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Facing the Red


As she walked through the narrow alleyways of the crowded Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, the striking red outfit she had naively worn drew the glances of its residents.  Intuitively, Sara realized that wearing red was drawing attention to herself in a world where the focus was on modesty.

The color red blatantly declares, “I'm here.”  Generations before color therapy became popular, Rashi alluded to the problematic nature of the color red.  In Yeshayahu 1:8, the prophet writes: “Though ‘your sins’ be red as scarlet, they shall become white as snow.”  Apparently, the color of sin is red. Ironically, however, the red calf which appears in this week’s parshah, which is totally and perfectly red, provides purification for Am Yisrael.  Through this perfect animal, we regain our state of perfection. How do we explain how the color which represents sin is the color which also achieves purification?

Our task in this world is not to live in denial, but rather to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge  our weaknesses.  We are not meant to hide or ignore uncomfortable past errors.  The redness of the heifer brings us face to face with our past as a stepping stone to our positive growth. The same animal through which the chosen people had sinned (the golden calf) is now reintroduced as a corrective measure to bring purity to the defiled, perfection to the imperfect. The redness of the heifer's coat is an integral component of the nation's 'tikun.'  Part of the catharsis from sin includes reminding oneself of the golden calf by one’s alliance with the same vessel; now, however, the same animal now brings good in its wake.  In life, the same tool, when used abusively, can cause the downfall of a people, chas vashalom, and a tragic fate. But when this same tool is used according to the will of Hashem, it brings salvation.

I recall how excited we all were when a red heifer was born in Rechasim, near Haifa.  We felt that it was an omen from Heaven that the Messiah was coming, that with the ashes of the cow, we would purify ourselves and resume our holy service of Hashem in the Bet Hamikdash.  The prophet Michah declares, “Mi yiten tohar me-tumah, “Who will bring about purity from impurity?”  There is a real opportunity in life to rebuild and rejuvenate oneself.  We were quite disappointed when, in the course of time, the cow grew a few white hairs!

As members of Klal Yisrael, we must face honestly the “red” areas within ourselves, contend with our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and, transcending the negative within, reach for perfection in our service of Hashem.




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