The Temple Institute: A View from the Outside: In Memory of Eliyahu Pinchas Asheri  


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A Special Update from the Temple Institute
In Memory of Eliyahu Pinchas Asheri
May G-d avenge his blood


This week's Torah portion here in the Land of Israel is Parshat Chukat (Numbers 19:1 - 22:1), and it begins with the Divine ordinance of purity which is brought about through the ashes of the Red Heifer. This elusive concept is essential for the restoration of service in the Holy Temple, since the Torah's exclusive antidote to the impurity of death is the process of purification associated with the red heifer.

"G-d spoke to Moses and to Aaron saying, this is the decree of the Torah, which G-d has commandedÉand they shall take to you a completely red heifer, without blemish, and upon which a yoke has not come... you shall give it to Elazar the priest, he shall take it outside to the outside of the camp... he shall sprinkle some of its blood towards the front of the Tent of Meeting seven times... "

The red heifer is not an offering per se, but a process of preparation; a prerequisite for the service which takes place within the Holy Temple. And since it is not an offering, it is uniquely dissimilar to all the offerings that were brought upon the Temple's altar - for the heifer is slaughtered and burned outside the Holy Temple, and the officiating priest, in the midst of his sacred activity, turns his gaze and looks from a distance towards the eastern gate of the Temple. This is in keeping with the verse mentioned above, "he shall sprinkle some of its blood towards the front of the Tent of Meeting... " During the era of the Temple in Jerusalem, the heifer was prepared on the Mount of Anointment, an area on the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley. The wall of the Temple on the eastern side was purposefully lower, to enable the priest who stood at this outer location to gaze directly into the sanctified area of the Holy Temple.

The ordinance of the red heifer itself, and the concept of how it brings about a restoration of purity, is considered to be amongst the greatest mysteries of Divine knowledge. Indeed, this secret of Biblical purity is the ultimate example of that category of the Torah's commandments called chok, an ordinance which is beyond the grasp of human understanding. Even King Solomon, called by the Bible the wisest of all human beings, who understood every aspect of G-d's creation, was not able to fathom the secret of the red heifer. After contemplating the concept, he declared "I said, 'I will become wise, but it is far from me.'" (Ecc. 7:23)

How fitting that G-d instructs us to fulfill this special commandment, totally beyond man's frail comprehension, outside the environs of the Holy Temple, but gazing in all the while. We find so much of the predicament of the human condition to be like the ordinance of the red heifer - impossible to understand. At times we feel distant from G-d; at best we feel that we are trying to understand, glimpsing from the outside in. Perhaps this is most particularly and acutely felt when it comes to what appears to us as apparent injustice - especially when the righteous suffer. Indeed, speaking of "looking from the outside," our sages relate that this is the secret of the enigmatic dialogue that took place between G-d and Moses in the book of Exodus, Ch.33. When Moses beseeched G-d, "Show me now your glory," in reality he was seeking a definitive answer to this question... .why do the righteous suffer in this world while the wicked prosper? And like the priest who gazes into the Holy Temple from the outside, G-d responded to him that "You will not be able to see My face, for no man can see my face and live... you will see My back, but face may not be seen."

We can speculate after the fact, but there are things we will not understand. We can only look from the outside, knowing that it is G-d Himself who brings about our purification. Some of these thoughts were echoed yesterday at the funeral of Eliyahu Pinchas Asheri of blessed memory. Eliyahu was an 18 year old student who was kidnapped and brutally murdered this week by Palestinians. He was eulogized by his teachers and those who knew him best, including his parents, and described as a singularly pure and holy soul who was known for the intense fervor of his beautiful prayers, and for his selfless dedication to others. Like the red heifer, he was "pure and unblemished."

Almost one year ago, 10,000 Jews were uprooted from their homes. Now, missiles daily rain down upon Israel, launched from the very area that was once home to these families; our enemies have embarked upon an accelerated campaign of destruction, kidnapping and butchering our children. How can we reconcile ourselves to the senseless loss of such a precious soul? Why? How can we remain subservient to foreign ideals, value judgments that are passed against us, and pressure, when the enemy within our midst - barbaric, vicious child murderers - cannot contain its bloodlust? Where are our leaders? Why do we not openly declare total war upon this enemy until it is totally destroyed? Was it not King David who declared of his enemies, "Praiseworthy is he who repays you in the manner that you treated us. Praiseworthy is he who will clutch and dash your infants against the rock." (Psalms 137)

At young Eliyahu's funeral, his father read aloud from his son's own writing; notes that the boy had written as part of an essay on the subject of personal prayer. He wrote something along these lines: "It is good to separate yourself from other people and distractions, to find a place and time for private prayer. When there are no distractions, you can free your thoughts, and know what it is really is that you want from G-d."

What a blessing! To know what it really is that we want from G-d. May we strive towards this, and merit to the day when we see the fulfillment of the verse: "Then I shall sprinkle pure waters upon you, and you shall be clean, from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you..." (Ez. 36)

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Chaim Richman



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