The Rambam states1 that the commandment of the Red Heifer, Parah Adumah, consists of “making a Parah Adumah so that its ashes be ready for whoever is in need of themfor his purification from the ritual defilement of coming in contact with a dead body (tumas meis).” This is to say that the commandment of Parah Adumah consists not only of using the ashes for the purification rites, but also that the ashes are always ready for use.

This is emphasized as well by Rav Sadya Gaon,2 who states that the mitzvah of Parah Adumah consists of ensuring that the “ashes are always readily available.”

Why are the ashes of the Parah Adumah so important that the command of Parah Adumah itself includes the aspect of the ashes being “always readily available”?

Parah Adumah purifies the defilement of tumas meis, the ritual defilement of coming in contact with a dead body. In spiritual terms, life and death are measured by one’s closeness to and distance from G‑d — “You who cleave to the L‑rd your G‑d are all truly alive today.”3 Separation from G‑d, on the other hand, results in spiritual fall and demise.4

Parah Adumah, then, is the aspect of repentance, teshuvah: cleansing the Jew of his sin and spiritual impurity, and binding him once again to his source in the “living G‑d.”5

This is why Parah Adumah possesses two opposite aspects: on one hand, the Parah Adumah was made outside the Jewish encampment in the desert,6 unlike sacrificial offerings that had to be brought within the Tabernacle confines. At the same time, the sprinkling of the ashes had to be done in front of the entrance7 of the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash.

The reason for the above is that teshuvah combines two elements that are similar to the two opposite aspects of Parah Adumah. While teshuvah atones for and refines the “outside,” i.e., that which is outside the domain of holiness, the power to atone for finding oneself “on the outside” must emanate from the loftiest levels found on the “inside,” within the domain of holiness.8

One may be misled into thinking that this aspect of teshuvah only applies to someone who has actually transgressed, that only he need to make use of the Parah Adumah that is made on the “outside.” However, when one behaves properly, what connection does Parah Adumah have to him?

Therefore we are told that the commandment of Parah Adumah lies not only in using the ashes for the purification rites, but also that the ashes always be ready for use. That is to say, the aspect of teshuvah of Parah Adumah must always be at the ready; one can never be absolutely certain that his righteousness will continue unabated.

This is especially so according to the principle that it is impossible for even the most righteous individual not to have something lacking or incomplete — be it however small — in his spiritual service. Consequently, even the most righteous individual must do teshuvah.

This can be understood, particularly, when the person contemplates the saying of our Sages that “Every generation that does not have the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt in its time, should consider it as if it had destroyed it,”9 and on the positive side as well, “One good deed weighs the scales on his own behalf and on behalf of the entire world to the side of merit, bringing salvation and rescue both to himself, as well as to the entire world.”10

This is even more germane at present, when the person observes that the state of exile still exists; moreover, that it exists in the manner of the “four-fold darkness” that prevails at the very end of exile. Since “we have yet to be delivered,” and it is possible that it all depends on this individual’s Divine service, this results in arousing within the person the strongest form of substantive teshuvah.

The service of teshuvah engendered through the reading of the section of the Parah Adumah results in the immediate reading of the section of HaChodesh,11 the section that deals with the redemption of the Jewish people from their exile. For as the Rambam states,12 “When the Jews repent they shall immediately be redeemed.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, pp. 417-422.