This letter was addressed to Rabbi Avraham Hecht, an active communal Rabbi in Brooklyn.

B”H, 13 Tammuz, 5706

Greetings and blessings,

I would like to express special thanks to you and all those who worked with you for your significant assistance in the appeal on behalf of the Keren HaMitzvos Fund1 directed by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch in the Sephardic community in your congregation.

The organization Keren HaMitzvos [provides a] great [service] in affording spiritual assistance to our brethren who are refugees. Despite their suffering and travails, the wicked ones did not crush their spirit and their souls which thirst to cling to their Father in Heaven through the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. At the time when there are many who are, thank G‑d, providing them with material assistance, we must not forget, nor overlook their spiritual needs. For without them, their life is not life.

We are certain that you will continue to participate in this lofty enterprise, and similarly in the other programs of activity of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch.

[Our] assistance with regard to the mitzvos [is also directed] to those who do not accept them as of yet. Accordingly, in addition to [providing these individuals with the means to observe] the mitzvah itself, one must admonish them — in a gentle way — concerning the importance of its observance.

There are some who protest: “Why do we need this difficulty? It is far better for us to be involved in [seeking] our own fulfillment, ascending level after level in the realm of good. Why should we descend to argue or at least to speak with those who ‘even while alive are considered....’2 In the interim, we will neglect our own study of the Torah and observance of the mitzvos.”

To such individuals and the like, we should reply based on the comments of Bamidbar Rabbah (19:4) on last week’s Torah reading:3

For each and every object, the Holy One, blessed be He, would tell Moshe how it becomes impure and how it is purified. When He reached the parshah Emor El HaKohanim,4 Moshe questioned: “Master of the world, if a person becomes impure, how will he be purified?”

[G‑d] did not answer him. At that time, Moshe’s face turned dark. When He reached the passage of the Red Heifer, [G‑d told Moshe that man could be purified through its ashes].

On the surface, [the Midrash] requires explanation: Why in this instance did G‑d not reply to Moshe immediately as He did in other instances? The matter is more problematic according to Rabbi Levi, the source for the Midrashic passage. For in Gittin 60a, [Rabbi Levi is quoted as] stating that Parshas Emor and Parshas Chukas were related [by G‑d to Moshe] on the same day. Why then are they not close to each other in the Torah?

To explain in brief, beginning with the explanation of why the impurity associated with death is different from all other types of impurity: “The Jewish people are referred to as ‘alive,’ as it is stated:5 ‘You who cling to G‑d your L‑rd are all alive...’” (Avos deRabbi Nasan). Therefore before the Sin [of the Tree of Knowledge], when the entire world was attached to G‑d in this manner — for Adam had told all creation: “Come let us prostrate ourselves and bow [before G‑d our L‑rd]”6 (Zohar I, 221b; see Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, ch. 11) — there was no concept of death.

As long as this attachment to G‑d is not interrupted — although through sins and transgressions the bonds of connection are weakened — it is relatively easy to return and reinforce one’s bond. With regard to a sin punishable by death, by contrast, [the soul] is cut off from its source in the living G‑d (Tanya, ch. 24). When the Jewish people were on their [natural spiritual] level, such spiritual death also brought about actual physical death (Tanya, Iggeres HaTeshuvah, chs. 4-6; Kuntreis U’Maayon, maamar 7) and it would bring about the possibility for all [situations governed by] the laws involving the impurity resulting from death.

Accordingly, with regard to all other types of impurity, it was possible for a person to regain ritual purity. For his connection to the place of purity was not interrupted entirely and the connection between [the spiritual source and the lower levels that descend] rung after rung was not broken. With regard to death and the resulting impurity (in both a spiritual and physical sense), the connection to these lower levels is interrupted, and influence from a rung that transcends these levels entirely must be drawn down. [In such a situation,] there is a break and a gap between impurity and [the subsequent] purification. Hence, there is also a break between the communication of their laws in the Torah. For, as is well known, the manner in which a concept is communicated in the Torah [maintains] its existence. [This is] the interpretation of our Sages’ expression:7 “Our Sages spoke concerning the present” (Likkutei Torah, the maamar entitled BaYom HaShemini Atzeres).8

The above also clarifies the statement of the Mishnah (Keilim 1:4): “The [impurity brought about by] a corpse is more severe than all others, because it brings about impurity even when [there is no contact and one is merely under] the same roof. (The commentaries have explained that [the fact that these laws also apply to] a person afflicted by tzaraas is not a contradiction.)

[The connection of the impurity resulting from being under the same roof and the impurity resulting from a human corpse can be explained as follows:] There are three levels in the life-energy with which the soul vitalizes the body:

a) the particular life-energy [that vitalizes each limb individually]; (it is internalized and [parallels the level of] memale kol almin);

b) the general life-energy [that vitalizes the entire body as one]; (this is an encompassing light [and parallels the level of] sovev kol almin);

c) [a quality] that transcends both previous levels; (the distant encompassing light; [a level] above both memale and sovev).

With regard to man’s needs, these three levels parallel [(respectively)] food, clothing, and a dwelling (Likkutei Torah, the maamar entitled Mizmor Shir Chanukas HaBayis). Therefore a corpse which affects also the distant encompassing light brings about the impurity that results from being under the same shelter.

After the interruption, G‑d informed Moshe how one who became impure through contact with a corpse can be purified. G‑d told Moshe that He would reveal the rationale [of this purification process] to him, although for others it would remain a chukah. And He promised him that [the ashes of] the Red Heifer which he offered would exist forever (Bamidbar Rabbah, loc. cit.).

It is well known that the mitzvos which no longer exist on the material plane still exist on the spiritual plane as we find with regard to the prayers and the sacrifices. Similar concepts apply with regard to the purification of the impurity resulting from death. It may appear as a chukah [— a decree above understanding]. [One might ask:] “Why should I deal with the impurity of a person that results from death, for he is, Heaven forbid, cut off from his source.9 How can he be purified? In particular, [these questions are reinforced] by the fact that this activity temporarily conveys impurity on all those involved [with the impure person].”10 Nevertheless, the Red Heifers made by the Moshe of each generation, i.e., our Rebbeim, continue to exist. And the entire Jewish people, in particular, those who are close [to them] are commanded to take [the ashes of] the Red Heifer. And in this way, they will ultimately purify those who are impure and bring them to eternal life.

With the blessing “Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,”

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Executive Director