Thursday, March 27, 2008

Parshas Parah: The Mystery of the Red Heifer

The Likutei Halachos zt”l brings the Medrash about the red heifer, “Let the mother come and clean up after her child.” The child of the heifer is the golden calf, the paradigm of willful sin, and the cleansing from the impurity of death symbolizes the internal cleansing of teshuvah. This is achieved by focusing on our good points and returning to our real identity, which makes the negative fall aside. Just as the red heifer is completely unblemished, the good within us is absolutely unsoiled by whatever bad we may have done.

But this focusing on the good is double-edged; like the ashes of the heifer, it can defile the pure even as it purifies the impure. Seeking out our own good points is appropriate for when we are feeling discouraged and far from Hashem, because it ensures that we won’t fall completely. However, when we are in a good state, such a focus can easily lead to arrogance. Knowing when to focus on the good in ourselves and when to focus on how far we have to go is a great challenge. Perhaps this is what Shlomo Hamelech referred to when he said that although he had tried to understand it, the mystery of the red heifer remained, “far from me.”

One Motzei Shabbos, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l spoke in his Yeshivah, the famous Yeshivas Etz Chaim. When they heard his moving words, his listeners could not help but cry along with him.

“When a Sefer Torah is found to be pasul, the law is that we put a belt on its outside so that everyone will know that it invalid. This will keep people from reading from it, because to do so would be a sin.”

At this point the Rav himself burst into tears. “Since this is the case, who knows how many belts I need to bind around myself, so that people will know that I am pasul? How will they otherwise be warned away from learning from me?!”


Spiritual Dan said...

Didn't the Rav speak loshon hora about himself, much like in that famous Chafetz Chaim story?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for asking your great question!
Interestingly enough, the answer is yes. There is no actual prohibition to speak lashon hara about oneself, however. The Chofetz Chaim merely pointed out that he had learned that it wasn't worthwhile to denigrate oneself even in the interest of humility.
Rav Issar Zalman's motive was to help people out of their complacency, which is the defilement of imbalanced chizuk. As we all know, one who feels complacent is in serious spiritual danger.
Of course if this kind of drasha is appropriate depends on who the audience is and who the speaker is. I know of at least two gedolim who said that this drasha caused the entire audience to burst into tears and inspired serious self introspection and teshuvah in one and all. To generate that much spiritual activity is worth a little self denigration.
It is important to note that nowadays people are much weaker and almost always suffer from a marked deficiency of chizuk instead of the reverse. For such a person too much mussar can be very dangerous.
But mussar and chizuk must be balanced properly. Rav Nosson said an equation: "A plate full of chizuk to a spoon of self galvanization."
Hashem should help us attain balanced chizuk!