This week, we read an extra Torah reading, Parshat Parah. The haftarah for Parah is a prophecy of Ezekiel, in which G‑d gives reasons for the exile and tells how He will gather us from all the nations, purify us, and rebuild our population and cities in the era of Moshiach.1

The connection to Parah is that it speaks about the preparation of the parah adumah, the red heifer, and how its ashes were used to purify those who became impure due to coming in contact with a dead person. The ashes were mixed with water and sprinkled on the impure person. Similarly, the haftarah speaks of our sins, which caused us to become impure and sent into exile. And when Moshiach comes, G‑d says, “I will sprinkle upon you pure water [from the red heifer] and you will become pure.”2

The haftarah begins with the reasons for the exile, and then G‑d starts to tell about the future redemption. He says, “I do not do this for your sake House of Israel, but for My Holy Name’s sake . . . And I will sanctify My Name . . . and the nations will know that I am G‑d . . . For I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your own land. Then I will sprinkle upon you pure water [from the red heifer] and you will become pure . . . ”3

Rabbi Akiva said, “Be happy Israel . . . who purifies you? Your Father in heaven, as it says, ‘And I will sprinkle upon you pure water and you will become pure.’ And it says, ‘G‑d is Israel’s mikvah.’4 Just as a mikvah purifies the impure, so does G‑d purify Israel.”5

Rabbi Akiva is talking about forgiveness of sin on Yom Kippur, and he teaches us several things.

First, that more than the day of Yom Kippur—and more than our prayers and supplications—it is our intrinsic bond with G‑d that grants us forgiveness and purity.

This is clear from the verses in the haftarah: “I do not do this for your sake . . . I will sprinkle upon you pure water and you will become pure.” Our purification is from G‑d. Why does He do it? Because we are one with Him. On Yom Kippur, this intrinsic bond is revealed, and when that happens, the forgiveness is automatic.

The first verse that Rabbi Akiva cites, “And I will sprinkle upon you pure water,” is talking about a special and powerful event—the coming of Moshiach. We might therefore assume that this kind of forgiveness could only be attained at special times like Yom Kippur. He therefore adds the second verse about mikvah to teach us that just as mikvah purifies at any time, so can we reveal this bond and attain forgiveness at any time.

Why does Rabbi Akiva say, “Just as a mikvah purifies the impure?” Who else does the mikvah purify if not for the impure? He could have said, “Just as a mikvah purifies, so does G‑d purify Israel.” What does “the impure” add?

When it comes to impurities, some are purified by going to the mikvah, but others also require the water from the red heifer. When a person has two impurities—one that requires mikvah, and the other that needs the red heifer—and he just goes to the mikvah, he becomes partially pure. So he is now purified and still impure. This is what Rabbi Akiva is teaching us with the words “purifies the impure.” When someone has several sins, but he is overworked and doesn’t have the time or the energy to do proper teshuvah for all of them, and he says to G‑d, “I will work on the sins that are on my conscience.” He should not think that it is all or nothing. G‑d will accept his partial teshuvah. When G‑d sees that a Jew is turning to Him, even in the smallest way, He readily accepts him. And he can be certain that ultimately he will do teshuvah for the rest, G‑d will help him, as our great sage Ben Azzai said:6 “One mitzvah brings another mitzvah.”7

The idea here is that we need only do things according to our ability, and then G‑d does His. We also see this in the continuation of the haftarah. G‑d says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put inside you; I will take away the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit inside you, and cause you to keep my statutes . . . ”8 All these things will be done by G‑d, when Moshiach comes, after we have done our part.

This is a general rule. There are some things that are beyond our ability. When faced with this kind of situation, we must do what we can, and then it is up to G‑d to do His part and complete it.

The Alter Rebbe explained the verse, “I will take away the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” The question is asked: Why doesn’t it say that He will remove our mind of stone and give us a mind of flesh? Because our brains are not blocked; we can all understand, each according to his ability. However, there are many lofty spiritual ideas that, even though we understand them, are beyond our ability to feel and integrate into our spiritual makeup. If this is the case, what is the purpose in learning these concepts? This is one of the cases where we must do our part: learning and understanding to the best of our ability. In turn, Hashem will do His part: removing the stone heart, our inability to feel and give us a soft heart of flesh so that we don’t just understand, but feel as well.9

May we soon experience all these things mentioned in the haftarah, with the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.