This portion of Torah, Chukat (Numbers 19 ff) represents one of the more challenging sections of Torah. we are commanded in the first verses of Numbers 19 to take a “parah adumah”, a red cow, without blemish, on which there has never been a yoke or a defect found. That cow is to be slaughtered in an elaborate ritual. As you know, Rabbis comment on everything. Yet, this passage has been a source of mystery for many. Even King Solomon, in a Midrash, admitted his difficulty in mastering this section.
I was thinking about this idea of perfection and the need to be perfect that so much of society is consumed with. Maybe it is part of our mythical and unrealistic desire to try and be “in control” of our life. Then, every once in a while real life decides to teach us a lesson. We had one of those experiences this week where we live. A monster storm came through featuring mini tornados, kicking over trees, flooding streets and knocking out power. ( in fact, this is day 3 without power , so many thanks to iPad and cell power)
If you read the growing number of stories of people who are aging, one of the themes that keeps coming up is the realization, at a certain age, that you just have to let go of things that you cannot control. This is a tough lesson for some to learn (myself included), but the stress and frustration that comes with “holding on” to an idealized version of control can be damaging to soul and body.
So maybe that red cow ritual is a symbolic reminder to let go of the fantasy of perfection and the myth of control We are all flawed, we are all prone to messing up every now and then. The secret may be to learn when to say “enough”. Who knows, this obscure ritual of purification may be a way of cleansing our own souls of unrealistic expectations. Ya never know!!!!
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.