Sfas Emes blog
This week’s parsha begins with the laws of the red heifer. The ashes of a red heifer are required as part of the procedure to purify one who has had contact with a corpse. Together with the red heifer are burnt the wood of a cedar tree, hyssop and scarlet thread. Why are these burnt, too? Rashi cites a Midrash explaining that metaphorically the entire procedure of the red heifer is a purification and atonement for the sin of the golden calf. In this context the cedar tree which is very tall represents one whose haughtiness causes him to sin. The hyssop grows low to the ground and the scarlet thread in Hebrew is synonymous with the Hebrew word for worm. These represent humility. The Midrash states that a haughty person who sinned should humble himself like a hyssop and a worm. He will then be atoned.
But isn’t repentance needed for atonement? How does humbling oneself – ridding the haughtiness – atone for sin? The Sfas Emes explains. The primary source of sin is arrogance. If we knew clearly that we continue to live each moment at God’s pleasure and that in reality, we are no more than “an axe in the hands of a mason,” we would not sin. The only way we can come to sin is by removing the yoke of Heaven from upon us. At the moment of sin, we are not aware of God. This is why Chazal teach us that haughtiness is akin to idol worship. To prevent sin, then, it is crucial to monitor our arrogance level and replace it with humility. The Sfas Emes teaches that the path to humility is paved with repentance. Humility atones for sin because repentance is a part of the process of humbling ourselves before God. Humility is only possible with proper repentance.
Humbling ourselves before God and submitting to Him leads directly to awe of Him. We find in Maseches Shabbos (31a), that although a person’s actions may be judged favorably on the Day of Judgment, this is not enough. He must also be found to have had awe of God as Yeshaya (33:6) said, “... יִרְאַת ה' הִיא אוֹצָרוֹ/Fear of God is his treasure.” Awe of God is the vessel which holds all of our service to God. It is the framework upon which everything hinges. Elaborating this point, Chazal compare the relationship between serving God and fearing Him to filling a storehouse with wheat without adding a certain preservative. Without the preservative the wheat will rot. In fact, the halachah dictates that one may sell wheat with the preservative included at the price of wheat. The buyer is paying for preservative as if he is buying wheat because without it the wheat is worthless. It will rot. So too, mitzvos without awe of God are not sustainable.
Contemplating awe of God while doing a mitzvah, then, is a way of recognizing that this mitzvah that I am now doing has God’s life-force in it. This thought will help me to properly perform the mitzvah. Contemplating awe of God, though, while performing a mitzvah, takes away from concentration on the mitzvah itself. Would it not be better to concentrate fully on the mitzvah itself? The Sfas Emes explains that this is the point of the analogy to the sale of wheat with preservatives included. Even though the buyer is receiving less wheat, he willingly pays for the preservative because without it the wheat is worthless. Chazal hint to this concept when they say that whether one does less or more, the main thing is to do it for the God. Chazal are teaching us that it is better to contemplate doing for the sake of Heaven even if this results in doing a little less.
 Rashi on Bamidbar 19:22, Eitz Erez
 Sotah 4b
 Brachos 5b
ובגמ' יראת ה' כו' אוצרו אין כו'. משל העלה חיטים ולא עירב קב חומטין מוטב שלא העלה כו' מערב אדם קב חומטין ואינו חושש ע"ש שבת פ"ב. כי קיום כל דבר מצוה צריך להיות ע"י יראה שיהי' מעורב חיות השי"ת במעשה המצוה ועי"ז יעשנו כראוי. וכמו שאינו אונאה מה שחסר תבואה במקום הקב ע"י שעי"ז מעמיד החיטים כן בכל מצוה אף שע"י הישוב הדעת תוך המעשה ממש שיהי' ביראה אף שיתבטל מעט מגוף המעשה אינו חשש כי היראה מקיים כל המעשה כנ"ל. וזה נצרך לידע. וז"ש א' הממעיט כו' שיכוון לשמים כנ"ל:
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