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The Secret of Teshuva: Having High Ambitions

Published on Monday January 11th, 2021

One of the most extraordinary mitzvot of the Torah is that of the red cow, about which Shlomo Hamelech said, ''I would like to make myself master of wisdom! But it is far from me!'' (Kohelet 7:23)

How is it possible that the wisest of men said of this mitzvah that its understanding escaped him? Don't Chazal give a simple and rational explanation using a parable: If a child messes up the royal palace, his mother will hasten to clean it. In the same way, the Bnei Yisrael were guilty of the sin of the golden calf, so is it not logical that the mother of this animal, the cow, should repair the error? What is so difficult to understand?

Another point that deserves attention is the controversy, reported by the Gemara, about the age of the animal. According to the majority of our Sages, it must be at least three years old; but according to Rabbi Eliezer, it can be two years. Yet, according to a Tosafot passage in the treatise of Bechorot, a cow can only give birth to children at the age of three. According to this, how do we understand the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer? How can a young cow repair the sin of the golden calf, which, to use the metaphor given earlier, had "messed up the royal palace"?

But this is not the only difficulty presented by the Parsha of the red cow. The Torah commands Elazar, son of Aharon HaKohen, to take charge of fulfilling the purification process. Moreover, each time when this mitzvah was performed - in total less than ten times - it was always the substitute of the Kohen Gadol who took charge of it. Why was this procedure of purification of our people of the utmost importance not carried out by the Kohen Gadol himself, who usually took care of all the most important rituals, such as the service in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur? Why delegate his substitute?

All these questions will lead us to clarify an essential point of the Torah, which will enlighten all our Divine Service, vis-à-vis ourselves as vis-à-vis others.

"In the place where a Baal Teshuva stands, the perfectly righteous cannot stand''. Similarly, the Gemara teaches us, "one who marries a woman on the condition that he is righteous, while he is, in fact, a Rasha the marriage is still valid because perhaps he did teshuva [at the time of his engagement]". Thus, a simple thought of teshuva, the will to want to improve in the future, is enough to propel the man to the highest peaks, even if he has not yet acted concretely in this direction. In this case, an aspiration for the future is considered the present.

In the same vein, in the treatise of Baba Kama, one can read the following story: Rabbi Elazar Zeira walked the public square of Nehardea with black shoes, a colour that was very unusual at the time. Relatives of the Rosh Galuta, the wise and wealthy leader of the Jews charged with watching over their interests and who was also called exilarch, spotted him and said, "Why do you wear shoes of such a colour?'' The Rav told them that he did so in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple. Certain that they were facing an arrogant man, who despite his young age, was taking himself for a great Rav because this custom was then only followed by an elite group of Tzadikim - they arrested him immediately.

"I am a great man; liberate me!'' he protested.

''And what proves this to us?'' they retorted.

''Ask me a relevant question and I will have to answer it; or the opposite, if you prefer!''

''Ask us a good question!'' they responded.

''What is the law for one who damaged dates that were not yet ripe? How much does he have to pay?''

''He will have to repay them according to their current value, that of immature dates.''

''Why would he get away with it so cheaply because if he had not spoiled them, they would have quickly become beautiful fruits, worth much more?''

''That is correct. He will have to compensate the owner based on the value of mature dates."

Having realized that they were really dealing with a significant personality, they released him immediately.

If we look more deeply at this sage's argument about damaged fruits, we will see that he actually had an underlying message: "Even though I'm still young, I'm comparable to those dates, which, before not too long, will have reached full maturity, and thus increase considerably in value”.

We can deduce from here that whoever has the aspiration and strives to become a true servant of Hashem and to fulfil His will sincerely, will eventually reach the highest levels.

In the same way, we know that any pressed fruit, such as an apple or an orange, changes bracha: its juice becomes "Shehakol", with the exception of the fruit of a vine, on which we recite, in its liquid form, "Borei Peri Hagefen". Why? Because wine has special qualities. However, one might ask, if the grape was pressed just before Shabbat, it will not have time to ferment in time for Kiddush. Can one then recite the Bracha "Hagafen?'' Surprisingly, the Gemara answers in the positive, even though the juice did not have time to acquire its nobility - the characteristics of the wine. The reason for this is that the future is taken into account. Since this grape juice is destined to become an honourable liquid, it is already considered, in fact, as such, and this is what earned it the status of "Borei Peri Hagafen".

Thus, all that is, with ambition and a will of iron, destined for greatness is considered to have already attained greatness. Everything destined to be torn is considered already detached, just as anyone who undertakes to do teshuva can marry a woman in his present state.

The secret of teshuva is also that of the Para Aduma. According to Rabbi Eliezer, the red cow must be just two years old. She cannot yet give birth, but in the future, she will be able to, and we rely on this future. This is also why the purification process was to be led by Elazar or the Kohen Gadol deputy at the time, in other words, his future successor. Because both repentance and the red cow emphasize the possibilities of the future. Finally, when the wisest of men said "I would like to make myself master of wisdom!", But it is far away from me! "(Kohelet 7:23) he meant, if wisdom can understand what already exists, the present, it cannot envision the future, which is a prophecy.

On Shabbat, where we read Parshat Chukat, in which so many ideas of Jewish thought are hidden between the lines. We must know that through our commitment and attachment to Hashem, we have the power to attain inestimable heights through the power of the future. Let us also accept this to get closer to our neighbour and consider the past as buried.

Through the merit of the Torah and this deep desire to fulfil the Divine Will, to repair and not destroy, we will have the merit of seeing and experiencing the return of Hashem to Zion and the final Geula!

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