made with a loud and passionate roar, with awe and trepidation, and with tremendous joy. The ancient story of the Exodus from Mitzrayim flowed from his lips with a sweetness from another world. The wine tasted as if it was from the finest of wineries and the Matzos seemed to come from the jar of Mann that was kept in the Holy Ark. During the recitation of the Hallel the whole family came close to Hispashtus Ha’Gashmiyus (Shedding of Physicality) and during Nishmas it was as if every limb took part in the praises.
Let us look closely and see what is the difference between Reb Chatzkel and Reb Chaim.
It’s very simple. The night of the Seder it supposed to take us to another world completely – to the pinnacle of emunah to which Klal Yisroel were uplifted at Yetziyas Mitzrayim, to the place where the da’as (holy awareness) is freed from the chains of nature and Chametz-like thoughts. Every Jew is obligated to see himself as if he left Mitzrayim. The problem is that it is impossible to attain this when the heart is overloaded with Chametz.
Chametz is a heavy load. It weighs down the soul and doesn’t allow it to spread its wings and ascend to clear emunah.
This is exactly the purpose of the Mitzvah of eradicating chametz. Klal Yisroel fulfills this with tremendous meticulousness and G-d forbid to suspect a Jew like Reb Chaim of making light of such an important Mitzvah. Even from the day after Tu B’Shvat his family members are toiling in eradicating Chametz. Reb Chaim puts no limit on the time and money involved – anything to make sure that his home has no trace of Chametz. Every room, shelf and corridor is checked, cleaned and scrubbed. Reb Chaim works with all his strength yet he doesn’t know that the Chametz has found its hiding place in his heart and mind.
This is how Reb Chaim sat down to his Seder, with his house clean to the extreme, but his heart clogged with Chametz.
The Chametz that accumulates in the mind and heart is the most stubborn of all, being rigid and sticky. It seems as if it is impossible to get rid of it. Everyone knows how hard it is to rid oneself of a bothering thought. These thoughts visit our minds every day and they take over to the extent that the person thinking them becomes unsure of who really is in charge.
So what can be done?
The true problem with Chametz is that it is rooted in tumas meis (the impurity of the dead). Chametz-like thoughts defile the soul with tumas meis – with lifelessness, low-spiritedness, sadness and heaviness. It is absolutely impossible to receive Pesach with tumas meis. A good and pure thought revives the soul with a spirit of purity and happiness, and conversely a negative thought envelopes the soul with a spirit of tumah (impurity), sadness and despair.
For tumas meis there is only one solution – the ashes of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer). But where can this be found?
This necessity can be found on one day only – Purim. The Rebbe explicitly teaches (Likutey Tinyana 74): “For originally all beginnings were from Pesach and this is why all the Mitzvos are in commemoration of the exodus from Mitzrayim, but now…. (The Rebbe did not finish his statement).” The intention is, as is evident from the lesson, that now all beginnings are from Purim. Why? Because from ‘Purim’ is created the ‘Parah’ (The root of both the word Parah and Purim is the two letters Pey Reish). The tremendous light of Purim reveals that even in the greatest darkness and concealment Hashem can be found. Purim paves the way for Pesach, for if not for it, we would have no connection to the celebrations of Pesach. For how can it be demanded of us to see ourselves as if we left Mitzrayim – we cannot even imagine such a thing? We can, however, be spoken to in the language of Purim, one that penetrates into nature and shows that everything is truly a miracle.
Once the beginning was from Pesach – when did this change? In the days of Mordechai.
When Mordechai saw the frightening troubles, he knew that Pesach would not help as everyone was already sunk in utter despair. There was no option – it was necessary to reveal to them an entirely new illumination, to show them that absolutely everything is guided by Hashem, not that which is above nature but nature itself too.
If Mordechai had not written the Megillah, the story could have slipped by as a completely natural sequence of events, nothing more than politics. The king killed the queen, took another in her place, got frustrated with his minister, had him hanged and a wise man like Mordechai was just the natural choice to fill the position. Yet when we read the Megillah, we see that everything was perfectly orchestrated to the finest detail, everything perfectly timed. This is how the miracle of Purim took place, completely within the course of nature. Mordechai reveals and illuminates the world with the knowledge that there is no nature and miracles, but only miracles; miracles outside of nature and miracles within nature.
Baruch Hashem we merited to Purim and now as we approach the holy days of Pesach, let us not forget that in order to ascend to where this chag is supposed to take us, we must purify ourselves of tumas meis. The ashes of the Parah we take from Purim, from the knowledge that the Tzaddikim reveal that there is no nature at all and that everything in only Hashgacha (divine providence) and miracles. This knowledge envelopes the soul with a spirit of purity, cleanses the mind and the heart of the stubborn and sticky Chametz, and implants the elated feeling of living on miracles.
It is pleasant to think about the story of Chatzkel the wagon driver, but we are more like Reb Chaim – we specifically need the story of Purim. Our simple everyday lives are filled with miracles, the influx of bounty doesn’t have to come on a mysterious wagon on the eve of Pesach. Even if it arrives through completely natural means, it is no less of a miracle.
And if we thought that we covered the expenses from our own pockets, let us be careful not to cover the miracles with nature.
You can download the entire parasha sheet here.