Our Parsha opens with what is quite possibly the most enigmatic of Mitzvot, the Parah Adumah (Red Heffer). This unique animal allowed for the purification of those contaminated by a corpse, the highest level of spiritual impurity. The process involves a seven-day segregation period with ‘sprinkling’ of the special waters of the Parah (containing ashes of the burnt sacrifice), on days three and seven.
This sprinkling was to be performed by a Kohen who is tahor (pure), as the verse states:
”והזה הטהר על הטמא“
“...and the pure shall sprinkle on the impure.”
What is quite strange about this particular process is that the individuals who prepare the waters become tamei (impure) from their exposure, while the very same waters purify the tamei!
The Jerusalem Talmud records an interesting statement that stems from this verse: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Kevusi said, “All my life I assumed that one pure person could sprinkle [the waters of the Parah Adumah] on only one impure person. Until I learned from the ‘Treasury of Yavneh’ that one pure Kohen can purify many individuals.”
Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Shach offers an allegorical explanation of this T almudic passage that offers an important message for each and every one of us. Rav Shach explains, that it is the human condition to impose limits on what we believe we can accomplish and to limit, in our own minds, the scope of our influence. As it were-maybe I can purify ‘one other person’. In fact, we learn from the Treasury of Yavneh, that each one of us can reach and connect with a far greater audience.
This reference to Yavneh, speaks of the request that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai made of the Roman General Vespasian, just prior to the destruction of the Holy Temple, to spare the sages of Yavneh. This request was granted as the Rabbi had found favour with the General. Although the vast majority of the Jewish people were either destroyed or marched in to exile, the transmission of Torah continued through the small group of sages in the Academy at Yavneh.
This, explains Rav Shach, is the lesson that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Kevusi gleaned from the Treasury of Yavneh, that a small group of people – even just one individual – can have a profound impact on a much, much larger group. This small number of Rabbis maintained the Torah for millions of Jews, and ensured that generations to come would still hold it precious.
In communities across the northern hemisphere, the school year is coming to a close. This provides the opportunity to look back and reflect on our growth and change over the past 10 months. When we are involved in the minutiae of the regular school day, we may tend to overlook the tremendous impact of each individual. Even worse, we may not see our own valuable contribution to the whole.
The Treasury of Yavneh, and the waters of the Parah Adumah remind us, that we each play a vital role in the collective and that we each have the capacity to impact all those around us for the better.
In sports, there is a concept of the 'Most Valuable Player' (MVP), the one individual whose contribution made all the difference and without whom we may not have reached our goal.
From the Torah's perspective, this is simply not the reality. Each of us is a valuable contributor to the overall success of the community. Each one if us is special and each one of us is irreplaceable!
Wishing you a restful summer break.
Rabbi Don Pacht