Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Chukat - 5772
THE COW AND THE CALF
Rashi compares the parah adumah, the red cow, to the golden calf point by point, showing how in all the details of its laws, the cow is to be an atonement for the sin of idolatry that the Jewish people committed when they worshiped the calf.
The Torah requires that someone who has come in contact with a corpse must be sprinkled with the ashes of the parah aduman on the third and seventh day of his week-long period of impurity. Only in this way can he become pure. Rashi does not associate this particular law regarding the parah adumah with the golden calf. What is the connection between them?
The Midrash teaches that when the Jews stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, they reached such a high spiritual level that they
became impervious to the Angel of Death (Shemos Rabbah 32). Thus the Sinai revelation was a tikun, a rectification, for the sin of Adam. Had the first man not sinned, he and his descendants - all of mankind - would have been immortal. When they reached a level that enabled them to reacquire the quality of immortality, the Jews who stood at Mount Sinai rectified that which Adam had destroyed with his sin.
When they worshiped the golden calf, the Jews lost their immortality; death again became a part of their physical reality. The mitzvah of the parah adumah was given to the Jews to remove the impurity associated with death. This is the connection between the ashes of the parah adumah and the golden calf. Just as the revelation at Sinai was a tikun for Adam's sin, sprinkling the ashes of the parah adumah is a tikun for the sin of idolatry - a cleansing of the impurity of death that was reintroduced to the Jewish people when they sinned with the golden calf. Adapted from Ner Uziel