The most enigmatic mitzvah of all is presented in this week's Parshah. It defies conventional logic, and is meant to do so. To understand why this (and many other mitzvot) don't leave you with that "aha!" feeling that you have when the pieces of a puzzle suddenly come together, you have to know more about yourself.
You have a spiritual soul. You feel its presence whenever you are inspired or moved. When you want to connect to that aspect of yourself, your mind is the key. Your mind interprets what your senses tell you, and that interpretation can lead you to your higher self, and ultimately to sensing Hashem's presence. When you study Torah, you "learn" Hashem's wisdom and make Him part of you. You also learn what He wants from you and from the world that He created.
You also have another self, the animal self. Animals are not evil, even when they do things that would be horrific if they were done by a human being. They act on instinct, and have no capacity to act differently. You also have an instinctive self. "Fight or flight"; "Nurture your baby"; “Preserve your species" are all instinctive. It's the voice of your animal soul. This self is just as much you as the spiritual self. The difference between the two is that the spiritual soul is eternal, an aspect of G-d, while the animal soul is so connected to the body that it can share its inevitable fate unless it learns to "listen" to your spiritual self. Everything physical is death bound. The journey towards death is one that began the day of your birth.
Picture yourself dead tired. This isn't too hard. The doorbell rings. You reluctantly get out of bed to peer through the Sherlock hole in your door, and see it is your neighbor's elderly father. You open the door, and notice that he is wearing pajamas, and seems to be totally disoriented. Before you can say a word, he asks, "Where's Billy?" Your neighbor's name is Beverly. Her husband is Michael. Their baby is Faygie. "Come in, let's first get inside. It's cold out there". You let your mind race. Do you have Beverly's number? Is she home? He begins to play with the door. You quickly tell him that you will call Bev, and that she will know how to find Billy. "Who's Bev?" he says as he heads outside. You didn't want to spend your night like this, it's cold; you're tired; you are not Bev's best friend. That's why you don't have her number. Something visceral in you tells you that the man in front of you is part of you. You have to take care of him. It doesn't have to make sense. You grab his arm, bring him back in. You put your Shabbos leftovers in the microwave, and hope that food's universal message will calm him down. It works. You hear Michael shouting outside. "Dad" and you open the winnow and say, "here". And then it's over. The entire episode took twenty minutes. You watch Michael open his Toyota's door, and help his father in law in to its dark interior. You know that Bev and Michael's night is just beginning. It's time to clear off the table. The half-finished bowl of soup has something to say to you. You won't hear it in your mind, but your soul knows that the soup is holy.
The battle between life, eternity, on one side, and death and transience on the other, is what all of this is about. In this week's Parshah you have a mitzvah that is an enigma. It shows you something of the intertwining of both worlds, the world of life and that of death. The world of eternity and purity and the world of defilement. What exactly does the Torah demand?
Find a cow with entirely red hair. Bring it outside the encampment as a sacrifice. All of the people involved in the ritual are rendered ritually defiled, but the ashes of the cow are the means through which people who were defiled by contact with death can regain their status as being ‘tahor’, undefiled. It tells you that if you have touched death, you must reduce it to its elements and let it take you to life. The process isn't meant to address your mind. It is meant to address your soul. Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) was the wisest of men. He didn't understand this mitzvah. Moshe, who was the most humble of men, did. He knew how to empty out his ego to make room for Hashem's will. He knew how to speak to this animal soul in its own language, experiential emunah. If you do only what makes sense to you, you are limiting your growth to being who you already are. Hashem's vision for you can take you to a higher level than you would ever reach if you tried to put all of the Torah into the little box called, ‘My Opinion’ or ‘My Mind’.
You will discover that you can like people you don't resonate with. You can say "no" to your body's demands, and best of all, you learn to love your animal self instead of being afraid of its persistence. "Who is the man who wants to live?" King David asked in Tehillim. "Guard your tongue from evil….". Your words originate in your mind. Choose life! Don't say everything that you think and feel. Submit your desire to communicate who YOU are now, and choose to be a higher self, one who you may not know yet.