Thursday, July 3, 2008

CHUKAT: EXPLORING THE ZERO SUM

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

In this week's parsha, Chukat, we are instructed to concoct the antidote to death contamination and spiritual impurity. Ah, the quest for immortality. But it is a spiritual immortality with which we are dealing. We are taking the life force energies, so often misapplied and misused, and are advised as to how to redirect those same energies for the good- i.e., reaffirming life.

Affirming HAYYIM, the life force, and the Creator which is its source is our original goal. It was the original purpose of our creation. So often we humans take the good and corrupt it. This week's sedrah teaches us how we can make it whole once more.

How fitting in the parsha where we see the deaths of Miriam, Aaron, and the snake victims. We are to take a completely red cow- a parah adumah temimah, and slaughter it and burn it completely. Tam is short for temimah- which means "perfect" or "complete." Tam spelled in reverse is "meit," meaning death.

The use of this formula symbolically helps us attain spiritual perfection in the face of death - the highest form of tumah, or spiritual imperfection. Interestingly, this "reversal" is similarly attained when we examine what is burned and how it is burned. Its skin, its flesh and its blood must be burned- AL pirsha- ON its entrails, not AND its entrails.

This serves to highlight the idea of the entrails, the innards, as somehow the focus and foundation of what is to be burned. AL PIRSHA YISROF. On the entrails it must be burned. The shoresh, the root of yisroph, is SRF (burn), which is reverse for FRS (innards/entrails), similar to how TAM and MEIT are reversed, as explained above (TM vs MT).

This "reversal idea" is played out on the macro level with the automatic contamination of the handlers in their very handling of the product which eliminates contamination. In other words, nothing is left over. There is no net gain on the side of purity. If you make something pure on the one end, the other end now becomes impure. You can't get to FRS without SRF. Similarly, we don't get to TaM (perfection) without an awareness of the approach of death (MeiT).

This certain knowledge of death compels a sense of urgency and clarity of purpose in our lives. The knowledge that life in this world is finite creates a sense of urgency and compels us to seek lives of meaning and purpose, while bequeathing a legacy of values and good deeds. The seeming contradiction is that while we uphold and value life, it is only through the knowledge of our own certain mortality that we create lives that have meaning.

As a cow was the source of sin and the cutting off of Israel from its life source in the incident of the Golden Calf, so too a cow is now shown as the vehicle for the restoration of that life affirming connection. This dance between the two cows, a dance between death and life, or life and death, plays itself out in life.

Cows are revered as holy beings in India and were worshipped in Egypt precisely because they provided for all human physical needs. They performed labor, they gave milk and nourishment
and their dung provided fuel for cooking and warmth. But who created the cow? That is Judaism's eternal question.

The domesticated animals (cows, goats and sheep) which were worshiped by the Egyptians are a source of goodness - but we know that G*d is the ultimate source of goodness. Death has a value, but life is the higher, ultimate value. You can worship the animal or you can worship the ONE G*d, but you cannot worship both. You can worship death or you can worship the author of life, but you cannot worship both. You can have formulas for spiritual purity, but those who make it themselves become impure. This is the zero sum reality. This is the secret of our sedrah.

One can be bitter in life and bewail one's plight, and take solace and comfort in darkness and negativity. Or one can choose to bask in positive radiance and tap into the abundance of love in the universe. The Torah seems to be saying that there really isn't any room for the middle ground, for the seductively false luxury of sitting on the fence. One can choose life. Or its very opposite!

Shabbat Shalom
Good Shabbos!

copyright 1999-2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin HaKohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me.

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua

(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
Dedications are available.

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!