The Final Atonement

Tamuz 9, 5782
July 8, 2022
Candlelighting Time 8:12 PM

            After the parsha of the Red Heifer that purified those who had become defiled through contact with a corpse, Miriam’s demise is mentioned. Rashi cites the Talmud that her death is mentioned here for a specific reason. Just like sacrifices atoned for our sins, so too, the passing away of the righteous atones for the generation’s sins. Of course, first and foremost we need to understand the process of how the righteous leaving us serves as an atonement. And, furthermore, the Red Heifer was not actually an offering. Although it was slaughtered and then burnt, however there was no protocol involving the altar like by a regular sacrifice. Additionally, the Red Heifer did not atone for sins, it purified  those who were defiled through contact with a corpse, therefore the comparison to other sacrifices that do atone is difficult to grasp!

            Maharal explains the significance of the Red Heifer. A physical body was totally reduced to ashes, an absolute destruction of its corporal self. Our involvement in our physical activities is the root of sin as demonstrated by Adam. Although he was incredibly spiritual, however there was also a trace of corporeal existence which he could not shed due to the merger of the spiritual and the physical which constituted his creation. Thus, the Red Heifer was the pure and unadulterated manifestation of a true offering to Hashem. Although its blood was not sprinkled on the altar, still the Torah refers to it as a sin offering. The total disengagement of the physical exhibited by the Red Heifer captured the essence of the sin of the Golden Calf. There a physical exhibition was utilized to replace the likes of Moshe, our quintessential leader who truly augmented his spiritual aspect, reaching the level of an angel. The purification of the Red Heifer the antithesis of the Golden Calf negates the motivating factor of sin that is ever-present in our lives and creates the foundation for sin.

            Maharal continues to explain how the demise of the righteous serves as an atonement for the generation. A person, the stature of Miriam, a tremendous servant of Hashem is essential for the ongoing functioning of the world. For those who have reached such incredible levels of virtue and integrity, they create an ambience and quality within which the world is sustained. Their inner essence, their soul is so elevated and noble, their body, their outer shell, is a mere envelope for their epitome and core being. When they leave this dimension, the physicality that they possess also absconds the mortal existence that it wallowed in while the soul was soaring and rocketing upwards reaching great heights unknown and unexplored by the average individual. We can only intellectually imagine their zenith of accomplishment in this world, but to fathom their place in the cosmos of spirituality is beyond our conception and perception.

            When they leave us, the entire world as we know it, experiences an upward growth, an expansion of sanctity that negates the impression of the physical and accentuates the power of the spiritual. That, in turn, is the atonement that we seize since the opportunity to sin is somewhat dispelled and purged. However, in the final analysis, it is our responsibility to latch on to this superb prospect and to utilize it appropriately.


When Moshe had to strike the rock to produce water and his speaking was not successful, it was an indication of the level of the people. They could not relate to Moshe, his stature, that his very speech, the epitome of Torah could influence the very essence of the world. Their capacity of understanding only allowed them to grasp a physical effect upon the rock. Such a nation was not worthy of having Moshe lead them into the Land of Israel.                                                                                S’FAS EMES