This Shabbos we read Parshas Shmini. It is also Parshas Parah, in which we read of the ritual cleansing done with the ashes of the red heifer for anyone who had come in contact with a dead body. This had to be done before these people were allowed into the Temple, or to eat from a sacrifice. The reason that this is read at this time of the year is because all Jews had to eat from the Paschal lamb on the night of Passover; those Jews who had come in contact with a dead body over the year, or had been in a cemetery, had to be purified before they could do so.
The law of the red heifer is the classic case of a chok, - a decree for which we have no understanding of the reason. The commentaries tell us that when a Jew observes a chok, a mitzvah for which he has no understanding of its reason, he is showing his true allegiance to Hashem and his recognition that we as humans have to submit to His will, even if we have no idea why He is commanding us to do a particular mitzvah. Although the Red Heifer is a chok, a mitzvah for which we don’t have an apparent reason, there is an idea that we can take from this mitzvah.
The animal used for this mitzvah was the Red Heifer - had to be Adumah Temimah – totally red. Even if there were two black hairs on the animal, it was rendered invalid. ere were no requirements relating to the color of the animal. Why was this sacrifice different?
The reason a heifer was chosen for the sacrifice was to atone for the sin of the Jews with the Golden Calf. In the words of the Sages, “this is analogous to a child who made a mess in the palace of the King. The people in charge said, “Let his mother come and clean up her child’s’ mess.” Here too, the sin was done with the calf, so we use a heifer, the calf’s’ mother, as an atonement for the sin. This analogy needs some explanation. Certainly if the child is old enough to clean up himself or herself, they will be expected to do so. Why then do we need the sacrifice to be the mother of the calf?
The Kli Yakar writes a most beautiful idea. When someone is looking to rip out a negative trait or way of acting, it is not enough to just rip the offshoots of the trait. Just as when one leaves the trunk of the tree in the ground and only cuts the branches, the obvious result is that the rotten branches will grow back. So too, when one sins, we must search very deeply for the roots that caused the sin. It is not enough to simply stop the sin; we must dig out the feelings and emotions that brought us to the sin. This is the idea of bringing the mother, - representing preventing any causes for the sin to be repeated. Whether it was an emotion of Haughtiness, Envy, or Depression, we must identify and find these basic character traits, and help get them improved.
The color red is similar to gold. One of the causes of the sin of the Golden Calf was because the Jews had too much money. This overabundance led them astray. The red color represents the cause of this sin, the fact that Jews then had too much gold money. This is a very important idea, that can really teach us to live in moderation and satisfaction, and can avoid frustrations and challenges that arise in the course of the year.