If someone came in contact with a dead body he became defiled. The method of purification was to take the ashes of the Parah Adumah burn it to ashes, then mix it with Mayim Chayim, water from a spring, which was followed by sprinkling this concoction upon the individual who was tamei thereby removing the defilement. This mitzvah is called a chok which describes a commandment beyond the human rationale and which employs strict emunah and conviction to the word of Hashem. As Rashi points out this mitzvah makes us the ridicule of the nations since it is so illogical especially since it impacts contradictory affects; the sprinkler becomes tamei and the sprinkled becomes undefiled. Yet to the contrary, this mitzvah portrays the incredible strength of faith possessed by Am Yisrael and their oneness with Hashem, believing in the supernatural and illogical and to be unflinching in its observance.
My Rebbi Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt”l once explained to us an inner meaning of the ashes being a primary mover in this purification formula. A living creature such as a cow, being part of nature, appears to have a life energy of its own. It possesses very complex natural life systems such as digestion, excretion, circulation etc. which are bound by natural laws and dimensions. These systems are incredibly designed and profound as they work together for the moment to moment functioning of the animal. If one would only invest the time and energy to objectively fathom and explore the perfection of these systems it would definitely point to a Creator with a universal plan. If one would tear away the physical layers of this creature, past the structural atoms and quarks, arriving at its life energy source, one would realize that Hashem is the one who is constantly creating and recreating the world as it appears to us. During Yetzias Mitzrayim there was a total breakdown of the “laws” of nature. Hashem openly revealed that He alone is the source of all our world experience. At the source everything can be altered and changed and recreated. Yes, it is quite paradoxical, how can an Egyptian and Yid drink from the same cup of water yet one is drinking blood and one is drinking water. There are no contradictions if one stands at the origins of the world for everything can be recoded according to Hashem’s desire even though it appears illogical to the human mind. It all depends upon how many layers of the physical, one is willing and capable to peel away and get closer to the source of all existence.
Burning the Para Adumah into ashes symbolizes the peeling away of all the physical components of nature until one reaches the ashes. The ash state represents the nullification of one’s intellect and logic, which then transports one to the emunah in the oneness of our Creator and His constant ongoing recreation. At the point of ashes, one does not have a problem dealing with natural paradoxes of who becomes tamei and who becomes tahor. If we seem to have a problem with it then the problem likes with us due to our physical attachments and addictions to this world which cause our emunah to be incomplete. Tzaddkim in our times have been known to miraculously cure medical illnesses that were incurable. How? They conduct their daily lives focused with the source of all life as the first Ramah in Shulchan Aruch writes שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד. Such a relationship the Tanna Rabi Chaninah Ben Dosa possessed evident from his remark when he lacked oil to light, “He who said that oil should burn should say that vinegar should burn”, and so it was. Physical and spiritual entities such as angels possess the properties of their existence which was decided only a moment ago as they emerge from nothingness, but can be changed at any second with a totally different even contradictory nature if need be.
Rav Hutner zt”l once remarked that for this reason The Anshei Kenesses Hagadolah prefaced the Pesukai D’zimrah with the tefillah of Baruch Sh’amar which contains ten times the word Baruch corresponding to the Ten Sayings in which the world was created. When one comes to daven before Hashem, in his heart he might have a slight doubt how can this davening change my physical situation or tzarah? Therefore he prefaces his davening with the Ten sayings by which the world was created, and uses the same terminology of Rabi Chaninah Ben Dosa “Baruch Sh’amar Vehaya Haolam” the world was created with Ten Sayings. “Baruch Omair Veoseh” Hashem says in the present tense and creates. Therefore the One who said that this is my present situation can say right now otherwise, that my situation can change for the better. The purpose of the Pesukai De’zimrah, if said with the proper kavanah, is to bring us to that state of nullification to the oneness of Hashem so that we find ourselves standing with complete emunah at the source of all creation from absolute nothingness other than the will of Hashem.
I cannot help but remember the nursery rhyme and game we played as children to the song of Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of poises, ashes ashes we all fall down. The historians say that this morbid song came about during the Bubonic Plague in London in the year of 1665. The symptom of the plague was the sign of a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin. Pockets and pouches were filled with sweet smelling herbs (poises) due to the belief that the disease was transmitted through bad smells. Ashes Ashes refer to the cremation of the dead bodies. The death rate was over 60% and was only halted by the great fire of London the following year which killed all the rats which carried the disease which was transmitting via the water supply.
The similarity between lehavdil the formula of Para Adumah and this song depicting the Bubonic Plague are mind boggling. Both share similar elements. They were there to remedy sickness, one a physical malaise and the other a spiritual malady. The Parah Adumah was required to be totally red (ring around the rosy). The total redness and unblemished wholesomeness of the Parah is also corresponding to the ring which a circle symbolizes completeness. Part of the ingredients to the Para Adumah potion was cedar wood, hyssop grass and scarlet (pocket full of poises). Ashes Ashes doesn’t have to be explained. However, the water factor of the Mayin Chayim in the Parah Aduma which served as part of the cure corresponded to the source of the plague through which it was transmitted. But this is where the comparison if there is one, abruptly stops and becomes polarized. “We all fall down” is the result of those who lack emunah in the Oneness of Hashem. Those who possess the emunah realize the opposite effect of the Parah Adumah “We all go up”. When chas veshalom one is struck with disease, our Ash state of emunah kicks in with a renewed surge, and the giant that was dormant within us is now awakened with a renewed dedication. It is our faith in Hashem that elevates the Yid to a higher level of meaningful existence in every aspect of his daily life where his oneness with Hashem makes him one with himself and one with his nation. He is capable of taking the אני and negating it to the source of אין from where everything emanates and enables his short stay in a temporal world to be connected to the eternality and infiniteness of his Creator.