The New Shul

Parshat Tzav/Shabbat Parah

In this week’s special parashah, Parah, we read about the red heifer, the sacrifice whose ashes were used to purify us from contact with the dead. The Torah teaches that the red heifer had to be “perfect, without blemish, never having borne the yoke.”

The Seer of Lublin turned that vision of perfection upside down. He taught that, if we think that we are “perfect, without blemish” it must mean that we have never “borne the yoke.” In other words, if we feel satisfied with ourselves, it can only mean that we have never struggled for a greater cause. To engage in mitzvah work is inevitably to feel inadequate, because the work of bringing God into the world is endless, while we ourselves are limited. To feel unblemished is a false goal.

Our culture holds up personal perfection — a perfect body, a perfectly-adjusted psyche — as the ideal to strive for. But the Seer of Lublin offers us a different way to think about fulfillment. He teaches us that we find wholeness in the very work that highlights where we fall short. We find completeness in the very struggle that makes us most aware of our limitations — the struggle to bring more of God into this broken world.