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08 March 2018

Parshas Parah/Vayakhel-Pekudey – One Huge Steak

By Roy S. Neuberger

A prominent rosh yeshiva once remarked to me, “I never ate a steak in my life.” 

This comment stayed with me, because it represents such a deviation from the norm, even among the observant community. We have to understand how subservient we are to a dominant culture whose lifestyle has enveloped us without our understanding what is happening. 

The Para Aduma is one huge steak.

“A steer weighing 1,000 pounds … will average around 430 pounds of retail cuts.” (Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry) “Steers, heifers, and bullocks produce beef of the highest quality.” (The Food School, California)

The Para Aduma represents a life submerged in gashmius, which blocks our ability to connect with Hashem. This is arguably the central problem of mankind. It appears to be identical with what occurred at the primal stage of life in this world, when Chava disobeyed Hashem’s one explicit mitzvah by eating from the Aitz Hadas. It all began with a taiva for food.

“Coronary heart disease is the leading killer of women and men in western civilization. It is predicted to become the number one global disease burden by 2020. It consists of an inflammatory buildup of blockages in arteries to the heart muscle…. 

“Who develops heart disease? Everyone eating the typical western diet …. [In cultures] where there is a virtual absence of coronary artery heart disease … their nutrition is plant based ….” (Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic since 1968 and former president of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons)

At the end of history, “Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Dvarim 30:6) The physical world reflects the spiritual world. Sickness of the physical heart reflects sickness of the spiritual heart. This is a great problem, because our goal is to “love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart ….” If the pathway to the heart is blocked, we are in trouble. It would appear that the mitzvah of Parah Aduma represents the cure for the disease which blocks us from dvaikus with Hashem. If our desire is towards gashmius, the prognosis is fatal. 

I feel this problem on a personal level. Most of you who read these words were brought up surrounded by mitzvos and a Torah perspective. But I grew up in that assimilated world in which all that is recognized are material objects and the only power acknowledged is material power, i.e. government, military, police, or the charisma of an influential person. There is no knowledge of a Power Who Rules All, and of the neshoma which can connect to that Ruling Power. 

In such a world, the neshoma feels abandoned, a prisoner within the body. No one remembers that it exists. It is starving, while the body is being luxuriously fed. Even now, after I have discovered Hashem, I am struggling to rise from the condition in which I was raised. I am not saying that I am unique in this regard, but I still feel it strongly.

You may recognize this experience: I am davening Shemoneh Esreh. I am standing in front of the Kisai Hakavod. And what am I thinking about? Practically everything under the sun. Here is a moshel: a man is admiring the display in a store window. Suddenly, someone hits him twice on the chest! Oy! What’s going on!? “Oh! I forgot! I am davening! I just said, ‘chatanu … fashanu!’” (Heard from Rabbi Moshe Grossman in the name of Rabbi Sholom Schwadron  zt”l)

The effort required to focus on Hashem is overwhelming. We are obsessed with the world of gashmius. But we are enjoined to focus on the Source of Life, because all material and spiritual problems are solved by dvaikus with Hashem. If this were not a matter of great concern, why else would Dovid Hamelech say, “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi samid … I have set Hashem before me always. Because He is at my right hand I shall not falter.” (Tehillim 16)

When I say “Shema,” I try to internalize the fact that Hashem encompasses the entire world; there is nothing outside Him. The infinite details and worries of life are subservient to Him; all is in order if we focus upon Him alone. But we are overwhelmed by distractions, which the Satan so cleverly places before us. To focus upon Hashem is a never-ending effort, and that is why Am Yisroel is enjoined to involve ourselves constantly in Torah, “while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way and when you retire and you arise.”

The clogged arteries leading to our heart block our desire for pure avoda. Just as our taste buds enjoy the delicious prime rib, so our heart desires the physical pleasure of eating. This is represented by the Parah Adumawhich we are commanded to shecht and burn before we can bring the Korban Pesach

Zman Chairusainu is the moment of liberation from this crushing burden. Unless we pulverize and burn this obsession with gashmius, we cannot leave Mitzraim! The proof of this awesome challenge is that at least four fifths of Am Yisroel never in fact did leave Mitzraim! (See Rashi on Shemos 10:22 and 13:18 and other commentators.) 

Perhaps the halachos of Parah Aduma are incomprehensible to us precisely because our spiritual arteries are so clogged. We cannot comprehend the extent of this spiritual blockage which has its roots buried so deeply in our past. When we are cleansed, everything will become crystal clear! 

Please, Hashem, now is the time! Purify us now with the ashes of the Parah Aduma!

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Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at

© Copyright 2018 by Roy S. Neuberger

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