Parshas Chukas: Putting Family First
Have you ever noticed that often the people who have the biggest problems in their own lives are the ones who spend their lives fixing other peoples’ lives? Social workers, therapists, and psychiatrists have a reputation of having the most messed up relationships and families.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem to make sense. But then again, maybe it does. After all, aren’t we all better at giving advice than taking it? We have a better vantage point from farther away: When we are outside of the relationship, family, or life, we can tell what needs to be done. The general finds it easier to lead his troops if he is watching the battleground from up above on a hill than if he is down in the fray. But when we are the soldier down in the battle, we do not have the same clarity of vision to know what to do next.
Therein lies the solution to the “parah adumah” paradox. The parah adumah is the red heifer whose ashes remove spiritual impurity from one who has had contact with a corpse. Ironically, these same ashes render the priest who administers them spiritually impure himself. It doesn’t make sense that something should purify one person but render another person impure.
But if we view it as a metaphor for the purity of our relationships with one another, it begins to make more sense. A psychologist, for instance, can view another person’s relationship, identify the problems, and tell how to fix them. But in doing so, the psychologist takes on a bit of those problems himself. The stress of curing other peoples’ problems constantly can place a big strain on a person, leaving no resources left over for dealing with his own problems at home.
Perhaps this is why the rabbis had to specify an order for the giving of tzedaka (charity), starting with one’s own family and radiating out from there. Often it is tempting for us to use our far-away vantage point to place all our energy into helping others, while neglecting the problems that are, literally, right under our noses.
Pirkei Avos tells us to bring the poor into our home. But if we neglect our own families in order to help others, we will find that we become the poor ones. Always remember, tzedaka begins in the home.
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