Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Aish Kodesh spoke on Shabbat Parah in the last of the three years from which he recorded his sermons in the Warsaw Ghetto. By this time, in March 1942, nobody was untouched by death or the fear of death. Given the centrality of the theme of death to the commandment to bring the parah adumah, it is perhaps surprising that the Aish Kodesh did not touch upon this. Instead he spoke of perfect faith in the face of adversity. Although we can’t possibly relate to the horror experienced by the Aish Kodesh and his generation, unfortunately this year the message hits a little closer to home for us.

The Aish Kodesh cites Rashi on Parshat Parah, “Zot chukat haTorah,” this is the chukah of the Torah (Bamidbar 19:2). Rashi says the Satan and the nations of the world will taunt Israel, saying, “What is this mitzvah and what does it mean?” Therefore, it is identified as a chukah, an inscrutable commandment – we don’t ask questions nor must we answer them. The Aish Kodesh asks what is so unique about this mitzvah that the nations of the world choose to torment us with it.


He compares the purification of the ashes of the parah adumah to purification from immersion in a mikveh, and points out that the practices seem contradictory: When one enters a mikveh in order to be purified, he must be entirely immersed in the water – if even one tiny part of the body doesn’t go under, then the mikveh doesn’t purify any of it. Yet when we are sprinkled with the water containing the ashes of the parah adumah, only a tiny amount comes into contact with the smallest part of our body. The Aish Kodesh explains that when we perform this mitzvah, Hashem is our mikveh, as Rabbi Akiva famously taught in Mishna Yoma (8:9). In order for the mitzvah to be effective, our faith has to be complete and we must be entirely immersed in our dedication to the will of Hashem.

This is why the nations of the world ridicule us. When it was time to receive the Torah, we didn’t ask, as they did, what was written in it; we said, “We will do and we will hear.” In this way we made our own interests and even our sense of what is reasonable and logical to us subordinate to the commandments of Hashem as expressed in His Torah. This is what the nations of the world can’t understand, but this is what we had to do in order to be redeemed from bondage in Mitzrayim and again to receive the Torah.

The Aish Kodesh says we read this parsha every year before the giving of the first mitzvah on Parshat HaChodesh because first we must give ourselves over entirely to obedience to Hashem. Only after we have done that can we receive His mitzvot, and at last, after we have done so, will we be redeemed from our present galut.

May it be His will that the prayers of the martyrs of the ghettoes, and all the martyrs of Israel who have died at the hand of Amalek, be answered in our complete redemption immediately while the bitter memories are still fresh in our minds.


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].