Dust and ashes: being nothing gives you access to everything

A Legacy of Dust and Ashes

“Dust and Ashes” – with these words Avraham effectively described the motivation behind his life of selfless kindness: his utter humility. As a reward, Avraham’s descendants were given two mitzvos that exemplify selflessness: the unfathomable mitzvah of Parah Adumah and the only time G-d allows his name to be erased – to restore peace in a Jewish home

“As a reward for our patriarch Avraham having said, ‘I am but dust and ashes,’” says the Talmud (Sotah 17a), “his descendants were worthy to receive two commandments: the ashes of the red heifer and the dust that is mixed in water for a sotah.”

The two mitzvos of “dust and ashes” that the Jewish people merited as a reward for Avraham’s humility, correspond to more than just the metaphor of “dust and ashes” that Avraham used to describe himself. Rather, these mitzvos in particular, the red heifer and the sotah water, reflect the essence of Avraham’s conduct, which he expressed in the words “I am but dust and ashes.”

With these words Avraham effectively described the motivation behind his life of selfless kindness: his utter humility. Avraham was so insignificant in his own eyes that he was certain that everyone else was surely entitled, equally or more, to the goodness with which he had been blessed. In fact, even if benefiting others might cause him harm, Avraham did not consider that unreasonable. Therefore, saving his nephew from captivity warranted risking his own life in battle (Bereishis 14:1-24). Likewise, tending to the physical needs of travelers whom he imagined to be pagan nomads justified forfeiting his time with the Divine Presence (see Bereishis 18:1-4 and Rashi).

As a reward, Avraham’s descendants, the Jewish people, were given two mitzvos that exemplify this attribute of selflessness: the ashes of the parah adumah, the red heifer, used to purify those who contracted impurity from a dead corpse; and the sotah waters, used to prove the innocence of a suspected adulteress.

For by divine decree, all who were involved in preparing the ashes of theparah adumah contracted a degree of impurity themselves. Similarly, the preparation of the sotah waters required erasing (into water) the ink of several verses from the Torah, including G-d’s holy name that is mentioned in those verses. The ability to subject yourself to becoming impure in order to spare some else the inconvenience of impurity, or to actively desecrate G-d’s holy name (by erasing it) in order to save someone else’s marriage, is truly the legacy of Avraham, who put all others before himself, viewing himself as nothing “but dust and ashes.”

— From Likkutei Sichos, vol. 25, pp. 79-83. Reprinted from DailyLightpoints.com