Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

This is the third of the four special Shabbatot preceding Pesach on which we read special Torah readings accompanied by special haftarot. This week is Shabbat Parah, on which we learn about the mitzvah of the red heifer, the Parah Adumah, by means of which we are ritually purified of the taint of death so that we may serve Hashem in the Mikdash.

In Ohr Chadash, the book of the Maharal of Prague studying the holiday of Purim and Megillat Esther, he explains the reason for the succession of these parshiot. The Gemara in Megillah (13b) explains that Hashem commanded Israel to collect the half-shekel, which we read about in Parshat Shekalim, in order to preempt Haman’s attempt to use money to bring about our destruction. When Haman asks Achashverosh for permission to destroy Israel, he weighs out an amount of silver calculated to offset the monetary “value” of each individual Jewish subject to the king. But in giving their half-shekels to the Mishkan, each member of the nation of Israel also gave themselves over to Hashem, to be His servant in perpetuity. Since the people are the property of Hashem, Achashverosh had no power over them to hand over to Haman.


Furthermore, Marahal explains, once we have completely given ourselves over to Hashem, our enemies themselves have no power over us to harm us. For this reason, Parshat Zachor, detailing the commandment to destroy Amalek, and the holiday of Purim, when we celebrate a great victory over Amalek, always come after Parshat Shekalim.

Following the victory over our physical enemies and the threat to our bodies, we must still overcome the spiritual obstacles placed in the physical world to dissuade us from achieving our destiny. Having emerged victorious from the physical battle, we must next rise to a higher level of purity so that we may properly serve Hashem in the place He designated for this. The parsha teaches us about the mitzvah of the Parah Adumah to be used for purifying ourselves, but the navi Yechezkel in the haftara tell us that Hashem will remove the impurity from the world for His own sake and for ours. “I will throw purifying water over you and I will purify you…” (Yechezkel 36:25). In the wake of our victory in the physical world, as we achieve the rectification of our higher selves on a spiritual level, we are at last prepared to approach and connect with Hashem in a new way without the distractions and disturbances that had once caused us to be separated from Him.

The month of Nisan is the first month of the Jewish year for holidays and for the monarchy. It is also the month in which we will bring the Omer and start eating the new grain (chadash) that has been growing all winter. Next week, following Shabbat Parah, will be Shabbat HaChodesh, when Moshe is told before the Exodus from Mitzrayim that this will be the first month for the new nation. The month (chodesh) is an opportunity for us to embrace our renewal (chadash) and to offer new gifts and korbanot to Hashem appropriate to the new spiritual level we have achieved.

As we draw closer to Hashem and serve him more purely, Hashem also comes closer to us, and the universe can at last achieve its purpose in the rebuilt Bait HaMikdash as we prepare to leave the exile in our hearts and our spirits forever.


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].