Tidbits of Torah

Shabbat Parashat Chukkat

Spiritual Focus for a Better Future

June 23, 2018 – 10 Tammuz 5778

Dear Friends,

How is it possible for someone who is actively performing a mitzvah to lose spiritual focus as a direct result of performing that mitzvah? Or, to put it another way: Why might someone who is doing a mitzvah be in need of spiritual grounding?!

That question is at the heart of the mystery of the Red Heifer purification ritual which is described in our weekly Torah portion of Chukkat.

The Torah tells us that, in the purification ritual, a ritually pure person sprinkles an admixture (which included ashes of a Red Heifer) on a ritually impure person. This sprinkling effects the purification of the ritually impure person. It allows a person who had previously been impure to re-enter the sanctuary and the community. However, the Torah also tells us that the pure person – the one who sprinkles the admixture during the purification ritual – becomes impure as soon as the purification ritual is completed!

Our Sages pondered this strange situation. Why would a person, facilitating the purification of some else, become impure as a direct result of doing a mitzvah that helped a person re-enter the sanctuary and the community?!

Here’s my take on this Torah teaching:

When the Torah speaks of “pure” and “impure”, the Torah is teaching us about states of spiritual focus and grounding (“purity”) versus times when we lose our sense of spiritual focus and grounding (“impurity”). By reminding us that the “pure” person becomes “impure”, the Torah is reminding us that sometimes, in our zeal to do the right thing, especially when we are sure that we are in the right and that we are acting “purely” for the sake of God and for the sake of community, we may unknowingly slip into “impurity.” We may slip into arrogance. We may, unwittingly, lose spiritual focus and grounding.

The Torah is teaching us that when we are performing a mitzvah, we become vulnerable to the “impurity” of arrogance. And, at that point in time, we would do well to step back and re-examine our own spiritual focus.

These days, many extremely important moral and ethical issues are being discussed throughout our country. The exchange of ideas and views, along with the widespread sharing of information and thoughts, are essential to the democratic process we all value.
But, continued communication is also an essential element for the well-being and positive development of our society.

So, how are we doing? Are we keeping lines of communication open with those who disagree with us?

It is important to remember that when we argue for our position, we may lose our spiritual focus. And, as a result, we may end up alienating others or cutting off lines of communication.

When we see some of our issues as rising to the level of mitzvah, of moral obligation, that is when we must be wary of sliding into arrogance. That is when the “pure”, unwittingly, may become “impure”. That is when we benefit from taking a step back and re-examining our spiritual focus.

Are we so sure that we are right, that we shut off communication with those who disagree with us? Or do we take the time to listen, to discuss, to understand what brings other good and bright people to hold a differing view from ours?

In advocating for a position we hold strongly, let us remember that our goal is to have a positive effect on the world around us and that humility helps us to achieve our goal. Our goal should not be to alienate or to cut off lines of communication, but rather, to have a discussion that engenders further thought and consideration of all aspects of the situation.

Humility does not mean abandoning our principles. Humility allows us to maintain our principles along with open lines of respectful communication with those around us.

As we say in our morning prayers:

“Let my soul be truly humble before all,
With my heart open to Your Torah,
And pursuing Your commandments.”

It is humility, together with continued dedication to our values that brings us back to spiritual focus and grounding.

May our sense of mitzvah always guide us and may our dedication and humility lead us to “tikkun olam” – to constructive ways of making our world a better place for all!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror