Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Red Heifer and Purity of Will

When impurity is contracted by contact with a dead body, seven days of waiting are mandated. On the third and seventh day, the subject must be sprinkled with a special preparation of water and heifer-ash. After this, he may immerse in מים חיים, and is considered pure. Rashi quotes the midrash and states that this is one of those laws whose understanding is beyond human ken, and therefore is a חק. However, Nachmanidies attempts an explanation, and the Talmud itself (Menachot 19a) does not see the word חק as an exhortation against attempts at divining ratio dei, rather as a description of how fundamental each aspect of this law is to its fulfillment.

Rabbi Hirsch's general view of ritual purity and impurity has been discussed before. Freedom of will in spiritual and moral matters are the sine qua non of our ability to see the commands of the Torah as binding. Only if we truly have the ability to hallow our lives can we strive for purity of action in the way of God's law. This moral freedom is questioned when Man comes into contact with death. A human corpse seems to tell our physical senses that all is predestined, and that our moral choices end with the whole of man dead, as any other living thing. This would leave no room for an immortal world which finds transcendent meaning in the moral decisions of humanity while it lives.

The preparation of the red heifer solution is a public negation of this notion. Outside of the היכל, the whole nation witnesses as the Kohen prepares the solution which symbolizes Man's ability to ultimately triumph over death. Demonstrated is the fact that Man is not made up solely of the physical; the important part of Humanity, the spirit, lives on and is immortalized by moral and Godly action.

The sprinklings also contribute to this meaning. The third day of creation was when animals were created, submitting themselves to the natural law of God's creation. The seventh day symbolizes the infusion of Godliness into the world. No longer is creation seen as a physically complete unit. Instead, the Law is introduced, and Man is tasked with obeying God, not out of nature, but out of will.

When an impure person is sprinkled on the third day, he hallows his physical being for service of God. On the seventh day, the spiritual component is re-dedicated, and Man's return to moral free-will is complete. The dedication of the spirit cannot be complete without the dedication of the physical. Only a complete organic creature can be imbued with the holiness of free-willed service of God.

Thus, the moral turpitude of pre-destined action is replaced with the liberating of Man's will to serve God. This is accomplished fully when the whole of Man, in all his dualities, spiritual and physical, transient and immortal, are dedicated to the free-willed service of God.