“This is a requirement of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke.” — Numbers 19:2
The Torah portion for this week is Chukat, which means “requirement,” from Numbers 19:1–22:1, and the Haftorah is from Judges 11:1–33.
If you’ve ever passed an expensive jewelry store, you no doubt were impressed by the sparkling diamonds on display. Jewelers place the diamonds at just the right angle inside their velvet boxes so that they will catch the light and sparkle. How beautiful, we think. Yet, no diamond was created that way. It takes a lot of work – searching, extracting, cutting, and polishing – to produce every diamond. And yet, even the finest diamond is not without a flaw.
In this week’s Torah reading, we learn about the laws of the red heifer and read God’s command: “Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke.” There is a saying in Judaism that there are “70 faces to the Torah,” meaning there are many facets to any given verse (like a diamond!) and many ways to understand them. The great 18th-century rabbi from Poland, known as the Seer of Lublin, explained the last phrase of our verse in a unique way, saying, “Whoever considers himself to be without a blemish has not accepted the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. For if he would have accepted the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven to any extent at all, he would know that he still has many faults.”
In ancient times, people used to think that diamonds were pieces of stars that fell from the heavens. In essence, they weren’t that far off. Human beings are like diamonds sent down from heaven, and we were sent with a mission – to work on and polish our souls. This is the “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.” It is our duty and our burden. However, it is only once we accept our divine responsibility that we can truly come to shine brilliantly.
It has been said that “there is always room for improvement; it’s the biggest room in the house!” Everyone has places and parts that need refinement and polishing. The only thing worse than a person with a lot of rough edges is someone who thinks that he or she is perfect and doesn’t need any work at all.
God could have created us as already beautifully sparkling diamonds. But He chose to create us as diamonds in the rough because He wants us to be involved in creating ourselves. God charged us to become better, to grow, and to shine. Today, let us consider where we might need a bit of polish and think about areas that need to be cut away. Together with God, we can turn our diamonds in the rough into some of the most sparkling and precious gems the world has ever seen.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President