This Torah portionis often read near Yud-Beis Tammuz, the anniversary of the release of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn from exile in Communist Russia. Throughout the first decade of Communist rule and especially, after Stalin rose to power, there was a concerted effort to stamp out Jewish identity and practice. Many Torah leaders fled the country. Others retreated into seclusion and there were still others who were slain or imprisoned.

Against this background, R. Yosef Yitzchak fearlessly assembled an underground network of Jewish observance and education. Hidden mikvaos were kept open so that Jewish family life could be maintained. Kosher slaughterers were sent throughout the country and an underground network of schools was established to educate a future generation.

Once when R. Yosef Yitzchak was arrested for these activities, a Communist interrogator threatened him with his pistol, boasting: “This little toy has made stronger men than you talk.”

R. Yosef Yitzchak answered calmly: “That toy is effective only when a person has one world (he lives only in the physical) and many gods (his many physical desires that he seeks to fulfill). I have two worlds (the physical and the spiritual) and one G‑d. Therefore that toy does not frighten me.”

With this approach, he was able to spur self-sacrifice among his followers. Thousands gave of their lives — some experiencing actual martyrdom and others, living lives of self-sacrifice — so that future generations would identify and practice Jewishly.

This is not merely a story of the past. His example should spur us to give of ourselves and live lives of self-sacrifice. In our situation, it’s easier. We don’t have to face Communist persecution. All we have to do is dedicate ourselves to a purpose above our individual selves and live our lives aligned with that goal.

Parshas Chukas

This Torah reading begins with the verse: “This is the decree of the Torah” and continues to describe the purification process required after a person comes in contact with a human corpse.

Our Sages explain that the term “decree” implies a law that cannot be understood by human logic. For the entire concept of ritual purity and impurity is not something that our minds can understand.

Why should a person who comes in contact with a corpse be considered impure? He did not sin or transgress. On the contrary, caring for a corpse, preparing it for burial, and burying it is a great act of kindness for the departed and his family. Why should a person who performs such acts be forbidden to enter the Temple or partake of sacrificial foods because he is deemed impure?

Moreover, once the Torah has decreed that a person who came in contact with a corpse becomes impure, the possibility for him to regain purity is even more difficult to comprehend. Indeed, the Midrash relates that when G‑d told Moses that a person who comes in contact with a corpse becomes impure, Moses’ face turned color and he exclaimed: “How can such a person regain purity?” Even after G‑d told him about the purification process involving the ashes of the red heifer (the subject of this week’s Torah reading), Moses questioned: “Is this enough?”

What was the source of Moses’ difficulty? All other cases of ritual impurity involve a person who is alive. As long as there is a connection between the soul and the body, the soul which is “an actual part of G‑d” can overcome any spiritual deficiencies and indeed, elevate the body to a state where it also becomes pure. But after the soul departs from the body and the connection between them is severed, seemingly, this dynamic is no longer possible. Death brings with it a sense of finality. On the surface, the soul no longer has any connection with the body and only the physical, material dimension of the body remains. Therefore the body itself because a source of impurity. Once such impurity has been imparted to another person, seeming, purity can never be regained?

G‑d informs Moses, however, that the connection between the soul and the body is never truly severed. While the soul was enclothed within the body, it studied the Torah and performed mitzvos. As a result, the G‑dly quality of the Torah makes a permanent impression on the body. Even after the soul has departed, the G‑dly connection remains. Therefore there is no finality associated with the impurity imparted by a corpse and one can regain purity even after contact with death.

This possibility is, however, a “decree,” something which our minds cannot fully comprehend. For human understanding can comprehend an interrelationship between something material and something spiritual, only when the two are in direct contact. From G‑d’s perspective, however, the material and the spiritual are never truly separate and even when, to all appearances, a connection no longer exists, the imprint of the spiritual remains forever. Moreover, this spiritual imprint empowers us to gain awareness of the ultimate truth: that even our material existence is an expression of G‑dliness. From that standpoint, the impurity is only temporary.

Looking to the Horizon

In the present era, the above concepts represent a “decree;” they are above our ordinary day-to-day understanding. For at present, the prevailing mindset is one of material consciousness. We relate to the spiritual as something abstract, beyond our ordinary reality. At best, when there is an active relationship between the spiritual and the material, it is possible to appreciate the influence of the spiritual. The material is, however, always dominant and at times, eclipses the awareness of the spiritual entirely.
In the ultimate future, however, this will change. The truly G‑dly nature of all existence will be revealed and we will appreciate that not only the soul, but also the body is an expression of G‑d. This will endow us with a new appreciation of the material realm. Instead of seeing it as a source of bodily pleasure and satisfaction, we will appreciate its inner G‑dly core.

This will introduce a new era, one when, in the words of the prophets, “I will cause the spirit of impurity to depart from the earth” and “Death will be swallowed up for eternity.” Then the body itself will be a source of everlasting life. Moreover, even those who passed away will be resurrected and will return to live again.