Saturday, June 27, 2015

Parashat Chukat: Where is the Red Heifer?

This Torah is circular. All points point to the center. It won't follow a clear path, beginning, middle, and end. Although the whole point of Hukat is that this Hok kind of Torah injunction is beyond our rational grasp, the use of the ashes of a dead animal to purify those who have come in contact with death can also be seen as a kind of homeopathic Zen koan type of Divine direction. It seems that, paradoxically, these dead ashes are associated with life: the great Tzfat based Kabbalist the Arizal is said to have had some in his possession, which gave him a greater access to Life.


Where is this red heifer in our days?


(Musical break: an exploration of the red heifer theme from my newly, finally, released LP The Flood)


Well, I think of Miriam the prophetess, who dies in this parasha. The Esh Kodesh suggests that the death of the holy ones atones for the Jewish people, and that she was like a mother to Israel whose death atoned for her many "children", just as the Red Heifer is like the mother that atones for the sin of the Golden Calf, "cleaning up" after that extravagant, idolatrous mess. Miriam's death also marked the end of the wellsprings of water that flowed for us in the desert, until her brother Moshe's personally disastrous misstep in hitting the rock to cause the water to flow again. The Midrash says that it first flowed with blood, and then finally with water. Perhaps this episode is also hinting at the woman's wisdom we all know too well, having learned it with our blood and flesh: you can not force a heart, either to open, or to close.


Miriam of course is also associated with the drum, a round symbol of both faith and cyclicality, another gift of women's wisdom, which we live out in our flesh and blood. Birth and death, bordering our world, assure us of the certainty of both goodbye and hello. The circle dances of Miriam and the women are an historic and transpersonal memory of the highest spiritual state humans can experience; one that is awaiting Moshe and the men of Israel at a future date. (see Sarah Yehudit Schneider's commentary on the Meor V'Shemesh)


I once heard Rav Ginsburg teach that although most of the Torah has already been revealed, we are still waiting for the revelation of the Torah of the Moshiach: the Torah of song. Rebbe Nachman teaches about the healing power of song in his story "The Seven Beggars", in which he describes a (mythical?) castle made all of water, which represents the healing power of the 10 types of song, which are sourced in 10 types of joy.  (see my album The Water Castle for a musical rendering of this story Although each one of us has experienced firsthand the amazing power of music to transform our mood, spiritual outlook, and even affect our physical state, our knowledge of this musical medicine is at a very beginning stage. From ultrasounds, to using sound waves to break up gallstones, to the unfathomable meanings of the sounds of whales, to the effect of music on adolescent brain development, to the ability to use music to help Alzheimer's patients access both lost memory and verbal skills, we are just starting to notice and uncover this mystery. The Torah of Mashiach.


The Esh Kodesh, living at the time in the Warsaw Ghetto, as the atrocities of the concentrations camps were finally understood by those still counted among the living, wrote powerfully and heartbreakingly about the Magrepha, a small and mysterious shovel that was used in temple times for the gathering of the ashes of the sacrifices. Apparently, this tool, when used, created some fantastic number of sounds simultaneously, and was heard from great distances.  In learning about the ways that water was mixed with the Red Cow's ashes to purify the living from contact with the dead, we can start to both mourn all that was, all the losses that we have experienced, both as Jewish people collectively, and as individuals in our own lives, and also birth a vision of the future. No one can force a heart open or closed, but of all things in the world, the right song can penetrate even the most hardened hearts and constricted minds. We can see hints of the wonderous Water Castle in Simchat Beyt ha Shoevah, the pouring out of water ritual,  which brought about great joy, song, and prophecy, and the healing sounds of the Levites in the Temple, who worked in harmony with the Cohen priest to find the right sounds to break and find a new wholeness in the heart of the one seeking healing. We might even envision a water Temple, where the healing sounds of all kinds of joy (including Rina, the joy that follows tears) will be heard, and each person will receive the music specific to her own healing needs, whether on the physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual levels. Perhaps the healing sounds will produce their effects from the ethereal all the way down to the physical level, and our bodies themselves will rebirth in wholeness. The song of Miriam and the women can then act as our Red Heifer, as the pain of the past is reborn in the joy of the present, and, as the song says, "we will be like dreamers".