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April 1, 2015 / 12 Nisan, 5775
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Adar And Beyond


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Shabbos Parshas Parah

The spiritual fix for the element of earth lies in this parshah. The mitzvah of parah adumah, a decree that is beyond the parameters of human understanding, was instituted as atonement for the cheit ha’egel – sin of the golden calf.

On a Shabbos Parshas Parah, Rabbi Chanoch Henich of Alexander recounted the following story: A bishop’s relentless hatred of the Jews spurred him to constantly vilify them to the king of the land. His persistent slander eventually paid off when his request for a verbal match with the “unfaithful even to their own religion” was granted. Should the bishop suffer defeat, he would be put to death, but should he be victor of the duel, the Jews would be driven from the land, or worse.

The Jews were overcome with panic and anxiety until a simple but pious man offered himself to be the bishop’s opponent in the contest of wits. He allayed skepticism of his competence by assuring his fellow Jews that Hashem would help him triumph and save them from the bishop’s evil intent.

A date was set, the podium erected, and no time wasted as the bishop stared down the nondescript figure at the opposite end of the platform with derision; the bishop had expected the Jews to dispatch their most eminent leader at such a critical time, yet here stood a simpleton.

Accorded first shot at asking a question of the bishop, the Jewish man ingenuously put forth, “What is the translation of the words ‘eini yode’a’ which appear successively in our holy books?”

The bishop’s reply of “I don’t know” prompted an incredulous judge to pronounce the Jew the winner of the debate, while the bishop’s attempts to protest the ruling – on the basis that he had actually provided the correct answer to the Jew’s question – fell on deaf ears.

As the bishop was removed from their midst, the Jews’ joy was boundless. Prodded to reveal how he had arrived at such a clever stratagem, their new hero replied in all earnestness: “As a simple man, I read the parshah with the accompanying translation in my Chumash. And I have consistently found that the only words to have escaped the translator are ‘eini yode’a’ – where it always states ‘I don’t know’ in place of the translation.”

In his guileless manner, he explained, “I reckoned that if a big talmid chacham responsible for the translation in the Chumash could not fathom the meaning of those words, it would surely escape the bishop’s mind.”

With immense gratitude to the Almighty for His miraculous intervention, the Jews celebrated the victory that came about as a direct result of this simple Jew’s lack of knowledge.

And thus, concluded Reb Henich, from this story we derive the lesson contained in Parshas Parah – that while the purpose of the mitzvah of the parah adumah eludes us, the devout reading of the parshah can nonetheless bring each of us the remedy we yearn for.

Shabbos Parshas HaChodesh

Appropriately, this parshah follows the one that explores the process of our purification when the Beis HaMikdash stood in all its glory. By virtue of reading the aforementioned parshah, it is as though we’ve undergone purification in readiness for the holiday of Pesach.

Literally “the parshah of the month,” Parshas HaChodesh is a reference to the new month of Nissan and is read on the Shabbos preceding the start of Nissan, or on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Nissan should the new month begin on a Shabbos (as it does this year). In light of our renewal at the time of our redemption from Egyptian slavery, when God essentially breathed new life into us, the connection of chodesh (new) to the element of ruach (wind, spirit, breath) can be fully appreciated.

This parshah derives its name from the words in the Torah “Ha’chodesh hazeh lachem rosh chadashim” – “this month is for you the head of all months.” Nissan marks the start of the lunar year and is considered as the birth of creation. (Tishrei heralds the birth of man in a physical sense, whereas Nissan is regarded as the time of our spiritual emergence.)

The earthly king rules over all the land and administers reward and punishment to the deserving of his subjects, evening the score with the adversaries of his intimate friends while rewarding the latter for their loyalty.

L’havdil, on Rosh Hashanah Hashem sits in judgment of all the nations in the universe. But in Nissan He scrutinizes and judges nations for the manner in which they behave toward the Jewish people. It is in this vein that the Torah states “it is the head of all months for you [for your benefit]” (Kedushas Levi).

* * * * *

We began this discussion with Purim and have arrived at the cusp of Nissan and are dwelling on the significance of Pesach. Not such a stretch, in view of how quickly time passes – particularly the weeks between Purim and Pesach. In fact, wherever we turn the lament seems the same: the days/weeks/months are flying.

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