There once was a man who used to visit Rebbe Nachman whenever he came to Breslov. But after his fortune turned and he became wealthy, he no longer had time to visit the Rebbe. Once, while he was rushing around Breslov on business, Rebbe Nachman saw him and called him in. “Did you glance at the sky today?” the Rebbe asked. The man admitted that he hadn’t.
Calling him to the window, the Rebbe said, “Tell me, what do you see?” “I see wagons and horses and people scurrying about,” the man replied. “Believe me,” Rebbe Nachman said to him, “Fifty years from now there will be other market days. There will be other horses, other wagons, different people. What is here today will no longer be. What pressure are you under? What’s making you so busy that you don’t even have time to look at Heaven?” (Kokhavey Or, p. 41, #5).
The goings-on in our lives often propel us into a deep spiritual sleep. Things can be happening all around us, critical events in our lives that we might one day look back at and wonder, “How could I have missed that?” Yet we are utterly numb to real life. We also possess “spiritual golden calves” and related forms of modern idol worship that distract us enough to sever our connection with God and His spiritual reality. For example, the pursuit of money and pleasure can easily blind us to the true purpose of life. How do we wake up and truly live?
The Midrash connects the sin of the Golden Calf with the Red Cow, whose ashes have the power to purify. In the words of the Midrash, “This can be compared to the son of a maidservant who soiled the king’s palace. They said, ‘Let his mother come and clean up the mess’” (Tanchuma, Chukat 8). The Red Cow in whose image the Golden Calf was formed is compared to the maidservant’s mother: it has the power to cleanse from idol worship. But the Red Cow is no longer to be found, so how can we sprinkle its ashes?
Our parashah states, “Take for yourself a perfectly red cow, which does not have a blemish, upon which no yoke was laid” (Numbers 19:2). The Zohar (Chukat, p. 180) comments that “red” refers to harsh judgments, whereas “perfect” refers to softened judgments. When we are distracted and lose connection with God, harsh judgments arise against us. These judgments seek to separate us from our Heavenly Father by claiming that we are distant and that we are not compatible with Godliness. Therefore we feel spiritually dead.
However, “perfect” refers to the proper balance. Although we feel a harsh bleakness, we can add a good dose of kindness to the mixture in order to soften the judgment. This is done by being kind with ourselves and identifying our one “perfect” thing, our “good point” – “which does not have a blemish, upon which no yoke was laid.”
No matter what we have done (or not done), the essence of a Jew is completely good and pure. Rebbe Nachman teaches that there is no Jew who does not possess good points. We must look deeply into our souls and find the good that is expressed through our thoughts and actions.
In order to wake up, we must first understand who we truly are and how special it is to be a Jew. We are sleeping only because we have forgotten our intrinsic nature! Yes, perhaps I made a wrong turn, but by judging myself with kindness, I will discover that even in the greatest darkness, my good point still shines forth. It is this experience that helps me distinguish my inner-reality from my deceitful perception. As I connect with my good point, I begin to realize my true essence and am sprinkled with the ashes of the Red Cow, so that all the barriers that have kept me from spiritual growth finally dissipate.
Based on Likutey Halakhot, Hashkamat HaBoker 1