The third of the arba parshiyot is Parshat Parah (Numbers 19:1-22), which discusses the unblemished red heifer, the parah adumah, that Moses was commanded to hand to Elazar the priest for sacrificial purposes. The verses detail the entire procedure, which the Torah refers to as a chok, a law for which we do not know the reason.
Rashi (Megillah 29a) s.v. “parah adumah” explains that the red heifer was sacrificed to warn the Jews to purify themselves of any ritual defilement so that they could participate in the upcoming paschal sacrifice in a ritually pure state.
Thus this parshah is timely in the weeks before Pesach, which is why we read it at this point. (Rashi ad loc. s.v. “Ba’revi’it hachodesh hazeh lachem” quotes the Jerusalem Talmud that this parshah should really be the last of the four because the Mishkan was erected on the first of Nissan and the red heifer was burnt on the second of Nissan. However, it is read third because it is crucial to the purification of Israel.)
The reading of this parshah is also viewed by the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 685:7, in the name of “yesh omrim”) as a biblical requirement.
Finally, the last of the arba parshiyot is Parshat HaChodesh (Exodus 12:1-20). This reading concerns rosh chodesh, the first commandment given to the Children of Israel, upon which our calendar (including the festivals, of course) is based. The first festival we celebrated as a nation was Passover. This section also contains the commandment of the paschal sacrifice and its laws.
This parshah is read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan, unless rosh chodesh occurs on a Shabbat, in which case it is read on that Shabbat. Rashi (Megillah 29a) notes that since this section contains the laws of Pesach, the mishnah instructs us to read it at this time.
Thus we see that all arba parshiyot, as delineated in the mishnah (ibid.), are deliberately designated for these four specific Shabbatot. May we merit the speedy arrival of the Moshiach so we may once again fulfill the actual obligations that the arba parshiyot represent.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.