Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s parsha, Chukat, begins with the law of the Parah Aduma (Red Heifer). When a person came into contact with a corpse he became ritually impure and in order to enter the Temple or partake of holy foods he would have to be restored to a state of purity. According to Torah law there are numerous things that could render a person impure. Tumat Meit, ie. impurity resulting from proximity to a corpse is the most severe. For other categories of Tumah one waits the prescribed amount of time, immerses himself in a mikvah and upon emerging from the water is tahor (pure). The case of Tumat meit is unique. The person must not only wait seven days and then immerse in a mikvah. On the third and seventh days he must receive Hazaah ie. sprinkling with special water. The water is a specially prepared formula . After being slaughtered the Red Heifer is entirely consumed by fire. Its ashes are mixed with water and this is used for the sprinkling on the third and seventh days. It should be emphasized that the sprinkling is absolutely essential to the purification process. If it is omitted on either day immersion in the mikvah will not have any effect. It is because of this that today all Jews are in a state of Tumat meit. Since we don’t have the special sprinkling water which requires the ashes of the Red Heifer we are unable to perform the Hazaah requirement and thus cannot become purified from contact with a corpse. Since the Temple is not in existence there are no practical consequences to the fact that we cannot achieve purification from Tumat meit. All the mitzvot that we are required to perform today can be fulfilled in our impure ritual state.
In studying this law we must ask, what is the basis for the unique Hazaah requirement. As noted, all other forms of tumah can be ameliorated through mikvah alone. Only Tumat meit requires this special sprinkling. What meaning can we attach to this process? Rabbi Soloveitchik explains the difference between Tevillah (immersion in Mikvah) and Hazaah. In the former man takes the initiative and enters into the purifying waters of his own accord and this symbolizes one’s ability to change his life. However, the individual cannot do Hazaah on his own. Rather, says Rabbi Soloveitchik, “a clean person shall sprinkle it upon the unclean person. He cannot liberate himself, he is dependent upon others; only a Tahor (pure person) can help him.” Rabbi Soloveitchik develops this idea further and says, “The ultimate purifier, from the defilement of Tumat meit is G-d Himself. Our sages clearly suggest that only He can lift us from the debilitating effects of contact with human death. In the verse “And one who is clean will gather up the ashes,” the Midrash adds, “This refers to the Holy One. It is the Almighty, represented by the Tahor, who is the ultimate purifier of the scourge and terror of death.” Building on Rabbi Soloveitchik’s analysis I would like to humbly advance my own thought. Perhaps we can now understand why for Tumat meit, mikvah is not enough. Death has a profoundly disturbing impact because it shatters the illusion of immortality. However, the fear of death is rooted in the false notion that only the body is real. Judaism teaches that the highest form of life is that which is incorporeal. Only the physical part of man is subject to death. The soul, insofar as one has perfected it, is destined for eternal existence. Perhaps this is expressed in Hazaah. It is Hashem who cleanses us by sprinkling us with the water of purification. This brings home to us the basic ideas which are expressed in the Elokai Neshama prayer which we recite upon awakening,
“My G-d the soul You placed within me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me, and You guard it while it is within me. One day You will take if from me and restore it to me in the time to come. As long as the soul is within me, I will thank You L—d, my G-d and G-d of my fathers, Master of all creations, L—d of all souls. Blessed are You Hashem who restores souls to lifeless bodies.”
Hazaah reflects the idea that Hashem has endowed us with a “divine” soul. The realization that we have been created in a manner which enables us to emulate the perfect ways of our Creator, and thereby become worthy of eternal life, is the ultimate source of purity.