Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Two Edged Sword of Azamra

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, during Elul, 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?!”

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