Wednesday, Jul 10, 2024

Parshas Parah to the Rescue

For many centuries, the order of the Four Parshiyos has been discussed and analyzed. The Sheim M’Shmuel (Parshas Tzav, page 90) offers an original and very useful tool for understanding this special Shabbos and in its place in the larger Torah calendar. He writes, “Parshas Parah has been placed between Parshas Zachor and Parshas Hachodesh because Zachor represents the removal (siluk) of Amaleik from our hearts. Hachodesh represents our acceptance of the yoke of Heaven. Parah is in between because it includes a bit of both. The Mayim Chaim [brought with the Parah Adumah] symbolizes the rejection of Amaleik, whereas the burning of the korban chatos symbolizes the beginning of our preparation to offer the Korban Pesach together with all of its avodah.”

This explanation of the place of Parah Adumah actually goes to the heart of many aspects of our general avodas Hashem, especially during this uplifting and important season. We know that all of our commandments from Hashem are divided by being either a prohibition, known as a lo saaseh, or a mitzvas aseh, a commandment to do. Similarly, everything positive that we do is either sur meira, avoid evil, or aseh tov, do good.

Rav Chatzkel Levenstein (Ohr Yechezkel, “Middos,” page 60) teaches us a tremendous lesson about this dichotomy. He points out that sur meira cannot mean to merely refrain from prohibited actions, since these are already delineated very specifically in the Torah. It means to constantly watch ourselves not to fall into behaviors and situations that will get us into trouble. In other words, it is not enough to simply avoid sin. We must test each step we take by first assessing if it can lead to evil.

He cites the classic first sin of mankind, where the primordial serpent spoke to Chava disparagingly about the Creator. Then he took advantage of her mistake in equating the prohibition that came from Hashem not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge with her additional “derabbonon” not to even touch the tree. She meant well, but mistakenly equated the two. The nochosh then pushed her into the tree, touching what she had declared to be so-to-speak electrified. Thus, when it became obvious that Adam and Chava had in fact not died from this act, he proceeded to convince Chava that there would be no consequences from eating either. In this way, mankind became ensnared in the often illogical method of substituting human logic for the eternal wisdom of the Creator. Ever since then, teaches Rav Levenstein, we must be wary of trying to circumvent the basic meaning and intent of Hashem’s words.

The Parah Adumah is the ultimate example of the hopelessness of attempting to second-guess Hashem. Even the smartest person in the world, Shlomo Hamelech, thought that he could understand this quintessential chok, but in the end it eluded him (see Koheles 7:23 with meforshim). After we rid ourselves of the evil influence of Amaleik, we must still prepare ourselves to fully embrace the Divine teachings, even when they are totally incomprehensible to our mortal minds. Then, and only then, can we go forward to accept the Torah as our guide to all things and situations.

Let us now turn to the teachings of the Chiddushei Harim, the first Gerrer Rebbe, as quoted by his descendent, the Pnei Menachem (Parshas Chukas, page 125). He raises the question of why the tumah – defilement – arising from a corpse is so much worse and onerous than all other tumos. He explains that tumah tears us away from the source of life, which is the most important trait and gift that we possess. When we associate ourselves unnecessarily with death, we leave the arena of potential accomplishment that Hashem grants us by giving us life.

The Chiddushei Harim goes on to explain that the antidote (tikkun) to this is the cedar wood and hyssop, which represent humility, as opposed to the arrogance from which stems all sin in this world. The reasoning behind this remedy is that all malfeasance arises from a human being’s arrogance that he can thwart and oppose the will of the Creator of the universe. Therefore, when he acquires a serious tumah, the first thing he must do is engage in cheshbon hanefesh, self-analysis, and reduce his own ego.  He must consider and remind himself that Hashem is everywhere and it is therefore arrogant and foolish to attempt to avoid His displeasure when a person substitutes his own will for that of the A-mighty.

Rav Moshe Wolfson (Emunas Itecha, “Moadim,” page 161) guides us to an even deeper understanding of this concept. He points out that, generally, one who wishes to become purified must perform a specific act. For instance, he must immerse himself in a mikvah or offer a korban. However, the person who became tamei from a corpse needs only to submit to the kohein who sprinkles the ashes and water of the Parah Adumah upon him. He is actually totally passive. Yet, we wonder: How can someone possibly become purified when he hasn’t really done anything himself? It is true that the kohein sprinkled the Parah Adumah upon him, but what has he personally done to deserve this important result?

Rav Wolfson’s simple answer is that this is the power of Purim. On Shabbos Parshas Parah, Hashem reaches out to every Jew, no matter where in the kingdom he is. Hashem, the great Kohein, finds him and purifies him, as the seforim hakedoshim write that “Purim and Parshas Parah are cut from the same cloth.” Once Klal Yisroel acted together with such mesirus nefesh to overcome Haman, each one of us can help the other to atone. That explains the order of the Four Parshiyos, with Parshas Parah coming right after Purim. This allows us to effectuate our purity so that we can bring the Korban Pesach. This process actually happens very rapidly, because Megillas Esther has many references to rushing to do something correct and necessary, evoking the Pesach middah of zerizus (see Pachad Yitzchok, Pesach, Maamar 1)

Rav Wolfson concludes that every year, the days between Purim and Pesach each add a bit of taharah to us so that we can become completely pure by the time we sit down to the Seder. The closeness of each Jew to every other one – generally known as areivus – means that we can help each other in the monumental task of becoming worthy of Pesach and the state of purity it requires of us all. This explains both why Parshas Parah must be read on the Shabbos after Purim and why this must come before Parshas Hachodesh. Purim is like the best vaccine or inoculation in the world. It cleanses and protects us so that we can conquer the 49 levels of evil that will attempt to bring us down before we can even enter the “road to recovery” from the depravity and defilement of Mitzrayim.

The Sefas Emes (Parshas Chukas, page 223) adds that the purpose of all knowledge is to increase our yiras Shomayim. When we willingly submit ourselves to the Divine will – by accepting His chukim – we become ready for the Yom Tov of Pesach, when we annually accept our role in Hashem’s world and the demands that will be made upon us. Additionally, Rav Dovid Cohen (Birkas Yaavetz 4:229) explains that the reason that the Parah Adumah reflects the “mother (cow) cleansing what the calf (Egel) contaminated” (Rashi) is that mothers are the embodiment of rachmanus (rechem means womb) or mercy. We invoke the power of motherhood to cleanse ourselves so that we can approach Pesach purified and pristine for the proper formal entry into Klal Yisroel and our mitzvos.

This Shabbos, as we listen to Parshas Parah and are rescued from our tumah, let us take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to become cleansed and pure without even doing any action at all. We simply listen to the Torah reading, just as in earlier times we were purified by the kohein sprinkling us with the ashes of the Parah Adumah. The source of all of this is Hashem’s great compassion and love for us in offering us this annual opportunity. Let us therefore joyously listen to Parshas Parah this Shabbos and go forward to Pesach in the state of pristine purity that, after the geulah of Purim and that of Pesach, will bring us the geulah sheleimah bimeheirah beyomeinu.

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