This year, the portion Vayakhel-Pekudei falls on Shabbat Parah, a special Shabbat marking the beginning of preparations for Pesach. On this Shabbat, there is an additional reading, which comes from the beginning of the portion Chukat. In the time of the Beit HaMikdash, people couldn't come to Pesach, bring the Pesach sacrifice, or connect to the Light of Pesach if they were impure. And the section of this reading describes the process of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer, which was part of the way the Israelites and kohenim, priests, purified themselves for Pesach.
"The red heifer is meant to remove the impurity..."
Kabbalists teach that when the soul leaves the body upon a person’s passing, negative forces can attach themselves to it, causing the physical body to become impure. Any individual who is near to, or touches, that dead body receives some of that impurity. And it is through the process of the Parah Adumah that the impurity is removed.
Through this process, the kohenim, priests, who are involved in the creation of a potion that purifies an individual, spiritually, from all the aspects of negativity and darkness brought upon him or her through death, actually become impure themselves. It doesn't make sense; if you're involved in a pure process, how do you become impure? The whole process of Parah Adumah sounds illogical, and the Midrash actually makes clear that it's meant to be an illogical story. As such, there is obviously a secret here. What is the Light, understanding, and consciousness we're meant to receive from it?
It says in the Midrash that part of the process of purification of the red heifer is meant to remove the impurity from the fall of the golden calf. As we know, at the core of the fall of the golden calf was the lack of certainty in the Light of the Creator. Just as things sometimes happen to us in our lives and we lose our certainty, that's what happened to the Israelites. And Parah Adumah is meant to purify the Israelites, and us, from that loss of certainty. But in order to go through this process of purification, we need to understand where the lack of certainty comes from.
Let’s say we were to hit somebody using our hand. We know that then the Light of the Creator, to some degree, is removed from our hand, and our hand therefore becomes weaker spiritually, and eventually, physically. So, we understand what happens when we damage something physical, like our hand. But what happens when we damage our mind?
First, we have to understand how we damage the mind. It says there are two main ways: through having negative sexual thoughts and through having egotistical thoughts, thinking of ourselves as above other people. Those two negative thoughts damage the mind. When a person damages his or her mind, the mind becomes weakened.
"Where does doubt come from?"
And then, where does doubt come from? We think it comes from external things that happen. But, no; no matter what is happening, the real reason we have doubt is because at some point - maybe it was yesterday or last week - we had a few thoughts of ego that damaged our mind. So, we now have a weakened mind, and therefore, when we get upset, are unable to awaken certainty in that moment.
How we come to fix our weakened mind is a powerful teaching, and a secret of Shabbat Parah. We do it by understanding that the reason we don’t have certainty in that moment is because our mind is spiritually weakened, and nothing else. We had spiritually weakened our mind through negative thoughts, which in turn, causes us to doubt and lose certainty.
And, this is the beauty of what it says in the Midrash about the story of the red heifer. When we look at the story, a person touches a dead body, becomes impure, and has the special water sprinkled on him to remove the impurity. However, and this is important, it says in the Midrash that it is not the dead body that makes a person impure, and that it is not this whole process that we read about that then makes a person pure.
What does this mean for us? It goes back to the story of our lives. Being upset, or having doubt or sadness, is an indication that there's something wrong. And this, therefore, is the powerful teaching: Why did a person “accidentally” fall next to, and touch, a dead body? Because, really, that person has bigger problems. That person has a mind that is weakened, and so, the Creator says to him, “I'll put a situation in front of you to let you know where your mind really is.”
Unfortunately, most of us aren't aware of where our mind is. And therefore, when we are impure, as in the discussion of the red heifer, there is this whole process of purification. But, it's not actually about that process. It's about giving us the opportunity to stop and think: Why did this doubt happen to me? Only one reason - because my mind was weakened. Why was my mind weakened? Because I allowed negative thoughts to weaken it, and I therefore became upset about this situation.
However, when we realize that whatever situation which is causing us doubt or sadness occurred just to bring us to the awareness that at some point we had weakened our mind, that is the actual process of purification. It really is a powerful understanding we receive from Shabbat Parah that we can take with us not just as we prepare for Pesach, but for our entire lives.