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June 17, 2021

Blue Bags and Change (Chukas)

I was born in the mid 90’s, and as far as my memory takes me, I associate the 7-Mile Market grocery store here in Baltimore with their blue bags. I would venture to say that probably the biggest חוק since the Parah Adumah was the recent change that 7-Mile Market made to switch these iconic blue grocery bags to white grocery bags.

Last week, when the change was completed, the city of Baltimore went into a state of shock and utter disbelief. But what…? How could they…? Those blue bags were…! What’s going to be…?

Let’s face it, change is hard. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Whether it is moving from America to Israel, switching jobs, dumping one chavrusa for another, getting married, having a child, or even going from blue bags to white bags, change is something that, simply put, is difficult to deal with and navigate.

Kain Ramsay, a famous Life Coach, once remarked: The only constant in life is change.

What exactly does he mean by this? I think he means the following: Yes, change is hard, difficult, and “annoying” to deal with. But at the same time, if we didn’t experience change, we would not truthfully be living. Life is all about change. Life is all about moving, growing, and changing for the better. Change is meant to be our constant in life; to always be looking to strive and achieve more.

The Noam Elimelech, Rav Elimelech from Leshinsk, offers a profound insight on the Parah Adumah, and how it teaches us a lesson in our service of Hashem. We know that the ashes of the Parah Adumah were מטהר the טמאים – made pure that which was impure, and at the same time were מטמא the טהורים – made impure that which was pure. In other words, the very same ashes impurified and purified two different people at the same time. The seeming contradiction is what makes it a חוק.

But the Noam Elimelech says something absolutely amazing. Homiletically speaking, if a person considers himselfטמא  in the sense of “I am not good enough, I can be better, yesterday I did that, but today I can change and be so much more” then this person is truthfully טהור. Why? Because he is living in reality; with a growth consciousness about the importance of change and improving a little bit each day.

On the flip side, if a person considers himself טהור in the sense of “I am perfect and just fine where I am. I need not change anymore” then this person is truthfully טמא. Why? Because complacency and an attitude of not wanting to change is fundamentally disregarding the importance of the potential for life as well as life itself.

If you will notice, the Torah (19:2) says: זאת חקת התורה אשר צוה ה' לאמר דבר אל בני ישראל... – This is the decree of the Torah, which Hashem has commanded, saying. Speak to the Children of Israel…

Isn’t this phrase redundant? After all, why does the Torah say "לאמר" if it subsequently says "דבר אל בני ישראל"? The Noam Elimelech explains that each and every day of our lives must be a new לאמר, a new saying, a new expression of our עבודת ה'. Each day we are meant to change and grow a little bit closer to Hashem.