Parshat Chukat is a very important parsha as it has one of the deepest teachings in the entire Torah. In fact, it begins “va-yedabber HaVaYaH el Moshe ve-el Aharon leimor,” “the Divine Guidance spoke to Moses and Aaron and said, Chukat ha-Torah. This is basically the way the Torah works, this is the almost incomprehensible law of the Torah.” And then the Torah tells us that basically Moshe received this teaching, that is to say, he received the Divine Command to deliver this teaching. And what is the teaching? It’s a teaching of the red heifer, the parah adumah. And what Moshe is supposed to tell us is that we should work with this parah adumah, a red heifer that is temimah, it is absolutely perfect, it’s immaculate. The rest of the verse tells us it doesn’t have any flaw in it, because it was never used for anything, it never bore any burden, it was never under the yoke.
The Kozhenitzer maggid, a great hasidic rebbe, has a teaching wherein he reads the verse and divides it into two. First of all, he says that there are two things here, one is the parah adumah, itself, which is perfect. And the other is asher ayn bo mum, meaning anyone who says they don’t have any flaws has never borne the yoke of Torah. In other words, anyone who thinks this way hasn’t even begun spiritual work. So, what’s the connection between the two? Moshe is instructed to tell us that we should take and make use of this “sacred cow,” this red heifer that is absolutely perfect, but also warns us that any person who would see themselves as lacking any flaw has never done any spiritual work at all.
The basic principle of our cosmology is that everything is in a process of being fixed. So, what’s implied here is that the basic condition of the world is full of flaws that need to be perfected and the red heifer represents something that’s immaculate which we need in order to fix something. And so the question is, “what does that which is flawless fix?” And, the answer is that it fixes the damage of the golden calf.
The parah, the heifer, is the mother cow, and the eglah, the calf, is the immature offspring that goes astray. The result of the golden calf is the breaking of the first tablets. Because Moshe Rabbeinu comes down with the first tablets, the first version—which is actually the higher Torah—and sees that the people don’t—can’t—handle the higher Torah because their level of understanding of reality isn’t high enough so they can’t really get what Moshe Rabbeinu is in touch with. So, they turn to this unevolved representation, which is the golden calf, something they can relate to, and as a result Moshe Rabbeinu feels this sort of righteous anger as an example that there can be a sort of anger that is righteous. He winds up breaking the first tablets, and the result is that we then get the second tablets. Basically, we have here the teaching about two levels of Torah. One is, so to speak, about the original and future Torah, which is beyond our grasp. It is beyond our level, the level of present consciousness. The other is the Torah that fits our present level of consciousness. But even though we (only) have before us a Torah that fits our present level of consciousness, we have the experience and memory of a Torah that is higher, and that is actually the Torah that we’re meant to get. It’s that ‘higher Torah’ G-D really gave Moshe Rabbeinu to bring down, but we couldn’t handle it. So, we need something to fix the fact that we can’t handle the higher Torah, which we can understand as the Torah of the future.
So the Torah that is broken by Moshe Rabbeinu, because we didn’t have the vessels to receive it is nevertheless the Torah we talk about when we talk about the light of the future, which is already here but we still don’t have the chops for it, the kelim or the vessels to really hold it. So the fix that we need to make is represented by this red heifer, which is flawless.
Now, what is the red heifer which is flawless? It’s the level of consciousness which gets ayn od milvado, there is really nothing but G-D. That consciousness actually fixes the level of the flaw that comes from the golden calf. Since we couldn’t get that higher level, we needed a lesser representation. The attitude, or consciousness, that was flawed at the time of the golden calf was something like, ‘well, G-D must be like this, or G-D must be like that, but it’s not this and it’s not that!’ As if “It” were something limited: limited, specific, and limiting! So the fix is the consciousness of the red heifer, which is perfect without any qualification. It has and is absolutely everything. This ‘perfection,’ is the consciousness that recognizes that everything is G-D.
But the specific teaching that we have relating to the red heifer is a paradox. The paradox is that it purifies anything that is impure and it makes impure anything that is pure. So, what is the meaning of this? The meaning is, if a person tries to make the fix of the red heifer, to fix the problem of the golden calf, then they reach the level of the consciousness that everything is G-D. Now that’s the level of red heifer! But, paradoxically, that consciousness that recognizes that everything is G-D can either make the impure pure or it can make the pure impure. In other words, if we are aware of the limitations of our ordinary “golden calf” consciousness, the “red heifer consciousness” fixes us. But, on the other hand, when we get an insight into the level where everything is G-D, the risk is we’ll say, ‘therefore we have nothing to do because everything is G-D and the world is just happening and doesn’t need our efforts to evolve.’ If we draw the conclusion that everything is perfect and we have nothing to do, then that’s like what the Kozhenitzer maggid says, “if you’re saying I have no mum, I have no flaw, then you haven’t done any spiritual work at all.” Then the red heifer fixes you in a different way. It throws you down to the fact that you still need to do something to further evolve. So, the only way the red heifer can really fix us is if, when we reach the consciousness where everything is G-D, we paradoxically recognize as well that we still have plenty of work to do.
So, the fix of the parah adumah, the red heifer, is that when we encounter the consciousness that is ayn od milvado, that there is nothing else but G-D, it stirs in us this great longing inside to reach higher levels in terms of what’s possible for us to attain within our own levels of spiritual work.