A prominent rosh yeshiva once remarked to me, “I never ate a steak in my life.”
This comment stayed with me, because it represents such a deviation from the norm, even among the observant community. We have to understand how subservient we are to a dominant culture whose lifestyle has enveloped us without our understanding what is happening.
The Para Aduma (Red Heifer) is one huge steak.
“A steer weighing 1,000 pounds … will average around 430 pounds of retail cuts.” (Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry) “Steers, heifers, and bullocks produce beef of the highest quality.” (The Food School, California)
The Para Aduma represents a life submerged in material pursuits, which blocks our ability to connect with Hashem. This is arguably the central problem of mankind. It appears to be identical with what occurred at the primal stage of life in this world, when Chava (Eve) disobeyed Ha-shem’s one explicit mitzvah by eating from the Aitz Hadas, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It all began with an obsession with food.
“Coronary heart disease is the leading killer of women and men in western civilization. It is pre-dicted to become the number one global disease burden by 2020. It consists of an inflammatory buildup of blockages in arteries to the heart muscle….
“Who develops heart disease? Everyone eating the typical western diet …. [In cultures] where there is a virtual absence of coronary artery heart disease … their nutrition is plant based ….” (Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic since 1968 and former president of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons)
At the end of history, “Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your off-spring, to love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6) The physical world reflects the spiritual world. Sickness of the physical heart reflects sickness of the spiritual heart. This is a great problem, because our goal is to “love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart ….” If the pathway to the heart is blocked, we are in trouble. It would appear that the mitzvah of Parah Aduma represents the cure for the disease which blocks us from one-ness with Hashem. If our desire is towards material things, the prognosis is fatal.
I feel this problem on a personal level. Many of you who read these words were brought up sur-rounded by mitzvos and a Torah perspective. But I grew up in that assimilated world in which all that is recognized are material objects and the only power acknowledged is material power, i.e. government, military, police, or the charisma of an influential person. There is no knowledge of a Power Who Rules All, and of the soul which can connect to that Ruling Power.
In such a world, the soul feels abandoned, a prisoner within the body. No one remembers that it exists. It is starving, while the body is being luxuriously fed. Even now, after I have discovered Hashem, I am struggling to rise from the condition in which I was raised. I am not saying that I am unique in this regard, but I still feel it strongly.
You may recognize this experience: I am saying Shemoneh Esreh (the principal part of the prayer service, said at least three times a day). I am standing in front of G-d’s Throne. And what am I thinking about? Practically everything under the sun. Here is a parable: a man is admiring the dis-play in a store window. Suddenly, someone hits him twice on the chest! Oy! What’s going on!? “Oh! I forgot! I am praying! I have just said, ‘chatanu (I have erred)… fashanu’ (I have willfully sinned)” (Where we strike ourselves on the chest twice. This parable was heard from Rabbi Moshe Grossman in the name of Rabbi Sholom Schwadron zt”l)
The effort required to focus on Hashem is overwhelming. We are obsessed with the world of ma-terialism. But we are enjoined to focus on the Source of Life, because all material and spiritual problems are solved by one-ness with Hashem. If this were not a matter of great concern, why else would King David say, “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi samid … I have set Hashem before me al-ways. Because He is at my right hand I shall not falter.” (Psalm 16)
When I say “Shema Yisroel,” I try to internalize the fact that Hashem encompasses the entire world; there is nothing outside Him. The infinite details and worries of life are subservient to Him; all is in order if we focus upon Him alone. But we are overwhelmed by distractions, which the Satan so cleverly places before us. To focus upon Hashem is a never-ending effort, and that is why the Jewish Nation is enjoined to involve ourselves constantly in Torah, “while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way and when you retire and you arise.”
The clogged arteries leading to our heart block our desire for pure service of Hashem. Just as our taste buds enjoy the delicious prime rib, so our heart desires the physical pleasure of eating. This is represented by the Red Heifer, which we are commanded to slaughter and burn before we can bring the Pesach sacrifice.
Zman Chairusainu, the Time of our Freedom (Passover), is the moment of liberation from this crushing burden. Unless we pulverize and burn this obsession with materialism, we cannot leave Egypt! The proof of this awesome challenge is that at least four fifths of the Children of Israel never in fact did leave Biblical Egypt! (See Rashi on Exodus 10:22 and 13:18 and other com-mentators.)
Perhaps the laws of the Red Heifer are incomprehensible to us precisely because our spiritual ar-teries are so clogged. We cannot comprehend the extent of this spiritual blockage which has its roots buried so deeply in our past. When we are cleansed, everything will become crystal clear!
Please, Hashem, now is the time! Purify us now with the ashes of the Red Heifer!