Parshat Shemini/Shabbat Parah
22 Adar II 5768
March 29, 2008
Parshat Parah is read as a remembrance that it was necessary to become ritually pure before Pesach in order to participate in the eating of the Korban Pesach – the Passover lamb. The special Torah reading for Parshat Parah recounts the preparation of the ashes of the Red Heifer which were used as part of the process of ritual purification for when a person had come into contact with a corpse, rendering the person impure. This state of purity was attained by being sprinkled with water containing these ashes after a requisite waiting period.
The Rabbis chose for the haftarah to accompany this special Torah reading a prophecy from the prophet Ezekiel which speaks of God\’s spiritual redemption of the Jewish people. It parallels the Torah reading in that it metaphorically uses the imagery of sprinkling to describe God\’s spiritual restoration of the people: \”I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will clean you from all of your uncleanness and from all of your fetishes. And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you; I will remove the heart of stone from your body and I will give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you.\” (Verses 25-27)
According to Rav J. B. Soloveitchik (U.S 20th century), the process of spiritual purification involves two aspects: purification (taharah) and sanctification (kedushah). The first refers to a person\’s past and the later to a person\’s future. In order for a person to become pure, he or she must first come to terms with the past. They must deal with who they have been and find a means to cleanse themselves of those things which have tainted who they are. In this process, God allows us to start with a clean slate. One sees this first step in Ezekiel\’s words: \”I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you will be clean…\”
Still, a clean slate is no guarantee that a person will adequately meet future moral and spiritual exigencies. A person needs to be sanctified or dedicated to meet the challenges of the future so that he or she will not revert to his or her tarnished past. For this reason, God presents us with a \”new heart of flesh\” so that we might truly reinvent ourselves and renew ourselves. (see Shiurim L\’zecher Aba Mari 2:184)
In many ways this seems like a message for the Yamim Noraim – The Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is important to remember that Pesach is no less monumental than these auspicious days. It also requires of us purity of body and spirit. It also offers us an opportunity to renew ourselves and to start again, purified and dedicated to the goals for which we were created.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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