Chukat - The Perfect Combination

The kohen shall take a piece of cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson wool, and cast them into the burning of the cow.
. וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן עֵץ אֶרֶז וְאֵזוֹב וּשְׁנִי תוֹלָעַת וְהִשְׁלִיךְ אֶל תּוֹךְ שְׂרֵפַת הַפָּרָה

 Bamidbar 19:6

There are a few interesting aspects to this verse.
  • First this is not the first time that we have this combination of materials brought together for spiritual purification. We saw these elements back in Parshah Metzorah, however they appeared in a different order. Why in our parshah do elements "cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson wool" appear in a new order?
  • Second why do these elements specifically have to appear after the burning of the Parah Adumah.

  Downfall from Arrogance

Then the kohen shall order, and the person to be cleansed shall take two live, clean birds, a cedar stick, a strip of crimson [wool], and hyssop.
וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְלָקַח לַמִּטַּהֵר שְׁתֵּי צִפֳּרִים חַיּוֹת טְהֹרוֹת וְעֵץ אֶרֶז וּשְׁנִי תוֹלַעַת וְאֵזֹב
Vayikra 14:4
We learn that the affliction of Metzorah comes as a result of speaking badly (gossip and slander) - loshon harah.
Further did R. Yohanan say in the name of R. Yoseph b. Zimra: Any one who speaks 'loshon harah' will be visited by the plague of leprosy, as it is said: He who slanders his neighbor in secret, I cut him down; one whose eyes are raised up high and his heart is expansive, I cannot tolerate him. (Tehilim 101:5)
Erechin 15B
Many of the commentators, like Rashi,  point out how the cedar stick represents arrogance. For just as the cedar is tall and mighty so also the arrogant person holds his head high, overly believing in his own self-importance. Further we see the combination of the elements - 'a cedar stick, a strip of crimson [wool], and hyssop' where the hyssop is a lowly bush, shows us the dramatic arc that arrogance takes us. From the great heights and sense of self-importance, arrogance draws us down, bringing out the worst in us, pulling to low points as represented by the hyssop bush.

Ultimate Combination

So if the cedar stick is strongly symbolic of arrogance and the hyssop represents the low state that this arrogance can bring us, then why put the cedar and the hyssop next to each other in our parshah. The Slonimar Rebbe takes a different perspective on these two elements, noting how the pride of the cedar represents the holy pride that Aharon HaKohen encompasses in his service, and the lowly hyssop represents the profound humility as depicted by Moshe. 

The Rebbe says bringing together these great traits - a proud holy leader and a humble, insightful leader - create the ultimate combination for spiritual and national leadership. 

Personal Strength

Going deeper, the Rebbe doesn't just bring these two elements on the national, but also on the personal level. He says that we bring into our own lives a strong sense of pride about our spiritual potential and couple that with deep humility we can reach amazing spiritual levels. 


However the spiritual potential can only be reached by first taking care of material issues. That is shown by the order of elements that go into the special mixture. The verse states "cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson wool, and cast them into the burning of the cow," where the cow, the mighty, fleshy beast, represents materialism. So the mixture that is prepared to purify those suffering from impurity of the dead, starts by burning the cow - removing our material drives. Only then, after removing our removal passions, then can we empower this combination of spiritual pride and humility to reach great spiritual heights, and draw closer to Hashem.

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