From The Rabbi’s Study… Shabbat Parah, March 5, 2021/21 Adar 5781
Torah: Ki Tissa (Exodus 30:11-34:35) Haftarah (Numbers 19:1-22;Ezekiel 36:16-38)
This Shabbat Parah has a special Maftir and Haftarah to conclude the Torah section of the Sabbath service. The Maftir reading lays down the regulations for body purification.It relates the mysterious rites of the red heifer, whose burnt ashes helped remove the defilement resulting from contact with the dead. These instructions are quite long, however the theme of preparation and purity has the connection to the forthcoming festival of Passover. Passover Jews kashrut their homes to rid it of all leaven.
The Haftarah is taken from the Book of Ezekiel, which has the theme of moral purification. G-d justly sent Israel into captivity, says the prophet. To vindicate His honor,
G-d will restore the Israelites, not so much because they deserve it, but rather to vindicate His own honor. The restoration will be accompanied by a moral renewal. On one hand, G-d will implant “a new heart and a new spirit” into the nation. On the other hand, Israel’s soul will be swept away by sincere repentance that will cause it to be ashamed of its evil past. This theme of repenting and washing away bad behaviour of our people is a purification and it is the link to the festival of Passover.
The Torah portion continues with Moses receiving instructions to collect a half-shekel from every person over the age of twenty when he takes a census of the community. Moses is told that the sanctuary’s furnishings are to be fashioned by the skilled artisan Bezalel. Moses reminds the people that in observing the Sabbath they celebrate the covenant between themselves and G-d. Moses is given two tablets on Mount Sinai. Forty days have passed, and the Israelites have asked Aaron to make a golden calf. Aaron agrees. When Moses sees the golden calf, he shatters the tablets. G-d instructs Moses to carve two new tablets and return to Mount Sinai. After the second forty days, Moses returns to the people, radiant from speaking to G-d. He covers his face with a veil.
Why after G-d brought the Ten plagues, the wall of fire to protect the Israelites from the Egyptian soldiers and the parting of the Red Sea did they make an idol (golden calf)?
Many scholars and commentators write that the Israelites were in a state of panic. Thinking that Moses had vanished atop Mount Sinai, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They hoped the power of G-d would somehow enter the image they fashioned and offer them proper guidance. The Bible commentator Nechama Leibowitz sees in the story of the golden calf not just Aaron’s failure as a leader or the sin of the Israelites, but a deliberate warning that human beings are capable of acting nobly one moment and badly at the next.
It was lovely to see many of our congregation celebrating Purim. The information of our “Community Seder” celebrating Passover will be coming in the next few weeks.
Rabbi Helene Ainbinder