These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

And God said, let there be a Red Heifer and Radical Acceptance.

Posted on March 15, 2015 by Jacob Haas

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Below is a Dvar I wrote for Moishe House.  
As Pardes and Moishe House have a new partnership I thought it would 
appropriate to share this with the Pardes community as well.

10947187_10103586304404122_6788517531781895680_n“This is the decree (Hok) of the Torah, which God has commanded, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and they shall take to you a completely Red Heifer…” Numbers 19:2

This week, as part of the lead up to Pesach, we hear a special Torah reading called Parah (cow), in addition to Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei. Parah is famously known for its laws relating to the Red Heifer. By the way, a heifer is a cow. The word used for these laws is ‘Hok.’ The word Hok is commonly used for a law that appears to defy meaning and rationality. We are told that after a person comes into contact with a dead body they are purified by sprinkling upon them water containing the ashes of a sacrificed red heifer. How the heck do the ashes of a Red Heifer cause a person to become pure? The law of the Red Heifer is a quintessential Hok.

There are many ways to connect a Hok; as an act of faith, as a display of respect for the authority of God, or as a commandment whose meaning is yet to be learned. And another way of relating to the Red Heifer is to accept that God works in ways that we cannot understand.

So what does this mean for me? We are often tempted to explain and rationalize realities in our lives, as in the case with the Red Heifer. We think that by finding a ‘reason’ we will be more at peace with our current reality. But the truth is, finding a ‘reason’ often does little to alleviate our inner feelings, when the best result might actually come from simply accepting. I was introduced to the practice of Radical Acceptance by my Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels at Pardes and the concept is about as simple as it sounds (but not so easy in practice). So often emotions arise within us and we try our hardest to rationalize and push these feelings away. Radical acceptance attempts to drop the narrative behind the feelings and just let them in.Over the last six months I have been training to run the Jerusalem marathon and about ten days ago I realized that I wouldn’t be able to run because of a hip injury. This was very hard for me to accept. I had run well over 1,000 miles through a cold and wet winter and was less than two weeks away from the marathon. So, naturally I had real feelings of loss and disappointment. In order to make myself feel better I began to rationalize how this was actually a good thing. I wouldn’t have to suffer through 26 miles of the race, maybe there was another injury that would have happened if I ran the race, or something worse, etc.

But maybe this experience is my Red Heifer. Maybe it is totally beyond me to understand why I got injured. And when I was finally able to see it this way, my feelings of loss and disappointment began to soften as I accepted them more fully.

So I ask you, dear Moishe House (and Pardes) folks, what narratives are you holding on to? Where can you drop the rationalization and just let the feelings in? What is your Red Heifer?