Passover is fast approaching. The first Seder night is Monday, April 10th. The are 4 special readings of the sacred scroll the lead us into preparations for Passover and this coming Shabbat is the 3rd.
It is Parshat Parah.
In addition to the “regular” reading form the Torah, we read a section related to the mysterious laws and practices related to the purification rituals of the red heifer. What do the purification rituals of the red heifer have to do with Passover preparations you ask? Naturally, the rabbis, past and present give us a number of reasons.
First, it is an alarm clock reminder for preparing for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. All of the pilgrimages are important, but being in Jerusalem Erev Pesach to sacrifice the Korban Pesach—the Pascal Lamb was even more so. The Talmud relates that the farthest point in Israel from Jerusalem was two weeks’ journey. When needed, the purification ritual was a one week process, so the Rabbis instituted the Parah reading 3 weeks before Passover as a reminder.
The desire for many of our co-religionists to go out of town for Passover has a lengthy history, but before there was Florida, Arizona and any number of cruises, there was Jerusalem.
Second, Passover is the holiday of redemption and a time when we anticipate the coming of Moshiach. The Haftarah reading for Parshat Parah speaks of an exile from the holy land and the purification that occurs through the suffering of that exile. We are reminded to use this time to reflect on what it is the God expects from us and to understand our role in bringing about the ultimate redemption.
Third, there is a mystical construct and parallel between the Parah rituals, the diaspora and Passover. Our Sages speak of the Red Heifer as the most mysterious of the chukim, because in the purification ritual, the person performing the purification ritual became impure themselves. In the diaspora, we have helped bring the beauty of Torah to the rest of the world, but our interactions have exposed our people to the risks of assimilation. Have we helped make the impure pure and in so doing rendered the pure impure?. Passover begins with the Exodus and the journey to the Promised Land. We left that state of impurity to ultimately merit the giving of Torah. Parah is a reminder to be on our own journey of improvement. We say, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Perhaps there is a metaphorical Jerusalem too to which we can aspire.
Fourth, it is a reminder to invite guests to your Seder. How so? The Tzaddik Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish of Vorki is said to have taught that the essence of the Parah Adumah ritual was “love your neighbor.” He taught that when someone forfeits something to help someone else, that is an example of love and selflessness. The sacrifice in the purification ritual is that the Kohanim temporarily give up their own purity so that others may be purified. Helping others may require taking time away from yourself or cost you in money or other resources. Yet, when you love someone, it seems to you a pleasure and not a sacrifice at all. When you lift your child from the mud, you may get muddy yourself, but would you not do that for your child? Are we not all God’s children? Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in relating Rabbi Yitzchak’s words states that “… the test of your level of love for your fellow human being is the amount of sacrifices you are willing to make.”
With just 3 weeks left until Passover, now would be an excellent time to show your love, care and concern for others by making sure that every person who wants to attend a Seder can. Who can you invite?
Parashat Parah is also a reminder to begin re-familiarizing yourself with the customs and rituals of the Haggadah and the Seder. I cannot think of a Synagogue, Temple or outreach organization that is not offering workshops to help you prepare to make your Seder interesting, engaging and FUN—yes, you read that correctly. Find one!
The Seder is supposed to be fun, especially for the children and extra effort is to be made to make each Seder experience a very memorable one. Passover is THE DOR L’DOR experience par excellence. Why not have your family and other Seder guests collaborate this year to make your own Haggadah? The learning process and fun involved could make this the most special Passover ever. Haggadot.com has a program that allows you to access incredible information and artwork and a platform that allows you to collaborate and it is all free.
Purim is now behind us and Parashat Parah starts the countdown to a very meaningful Passover.
This Shabbat we learn with our teacher Ruth Bergman. She will teach a little about the Red Heifer and purity, but plans to focus mostly on a different cow, this time the baby one that was the Golden Calf. That catastrophic event is told in this week’s Parasha of Ki Tisa. Reading of the Golden Calf and reading about the Red Heifer on the same Shabbat? Is that a mere coincidence?
Our Torah Study will begin at 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.
P.S. Limmud Michigan 2017 is Sunday, March 19th in the Student Center Building at Wayne State University. It is not too late to register and you will be very glad if you attend. Register today or at the door!