This week’s parsha Chukat begins with the laws of Parah Adumah–the Red Heifer sacrifice. This sacrifice involved finding a completely red cow and selling it to the Temple. The cow was then taken out of the Temple (some say to the Mount of Olives) where it was burned and its ashes were mixed into water with some other ingredients. This mixture would be sprinkled on a person who was deemed “Tamay–ritually impure” from having come into contact with a dead body and would result in the person’s becoming “pure” again. The catch was that the Kohain (priest) who performed this sacrifice and who was pure beforehand, became impure as a result of the sacrifice. The obvious question is: why did the Parah Adumah have this contradictory aspect?
Kli Yakar (R. Shlomo Efraim of Luntchiz) points out that in nature, everything is most affected by its opposite. In other words, if A and B are similar and A and C are opposites, C will have a greater effect on A than B will. The example that Kli Yakar gives is that the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) is stronger in a righteous individual than someone who is evil. The idea is that opposites try to overcome each other and in so doing they affect each other more than two similar things do. We see this in nature as it is always darkest before dawn. This is because the forces of darkness are trying to overpower the opposite force (the light) by becoming as dark as possible before dawn comes. Similarly, a sick person often experiences one last bout of strength before he dies (sometimes even being able to sit up, maybe eat, etc) as the opposite force of death tries to do him in.
Water is considered to be pure because it comes from a pure source. The ashes of the Parah Adumah are associated with impurity. When this mixture came into contact with an impure person, the force in the mixture which was the opposite of the person (i.e. the water) had a greater impact on the person and was thus able to make the person pure again. Conversely, when the mixture came into contact with the Kohain who was pure the opposite force in the mixture (i.e. the ashes) had a greater impact on the Kohain and thus made him impure.
The question one might ask is: Why bother having the ashes in this mixture? Why not just have a mixture with water if water makes the impure person, pure? Says Kli Yakar “Because a person has to know what the source of his sin is before he can do Teshuvah (i.e. repent.)” The Parah Adumah reminded us of another cow that caused impurity to come upon the Jews–i.e. the Golden Calf. Kli Yakar says that after getting the Torah the only mode of death was going to be the “Kiss of Death” from Hashem. This type of death involves no impurity. However as a result of the Golden Calf, that privilege was taken away and the mode of death which involved the Angel of Death came back and involves impurity. Therefore, the ashes of the Parah Adumah which came to take away the impurity from someone who came into contact with the dead, was a direct atonement for the Golden Calf which caused a return of impurity associated with death. And since the atonement would have no effect if the Jews did not know what it was coming to atone for, the mixture had to include the ashes in order to remind them.
We see another side to this idea in this week’s parsha as well. If it is important to be aware of the source of our sin, it is just as important to be aware of the source of our salvation. At the end of the parsha, the Jews sing a song of thanks for the well of water that Hashem gave them. The question is: why now? Why didn’t they sing a song for the well forty years earlier when they first got it? Rashi explains that they were singing praise for a miracle that the well showed them. The Amorite nation had been hiding in the caves of a mountain waiting to ambush the Jews as they passed through. Hashem performed a miracle and made a mountain on the other side, which had pieces of bedrock jutting out directly opposite the caves which contained the Amorites, close in on the Amorites and kill them. The problem was that the Jews were down in the valley and were totally unaware that this miracle occurred. In order to let them know what happened, Hashem made the well flow UPWARDS and carry the blood of the Amorites pass the Jews, so they would see what had transpired. In other words, Hashem utilized a miracle just to show the Jews what could have happened to them in order to make them realize that Hashem was the source of their salvation.
Along these lines, during the 1967 war, the BIG miracle (though really EVERYTHNG about it was a miracle) was that Israel managed to disable the entire Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi, and Egyptian air-forces by the second morning of the war. But there was one incident which occurred involving an enemy plane. On the second day of the war, an Iraqi Ulyshon fighter-jet managed to break through Israeli radar and enter Netanya. There, it flew down Main street and shot off three missiles and then machine-gunned to death a man who had come out onto his porch to see what was going on. The jet then flew down to the sea and turned around to make its way back to Iraq. On its way back, it was hit by Israeli anti-aircraft fire over Afula and it crashed into a gas station which subsequently blew-up. Unfortunately, a group of fifteen Israeli soldiers were filling up their jeeps at that station and died in the fiery explosion. Upon contemplating what the lesson in this incident was, R. Kahana Shlita said “In showing us the damage that one enemy plane did, Hashem was trying to show us what could have happened if He had allowed a few hundred to enter Israel.”
Having superior military strategies, is only half the battle. Recognizing the true source of our salvation, GUARANTEES the victory.