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Death Is Not Final

Death Is Not Final


When G‑d taught Moses the laws of spiritual purity, He told him both the manner through which each sort of contamination is contracted, as well its unique process of purification. When G‑d relayed the laws of the person who becomes impure through contact with a dead body, Moses’ face paled. “Master of the universe!” he exclaimed. “If one is thus contaminated, how will he be purified?”


In advance of the Passover holiday, Jews all over read about the purification process of the Red Heifer found in the Torah portion of Chukat. There are many forms of spiritual impurity, of varying gravity. The most severe type of impurity is contracted through contact with a human corpse. In times past, in order to be permitted access to the Holy Temple, one who contracted this impurity needed to be purified by being sprinkled with waters mixed with the ashes of a red heifer. We read this portion in preparation for the fast-approaching holiday of Passover; it reminds us of the need to attain the spiritual purity which guarantees us entry to the Temple during the upcoming holiday.

G‑d is the source of all life; hence all who are connected to Him are aliveThe Torah is eternal. Although certain mitzvot—such as all Temple-related commandments—are restricted to specific times and conditions, they all contain a message which is applicable to all people at all times. On Passover, the “Season of our Liberation,” we seek personal redemption. We seek to lead spiritual and fulfilling lives; we seek to be freed from our “inner Pharaoh” who strives to torpedo our journey to Mt. Sinai and our receiving the Torah. Our preparations for this redemption commence with the spiritual service of the Red Heifer.

Moses had a profound understanding of the nature of death, an understanding which led to his bewilderment at the prospect of any sort of purification for an impurity contracted from a corpse. “You who cleave to the L‑rd your G‑d are alive, all of you, this day.”1 G‑d is the source of all life; hence all who are connected to Him are alive. Thus our sages tell us that “righteous people, even after their passing, are regarded as alive; wicked people, even while they are ‘alive,’ are considered dead.” The impurity contracted through association with a corpse is so acute because it is a metaphor for one who has completely severed himself from his lifeline—a person whose life is totally devoid of G‑dly purpose. Even Moses couldn’t envision a purification process which could counteract such a grave impurity!

But, as G‑d gently explained to Moses, life after death does exist. By following the procedure of the Red Heifer, the spiritually lifeless person can begin to enjoy a fulfilling life, rich with meaning and purpose.

The uniqueness of the Red Heifer, its quality which allows it to imbue life within a spiritual carcass, is its absurdity—it is a mitzvah which makes no sense whatsoever. When King Solomon, the wisest of all men, reflected on this mitzvah, he exclaimed, “I said, ‘I will become wise,’ but it is far from me.” Many mitzvot are difficult to comprehend, but this one really takes the cake . . .

One who is totally detached from his Divine source can reestablish the connection only through total commitment to G‑d. This commitment involves following G‑d through thick and thin, whether it’s convenient, comfortable and sensible—or not. Finite human intellect is certainly not a vehicle through which to connect to the infinite G‑d.

The redemption of Passover is available to all. First, however, we must reconnect to our source of life through internalizing the lesson of the Red Heifer.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Scott Boca Raton, FL June 15, 2013

Numbers 19:1-22:1 Not understanding what is being said here contradicts everything I know to be true. Not even G-d can do our spiritual work for us it is our own free-will that chooses to follow the path of the Torah or not. There is no coercion in spirituality, we can take responsibility for own actions, create and control our lives by taking charge of our attitude and behavior and face our fears by finding the answers within Torah studies.

There is something more here than just a red cow and a fear of death. The red heifer presents itself as the purpose of unlimited purification's to nullify and neutralize the effects that the worshiping of the golden calf has on all of the earth. In this portion we can purify our self through the power of following the path of the Torah by taking action and removing death from our relationships---whether physical or emotional death in any relationship placed before us, we have the power to replace death with the life force of G-d. Reply

Ruth housmab Matshfield, MA March 30, 2011

Impurity I am not sure I understand impurity in these terms. I do know that the sacred and the profane are actually deeply connected. I do not see suicide in this way, but rather as deeply anguished taking of a life. For me this notion of impurity has its problems.

I remember being with my Orthodox cousin in Boston passing a historic graveyard and that he would not go in citing impurity.

I have to respect his beliefs. Reply

Avi Brooklyn March 25, 2011

Holiness vs. Purity; Death vs. Suicide To Ruth:

I enjoyed your comment and I see two distinctions: The first is of holiness vs. purity and the second is death vs. suicide.

1) It seems to me from this essay that G-d and Moses (and by extension the Torah mindset) see death as a natural and holy stage of life but not necess a "pure" one. This idea exists similarly relative to intercourse, childbirth, and other experiences that Judaism considers the holiest possible. Still, they are holy in their uniquely physical way. One would not (or should not :)) bring a Torah scroll into the bedroom on the theory that Torah scrolls and procreation are both holy. So, here we are speaking of impurity, not sin, wrongness or unholiness.

2) Natural death is popularly viewed as a continuation of life whereas suicide is viewed as a desecration of it. Here Moses was bewildered by a human's ability to *willingly* sever him or herself from life. In this context, would you agree that death could be even unholy?

Thoughts? Reply

Mr. john smith March 25, 2011

by these terms if evil people are in fact dead.. are we not in contact with them every day on this planet being all things are connected as so taught? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma March 20, 2011

The Red Heifer When I gave money to Heifer International, an organization that provides livestock to people in depressed areas of the world, so they can engage in sustainable agriculture, I thought about The Red Heifer. When I see the logo for Red Bull, a drink, a rather ubiquitous business these days, I think about The Red Heifer.

And beyond this I see the Hebrew letter HEI within the word itself, and for me this has deep mystic significance.

I do not perceive that dead people are unholy and that there is anything impure about touching a dead person. I don't engage in this, but surely there are Jewish funerary people who do, and this does not make them, in my view, impure. In fact, I see holiness in creation and in death I also perceive life, as in "still life". And perhaps it's not over, when it is over.

To be pure has to do with how we are with each other, a purity of spirit, and not about externals but heart itself. G_d deeply knows the heart of any man or woman, as we are Created beings. Reply

mark alcock Dbn., ZA March 20, 2011

To anonymous above,aprops Aaron Why is Aaron dragged into Moses's punishment that came from striking the rock? Did he encourage Moses to do so or is this punishment for a past sin he made?

Firstly since we are talking about the Judge of all judges (i.e G-d)the inept words " dragged in " are inappropriate and not reverent.
Moses pleaded to G-d in the beginning of his appointment to share his duties and responsibilities with his brother Aaron, since he stammered & stuttered. G-d soon agreed and held them co-jointly responsible & accountable together. Hence the punishment is shared equally, between both appointees, co-leaders and divine intermediaries. The rock should have been struck once only and all the glory offered up to G-d whom does all miraculous deeds for our everyday needs. Amen. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for May 21, 2010

Re: Aaron The mission was given both to Moses and his brother Aaron, as the verse states (Numbers 20:8): "Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and speak to the rock in their presence so that it will give forth its water. You shall bring forth water for them from the rock and give the congregation and their livestock to drink."

Commentaries explain that Aaron's sin was that he could have said something to Moses, and additionally, while Moses hit the rock, Aaron could have spoken to the rock and prayed to G-d for the water to burst forth out of the rock.

In truth, the Midrash notes (as you say) that Aaron's sin was not really that great, and he could have complained to G-d about being punished, but instead accepted his punishment in silence. This is what the verse refers to when it says (Deuteronomy 33:8): "And of Levi he said: 'Your Tummim and Urim belong to Your pious man, whom You tested at Massah and whom You tried at the waters of Meribah.'" Reply

Anonymously Unknown Brick via May 20, 2010

Aaron Why is Aaron dragged into Moses's punishment that came from striking the rock? Did he encourage Moses to do so or is this punishment for a past sin he made? Reply

Naftali Silberberg (Author) March 8, 2010

Re: Rebuilding the Temple Someone who is ritually impure due to contact with a human corpse -- whether actual physical contact, or through being under the same roof as a corpse (e.g., at a funeral), or through standing in close proximity to a grave -- is considered ritually impure and is barred from entering the Holy Temple.

Considering that the above-described circumstances include virtually all of us today, we will need the ashes of the Red Heifer in order to be purified before being admitted to the Temple.

Maimonides tells us that Moses processed the first Red Heifer, and in the subsequent generations, another eight were prepared. The tenth one will be prepared by our righteous Moshiach -- may we merit seeing him very soon! Reply

Anonymous Aurora, MO. March 8, 2010

Rebuiding the Temple Will a Red Heifer be needed before the Temple can be rebuilt? If so WHY? Reply

Rosemary Brisbane, Qld/Australia March 4, 2010

Stunning Thank you! Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles, CA March 4, 2010

based on the Sicha of the Rebbe Based on the Sicha of the Rebbe Reply

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