The irony of healing Chukkat, Numbers 19:1-22:1

The irony of healing Chukkat, Numbers 19:1-22:1

At one time, there was a red heifer in Washington County, or so several individuals have told me. The Torah portion of this week discusses the red heifer.

What exactly is a red heifer? The Bible introduces the ritual of the red heifer by labeling it as a statute, legislation that is beyond rational understand- ing (Numbers 19:2). King Solomon said of the red heifer that he thought that he would acquire wisdom, but this was beyond his grasp.

What specifically, in the red heifer ritual, is beyond rational comprehension?

When the ashes of the red heifer are sprinkled on one who is spiritually im- pure (ritually distant for having come in contact with a corpse), such an individual is rendered spiritually pure and thus able to take part in specific religious functions that demand a state of purity.

However, all those who come in contact with the ashes of the red heifer, from the priest who did the sprinkling to the one who gathers the ashes, are all in a state of impurity for a short time.

How is it that the ashes, which can render a impure person pure, at the same time render pure person impure? This is the paradox of the red heifer legislation, which places it be- yond comprehension.

With proper deference to King Solomon, there may be a pointed message in this seemingly incomprehensible ritual.

A doctor who treats a patient may risk his own health by spending countless hours treating a patient. The process of curing always involves some risk, whether the doctor is treating an AIDS patient, is exposed to countless X-rays, or is administering radiation or chemotherapy. The long hours a physi- cian spends with his or her patients are enough to cause fatigue and physical harm, sometimes even the possibility of a malpractice suit.

A police officer must put his or her- self at risk in order to keep the peace and security in our community.

Sometimes, in order to properly defend a client, a lawyer must expose his or herself to the world of an evil client. After many years, the lawyer may incorporate the client’s world into parts of his or her own life. This may be something as easy as using four-letter words or as severe as losing trust in people or even an occasional malpractice case.

We therefore may slightly disagree with Solomon. In order to make the world a better place, we might have to give up part of ourselves and become a little impure so that others may live. When you take upon yourself a vocation, you must be willing to go 100 percent with whatever path you choose, even to your own detriment, in order for others to heal.

By the way, the red heifer should arrive before the coming of the Messiah. I hope they find it in Washington County.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)