June 28, 2012
Parshat Chukat Learning Prayer from the Parah
When it comes to discussions about the Parah Adumah (red heifer), many look to its symbolism or try to find a message in the concept of a “chok,” typically defined as a “mitzvah without a reason.” Some focus on the unique quality of how the Parah Adumah mixture was metaher temeim and metameh tehorim (purified those who were impure, and made the pure (the one doing the sprinkling) impure).
In chassidic annals the general approach to this and other symbols is to find moral teachings and ethical lessons that adherents can adapt to their lifestyles.
With regard to the metameh tehorim (etc) idea, the Baal Shem Tov was asked, “if every mitzvah can teach us something about how to serve G-d, please explain where parah adumah fits in.” In other words, if it turns a person who is already tahor (pure) to be tameh (impure), then it seems to be working backwards. How does it bring one closer to G-d?
The Baal Shem Tov equated this quality with the middot of Ga’avah (haughtiness) and Anavah (humility). A person who is distant from observance of mitzvot and a commitment to serving G-d, it is good for him to have a little more haughtiness about his capabilities. Instead of saying, “Who am I that I could even conceive that my prayer has any clout, or that there’s any hope for me to turn around from my habits?” that person should have much more confidence. Education or background is unrelated to one’s ability to connect with the Almighty.
On the other hand, a person who feels very strong in one’s commitment and dedication to G-d could use more than a dose of humility in a personal reminder that “You still haven’t ‘arrived,’ and you always need a lot more work before you reach ‘that’ level.”
Many people who are committed to Tefillah and are regular participants in tefillah, whether with a minyan or on an individual basis, get it. The Tehillim groups get it. Those who even take the “Shir Hamaalot” added to the end of davening (in many shuls) seriously, also get it.
Those who ask a Rabbi or a Rebbe to pray for them, but who do not pray for themselves, do not get it. Those who rely on the “power of others,” and do not give credit to their own strengths, their own abilities, their own sincerity, do not get it.