Like the last few weeks, this week has an additional section read after the weekly Parsha. The reason for these supplements is usually because of their relevance to an upcoming occasion in that specific week. For example, last week we read Parshat Zachor, which is always read on the Shabbat before Purim, because one of the main aspects of this festival is the destruction of Haman and his family who were descendants of Amalek. So the preceding Shabbat, we read about the Mtzvah of wiping out the name of Amalek.
This week we will be reading Parshat Para, discussing the sprinkling of the ashes of a red heifer, which is part of the purifying process for someone who became impure for having had contact with a dead body. The reason this Parsha is read specifically this week is to remind us that Pessach is coming up and one must be pure in order to take part in the Korban Pessach.
The whole concept of the red heifer is one of the classic examples of a “chok”, a commandment from the Torah which we are unable to understand. One of the very unusual aspects regarding the red heifer is the fact that it purifies the impure, but metaphysically contaminates the pure.
This reminds me of a story told to me by my Rabbi in Yeshivat Shaalvim. The yeshiva itself is placed in the middle of a large religious education center which includes the homes of most of the Rabbis and teachers. There is also a food store run by a religious man in order to provide the basics for the people who live there. He is very strict when it comes to all the laws of separating Trumot and Ma’asrot from all the fruits and vegetables, therefore he separates it from all the foods which come into his store even though he only buys food products which have been labeled to have had Trumot and Ma’asrot separated already. This way he is able to satisfy all his clients from the education center. My Rabbi told me that he met an individual who decided to be strict upon himself by separating Trumot and Ma’asrot from all the products bought from the store. My Rabbi then asked the man if he could please give him all the separated products so that food should not be thrown to waste…
The point is that we sometimes believe that through stringencies we may become better Jews or we might reach higher levels, but we are actually achieving the exact opposite. Therefore, we must be very careful to try and understand the Halachoth, and if we don’t understand something, to consult someone who understands, but not instinctively decide that the best thing to do is to take the stricter side.
This may be a message which we can learn from the red heifer, because the exact same ashes which purify can do the exact opposite – if misused. The same is the case with the Mitzvoth: If they are kept according to Halachah and the spirit of Halachah, we can reach phenomenal achievements, but if they are kept incorrectly even with the right intentions, we may be achieving the exact opposite.
Now we are approaching Pessach, and as we know this festival consists of many complicated Halachoth, some of which we are often not familiar with. For this reason the Shabbat before Pessach is called Shabbat Hagadol, where it is accustomed for Rabbis to give their community the opportunity to ask questions concerning the complex laws and customs of Pessach. For that very reason the Kollel organizes again this year a Yom Iyun, a day of learning focusing on halachic and aggadic aspects of the upcoming Passover.
Let us internalize the message of the red heifer and celebrate this year’s Pessach based on true knowledge and intellectual conviction and not by performing stringencies – or leniencies – which have their root in ignorance and hearsay. May we all through that very spirit of understanding the true intention of God and our Sages have the merit to celebrate Pessach together in Jerusalem – already this year!