The reading for Parshas Parah begins by setting out the laws for the purification of an individual who has become ritually defiled by coming in contact with a corpse. This defilement is called tumas meis.

In relation to this the Midrash1 recounts the following incident: When Moshe became aware of the degree of defilement that comes about through tumas meis, he asked G‑d: “If a person becomes so defiled, how is he to attain purification?” Even after G‑d answered him: “They shall take of the ashes ... for the impure person...,” Moshe was still not completely satisfied, asking G‑d, “Is this indeed purification?”2

Why was Moshe so troubled by the difficulty of achieving purification from tumas meis? We find that there are a number of other types of defilement such as tumas zav and tumas metzora3 which in many aspects are even more severe than tumas meis,and nevertheless purification can be obtained from these impurities. Why then did Moshe feel that securing the particular purification of Parah Adumah would be so difficult?

All other ritual defilements of a Jew are related to a living body. Even after the body has become defiled, it still houses a soul which is “truly a part of G‑d above.”4 Since G‑d’s ability is limitless, it may be readily understood that the soul is able to rectify the impurity, so that ultimately (e.g., through immersion in a mikveh and the like) the person will become purified.

However, this is not the case regarding tumas meis, wherein the very impurity stems from the fact that the body — having become sundered from the soul — has ceased to live; a body separated from its soul is but an inanimate object.

Moshe was therefore perplexed: “How is purification possible,” he thought, “from such a severe manner of defilement?”

G‑d relieved his anxiety by saying, “These are the laws of the Torah”: i.e., the effect of the Torah and its mitzvos is so powerful that it can bring about purification even after the soul departs from the body.

On a deeper and more esoteric level: The spiritual aspect of defilement refers to a blemish in a Jew’s relationship with G‑d. Jews are considered to be “alive” as a result of their cleaving to Him.5 When a Jew sins, this bond with G‑d is weakened; he is thus less “alive” and becomes defiled. Moreover, the more his relationship with G‑d diminishes, the greater is his state of defilement.

When there is a serious breach in a person’s relationship with G‑d, causing his defilement to be quite severe, as long as the relationship is not totally severed, the Jew retains his innate ability to become pure again by reaffirming his commitment to G‑d and to His Torah and mitzvos. However, when a Jew transgresses so severely that his connection to G‑d is severed, this then results in the impurity of tumas meis.6

Moshe was baffled when it came to the means of purification from so forbidding a defilement. He could not understand how it could be possible to achieve purification from the disconnection of tumas meis. G‑d resolved his perplexity by assuring him that a Jew’s relationship to G‑d is never totally sundered. The innate relationship of a Jew with G‑d and the effect of his previous fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos is so great, that even tumas meis is subject to purification.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, pp. 232-234.