Introspective Inspiration

 Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            Parshat Parah introduces us to the ultimate chok, a mitzvah that defies all logic and we accept simply because it is God’s command. In this mitzvah, the kohain takes one who has become defiled through contact with the dead and brings him outside the camp. There he sprinkles on him water that contains ashes from a red heifer, and the man becomes purified.  Rabbi Wolfson offers a homiletic interpretation to this ritual. The ultimate Purifier is Hashem Who purifies us from all sin.

            The purification process begins on Purim when we returned to Hashem and re-accepted the Torah through love. We are drawn back to Hashem, and the purification process continues, drawing us back to Him, until Pesach when the process is complete, and we are freed from the challenges that hold us back from becoming full servants of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. These thirty days are a time to prepare our minds and our hearts for our full redemption, as Hashem each night removes one thirtieth of the contamination to help us in the purification process. Preparing for Pesach must include spiritual cleansing and preparation as well as physical cleansing of our homes. Parshat Parah offers some insights into this preparation.

            To get a better understanding of sin, we will go back to examine the original sin of Adam and Chava. When Hashem created Adam and Chava and placed them in Gan Eden, all was perfection. And Hashem was fully there, and His presence was obvious, writes the Shvilei Pinchas. Then the serpent broaches one question.  His one question was, “Did Hashem really tell you, you may not eat from any tree of the garden?” Suddenly, doubt sets in, Hashem’s presence and words are no longer transparent, and everything falls apart. Fast forward now to Pharaoh. His vision is so clouded that when Moshe approaches him with Hashem’s command to let Bnei Yisroel go, he responds, “Who is this God? I do not know Him.”

            If there are questions that foster impurity, in order to maintain balance, there must also be questions that promote purity, continues the Shvilei Pinchas. Hashem’s first question to Adam is one that should reverberate with mankind throughout time, “Ayekah/Where are you?” This is not a question about physical location, but rather a spiritual question. Hashem asks three more questions, culminating  with, “What did you do?” These questions come as a result of Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit.

            At the Seder we attempt to repair this sin. We do not know for certain what the forbidden fruit was. According to some of our Sages, the fruit was wheat (everything grew differently in the Garden of Eden) and according to others, it was grapes/wine. (Apple is a non-Jewish concept.) When we eat the matzah and drink the four cups of wine at the Seder, we are sanctifying these “fruits” again and repairing the sin.

            Now the son continues the repair by asking four questions. Each of these questions parallels one of our exiles, since we continue to sin. As the father answers these questions, he is also responding to Hashem’s questions and expresses a desire to be redeemed from our individual servitudes to become proper servants to Hashem. The blessing over this cup of wine concludes with a prayer for the liberation of our souls.

            The Seder night is meant to rectify the sin of Adam and eliminate all doubt about God. The process begins with Adar and concludes with Pesach. The Seder’s answer to Hashem’s question of, “Where are you?” is, “Here I am, ready to serve You.”

            While Parshat Parah seems to apply only to purification from contact with the dead, the Haftorah provides an extended meaning. The Haftorah speaks about Hashem’s purifying us from all sin, about giving us a new, pure heart of flesh rather than of stone. The connection goes further than simple purification from sin, notes Rabbi Biederman in Be’er Chaim. It was the first sin that brought death, and subsequently all sin to the world. The purification process of the parah adumah/red heifer involved sprinkling the dust-and-ashes laden water on the impure individual. Man can do proper teshuvah only when he feels humble, as only dust and ashes. We should be inspired to look within ourselves and see how we are enslaved to our individual yetzer horo writes Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz in Tiv Hatorah.

            We are commanded to see ourselves as if we were personally redeemed from Mitzrayim. Rabbi Zev Leff points out that the command is not to view ourselves as if we personally left Eretz Mitzrayim/the Land of Egypt, but that we left our personal mitzrayim/narrow places. We are each confined by our own yetzer horo, our own spiritual enslavement. Each night leading up to the Seder, Hashem provides our soul with the potential to redeem itself. Our enslavement is individualized, and so each of us must consider his own personal redemption from his mitzrayim.

            The Seder provides the methodology for our redemption. Just as we were incapable of personally redeeming ourselves from the slavery in Egypt, so are we incapable of personally redeeming ourselves from our current narrow straits. It was only Hashem Himself, not through any agent or angel, Who took us out. As we cried out to Him then and He heard us, so must we cry out to Him today, writes Rabbi Rabinowitz. I am caught in the clutches of the physical world, and only by recognizing that Hashem is an integral part of my life, not just an abstract idea, can I hope for His help. And I must know that even the difficult times in my life serve a purpose, that I am meant to grow from every experience. To know what I must learn from each experience and to get rid of the yetzer horo, I need to pray and ask for Hashem’s help. He loves our voices t, and they are pleasant to Him. The Seder is one long tefillah, and affords continuous opportunity to pray for what is missing in my life, a shidduch, or children, or sustenance, and above all, for help in perfecting my middos. I must take away the Pharaoh within me, writes Rabbi Meislish, and daven for my redemption.

            In giving the mitzvah for the first korban Pesach/Pascal sacrifice, Hashem adds a word that does not seem relevant or necessary, “Mishchu ukechu/Draw and take for yourself one sheep...” Rabbi Wolbe z”l quoting Chazal, suggests that Moshe was implying that Bnei Yisroel withdraw from idol worship before they take a sheep for the sacrifice. Before we are ready to do the positive, it is necessary to remove the negative, the evil. When we scrub our houses and search out the chametz, we should be doing an equally thorough search in our hearts to remove all spiritual chametz. We must reflect on our middos and attitudes and remove the idol worship within ourselves.

            Why is this process so difficult? Rabbi Roth z”l in Sichot Eliyahu cites the Rambam in noting the constant battle within us between the body and the soul. Because we are comprised of a body and live in a physical world, the yetzer horo keeps us so occupied with our physical needs and wants that we are too busy to introspect or meditate, and work on self improvement. (Interestingly, so many branches of medical and psychological science now recommend slowing down and meditation to relieve stress and promote both physical and psychological healing. We had it first, but we add spiritual healing. CKS)

            When we have withdrawn from our personal idol worship, whether it be the pursuit of money for luxuries we do not need, or prestige, or whatever else, we are ready to begin the positive aspects of our service. Why was Bnei Yisroel worthy of redemption? They exhibited self sacrifice in the “bloods” they were willing to suffer for Hashem, the blood of circumcision and the blood of the Pascal lamb on their doorposts, an act which angered the Egyptians who worshiped sheep. How much am I willing to sacrifice in Hashem’s service, continues Rabbi Roth z”l. Analyze my day. Where have I fallen short of what I should do simply because it was inconvenient for the moment, or how have I been brusque with another because I was insensitive or in a hurry? Work on my self improvement.

            Rabbi Yaakov Hillel expand on this idea. Citing the Ramchal, he writes that one of the main tactics of the yetzer horo is to keep us so busy that we do not have time or energy to think. This is the modern day Pharaoh, increase the work load or worry about things that have no effect on us so we won’t have time to think of freedom. Look inward, and work on what’s truly important.

            Parshat Parah is meant not to rectify a particular sin so much as it is meant to rectify the idea of sin, the idea of throwing off the yoke of Heaven, writes Rav Dessler z”l. People like to be in control and to be able to act however they choose. By accepting the chok of parah adumah, we are reaffirming our submission to God’s will. In essence, we are again asserting naaseh venishma/we will do and we will listen as we did at Sinai. Rav Dessler z”l contends that the entire purpose of our servitude in Egypt was to teach us about servitude, to train us in His service.

            Serving Hashem is about doing that which we may not understand, that which is difficult for me, not about doing that which is easy and within my nature. Getting up early to daven with a minyan is easy for a morning person but a constant struggle for a night owl. To overcome the attraction of the warm bed and get to shul early is greater service for the night owl, for he is struggling with his innate nature in his will to follow God’s will. Following Hashem’s will becomes the primary force in my life. In that sense, the chok of the red heifer is the paradigm of my service. I do it only because it is His will; to me it is completely illogical. I must pray for Hashem’s help to work on myself in uprooting that which Hashem does not want and increase those middos that Hashem does want in me.

            Perhaps now we can more readily understand why our Sages say that greater is the one who is commanded and does than the one who is not commanded and does (on his own). Doing mitzvoth by rote or because it is in one’s nature is not the same as thinking about the mitzvah, having intention, investing effort and thought into its performance, writes Rav Yitzchak Isaac She z”l.. While we can certainly enjoy the chag, we must also appreciate that we fulfill all its details because Hashem has so commanded.

            Each of us struggles with something, is a slave to money, or technology, or physical pleasure, or something else, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. It is our own personal version of the yetzer horo. We must not let that enslavement steal our energy from the true purpose of our lives, to be an eved Hashem. We pray that Hashem should help us do the proper introspection and focus our energy on that which is truly important, our families and being true avdei Hashem.