So goes the conversation almost every day: Rabbi, look. Seriously. Everyone is touching the same door handles. Breathing the same air. You think we’re six feet apart in the grocery store? They’re not taking temperatures there! And if you really care about the risk of coronavirus, why don’t you also tell elderly people to stay home during flu season? And we should shut the Shul for every health and mental health concern! Is alcoholism less of an issue? We should never have kiddush again? Why are we wearing masks in Shul? Why aren’t we insisting that people who come to Shul wear masks everywhere? If camps can open, then schools can open!
It’s a lot. It’s overwhelming. And every single measure we take is completely and entirely fraught with inconsistency. But what COVID-19 has brought to light is that we so desperately strive for a consistent set of principles to govern our behavior. And when consistency is impossible, we find ourselves flailing, tensions rise, and all progress is halted by “what-aboutisms”.
Truthfully, of course, we Jews have never lived a consistent life. Since Adam and Eve, everything is colored with both good and evil. Nothing makes perfect sense, and nothing is perfectly consistent. Rav Blachman told us once in Yeshiva “If Judaism was all or nothing, we would not be wearing Yarmulkas on our heads.”
This is this challenge of the Parah Aduma. It’s inconsistent. It makes impure people pure, and pure people impure. It doesn’t fit a defined rubric. So, as Rashi tells us at the beginning of the Parsha: ”The Yetzer Hara and the Nations of the World mock us for observing Parah Aduma.”
We know this mockery all too well. It’s the constant beat down and demonization of Israel in the media: “They say they’re a democracy, but what about (fill in the blank).” And this is also the voice inside our heads that says “Why are you coming to minyan or shiur today? Why are you saying Tehillim today? Why are you eating healthy today? Why are you going to the gym today? You know it’s unsustainable! You know you can’t keep it up...”
But the Torah screams out: No! So what if it’s inconsistent? So what if it’s imperfect? So what if we’re not going to get it right every time? Does that mean we shouldn’t do the right thing now? The drive for consistency should never lead us down a road of paralyzed nihilism.
And this is Rashi’s answer: לפיכך כתב בה חוקה, גזירה היא מלפני אין לך רשות להרהר אחריה - This world of Parah Aduma, of inconsistency, it’s a Chok. We can’t logic your way around it. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t know the right thing to do now.
The Medrash Rabba begins it's discussion of our Parsha with this point; quoting the Pasuk in Iyyov: מי יתן טהור מטמא לא אחד - “Who can derive purity from impurity? No one!” No one can resolve the inconsistencies. No one except for “The Echad” - The Only One, Hashem.
But the Yid HaKadosh of Pshischa would explain even further, that in order to draw purity from the world of impurity, in order to defeat the Yetzer Hara of “perfection”, all you need is לא אחד - One good "No!"
To the voices that shut us down for being inconsistent, we need to echo one good “No!” No, it’s not perfect. But that’s ok. We’re doing our best. Or even if we’re not doing our best, a little is better than nothing. So put the mask on. Do a mitzvah. Learn a Daf. Get to the gym. Say a Perek of Tehillim. Eat a healthy lunch. Make that phone call.
Or in the words of G. K. Chesterton: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly."