Parshat Chukat opens with a discussion of the interesting and detailed laws of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. One of the many peculiar elements of this text, one that can easily be overlooked, is the language of acquiring this unique animal – ViYikchu Eilecha, and they should take to you. Why is this language in particular being used?
Rashi says that it means that the Mitzvah of Parah Adumah would be called by Moshe’s name. (Parenthetically, a Parat Moshe Rabbeinu in Modern Hebrew means a ladybug – not sure of the connection there.) What does this mean? I’m reminded of preparations for sleep away camp, which many of us have gone through with our children recently or recall going through ourselves at some point. What is one of the essential steps in getting ready for the final send off? Putting names/labels on all of our things. What does this signify? Ownership.
The message to take from Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer, is a paradigm shift in how we approach Mitzvot in general. It’s not enough to do the Mitzvah. We have to own the Mitzvah. This is what I tell each of the Bnei Mitzvah who meet with me – ‘What is your Mitzvah? What is the Mitzvah that you want to make your own?’
At a luncheon tendered in his honor prior to his making Aliyah, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ZT”L compared the world to a stadium in which world/Jewish history is playing out. In a stadium there is a playing field and there are grandstands. Those who are in the grandstands are spectators; those who are on the playing field are the participants. The playing field is Eretz Yisrael and the grandstands are Chutz LaAretz. Rav Aharon said he wanted to be a participant, a player, not a spectator. In the grandstands there are bleachers that are far away and there are box seats that are close up, but the common denominator is that they are all just watching.
We need to take ownership, to be a participant, in our land. If we are not ready to be players in the game, then at least we can move closer to the field. I encourage you to take ownership in whatever way that you can – go visit, contact your members of Congress to ask for support, give a donation to an organization you connect to there – there are so many opportunities. Moreover, ask yourself, ‘Do I talk about Israel?’ We mention it many times in our prayers, but what about our day-to-day conversations? We dare not treat Israel as something taken for granted or merely a place from our past – it is our present and our future.
Rabbi Michael Davies is the rabbi in Cong. Dor Tikvah in Charelston, South Carolina. For more information about Rabbi Davies and his community, visit their website at: http://www.dortikvah.org/