Shabbat Parah (5779)

Drash Cards for Shabbat Parah (5779)

by Marc Mangel

• One of the great things about having gaps in one’s background is that they are sometimes very easily filled and at the same time lead to new insights. Such is the case with my drash this week.

• Purim falls in between Shabbat Zachor and Shabbat Parah.  The connection between Shabbat Zachor and Purim is obvious, since Amalek is an ancestor of Haman. I always assumed that there was a deeper, hidden (= ester) connection between Purim and Shabbat Parah, but never investigated it. So I decided to do that for this drash.

• Imagine my surprise and concern then, when I was in Tacoma last week without my library, and discovered  – as “everyone knows” – that  Shabbat Parah is the first Shabbat in the Pesach season, followed by Shabbat Mevarchim HaChodesh Nissan, Shabbat HaGadol and Shabbat Pesach (1 or 2 each year; this year 2). “Everyone knows” that it has nothing to do with Purim.

• Shabbat Parah is the first Shabbat of the Pesach season: Because only people who were pure could eat from the Passover sacrifice, a public announcement right before Nisan reminded people to purify themselves before making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

•The haftorah also treats being cleansed from contamination, but the impurity in this case is human sinfulness.   This renewal of self and nation reflects the theme of redemption that characterizes Pesach.

• Undaunted, I decided to continue to look for the hidden connection between Purim and Shabbat Parah.

• A reminder:  Generally speaking, the mitzvot are divided into mishpatim (“laws” or “judgements”), chukkim (“decrees”) and eidot (“testimonials”).

•The mishpatim are mitzvot such as the commandment to give charity or the prohibitions against theft and murder, whose reason and utility are obvious to us, and which we would arguably have instituted on our own if G‑d had not commanded them.

• The eidot are mitzvot that commemorate or represents something — e.g., the commandments to put on tefillin, rest on Shabbat, or eat matzah on Passover. These are laws which we might not have devised on our own, but we can understand their importance and utility.

• The chukkim are mitzvot, such as the dietary laws, the laws of family purity or the red heifer, which we accept as divine decrees, despite their incomprehensibility.

• Rashi calls the red heifer a “supra-rational [beyond rational] commandment”.   Sefer HaChinuch says about the parah adumah (397) “My hands grew weak and I was afraid to open my mouth.”  Beit HaLevi comments that when King Solomon was stumped by the parah adumah ritual, it made him realize that he also did not fully understand the other mitzvot.

• This is exactly where Purim and Shabbat Parah intersect. The supra-rational commandment of the red heifer links to the irrational hatred of Haman.   

•There would be no story of Purim without Haman’s irrational hatred. We read in  Ch 3, v 8,9: Haman said to King Achashverosh, “There is one nation scattered and dispersed among the nations throughout the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are unlike those of any other nation and who do not obey the laws of the King. It is not in the King’s interest to tolerate them.  If it please the King, let [an edict] be issued for their destruction”. 

• Haman hates the Jews because the they different.  Hatred of people simply because they are different has been with us since the time of Purim and is still with us today.

•Now for the connection.  We are told more than once in the maftir that the para adumah is an eternal decree.

• Irrational hatred is no more easy to understand than the chukim.  But like the chukim, irrational hatred will always be with us.

• That is the hidden link between Purim and Shabbat Parah – to be mindful of eternal surpra-rational commandments and  of the eternal battle against irrational hatred.

•Shabbat shalom.