Former Shaliach in New York
The last chapter of Parashat Shemini commences a series of laws that continue through Sefer Vayikra, setting forward the requirements of being a nation that is kadosh, holy. In this week’s parasha, the Torah is very clear in its requirement to not be contaminated by eating the Sheretz, the teeming creature.
Immediately after the law regarding the obligation to refrain from eating the sheretz, the Torah expresses the obligation to Bnei Yisrael to be Kedoshim. However, the Torah seems to duplicate such obligation. Firstly, we are to become kedoshim for the reason that Hashem is our God (11:44). Secondly, we are to become kedoshim since Hashem elevated us out of from the land of Egypt (11:45).
The Malbim mentions that these are two different aspects of being Kadosh. The first is based on the mind and intelligence, that we should all understand the importance and the significance of ‘Lalechet Bidrachaiv’, to walk in the paths of Hashem and act in ways that would resemble the actions of Hashem. The other is based on our obligation to the Torah, and to fulfill the laws given to us by Hashem for Hashem elevated us from the land of Egypt.
This seems to remind us of the common interpretation that Hashem serves both as a father to Bnei Yisrael thus we are expected to ‘Lalechet Bidrachaiv’, and serves as our master, therefore we are to fulfill the laws given to us.
This year, as preparation for the upcoming Pesach, the holiday commemorating the elevation of our forefathers from the land of Egypt into the land of Israel, we also read Parashat Parah, the portion discussing the Red Cow. Parashat Parah is read now, before Pesach, since it describes the decree of the Torah. The decree is that all people contaminated by the dead may be purified by the ashes of the Red Cow. The Pesach sacrifice requires purity, in order to both sacrifice and eat it, and thus all contaminated people had to become pure in this manner. Basically, we read Parashat Parah in order to ‘gear’ up for the upcoming holiday.
Parashat Parah encounters also a special Haftorah that is read this week. The Haftorah, along with Parashat Parah, is mentioned as early as the Braitah in Tractate Megila 30a. The Haftorah resembles Parashat Parah in many ways, but the most distinct similarity is method of becoming pure. Water that is sprinkled towards the contaminated has the power to purify. While in Parashat Parah the contaminated are people that have come in contact with a dead body, the contaminated in the Haftorah are the entire Bnei Yisrael who have contaminated themselves and the land with their sins. The question that might be asked is what is the connection between the contamination of the dead body and the sins of Bnei Yisrael, causing both purifications to be performed by the sprinkling of water.
Prior to making an argument that would explain the connection between the contamination of the dead body and the sins of Bnei Yisrael, I would like to suggest that there is also a connection between Parashat Shemini and the Haftorah. We have established, based on the Malbim’s interpretation, that Bnei Yisrael are expected to be Kedoshim for two reasons. The first is the need of ‘Lalechet Bidrachaiv’, and the other is by fulfilling the laws given to us by Hashem for Hashem elevated us from the land of Egypt.
Ironically, even though the kedushah expected of us in Parashat Shemini seems to have not been maintained by Bnei Yisrael, the Haftorah mentions that the sprinkling of water and the process of purification will take place. However, it is not going to be performed for the sake of Bnei Yisrael, since they have desecrated the name of Hashem. This statement would seem to be in contrast of the expectation of ‘Lalechet Bidrachaiv’. Hashem is willing to purify Bnei Yisrael even though they have not walked in his path.
Similarly, the Haftorah mentions that Hashem will gather Bnei Yisrael in from all the countries before sprinkling the water upon Bnei Yisrael and purifying them. This reminds us that Bnei Yisrael were not able to maintain the other aspect of Kedushah expected of them, a kedushah that is a result of the mitzvot we received after being elevated out of the land of Egypt. Bnei Yisrael did not keep the Mitzvot of Hashem and were exiled, and now Hashem is willing to show mercy and purify them in spite of their sins.
These two examples would suggest that Bnei Yisrael were given a second chance. They have not maintained the expected level of Kedushah, yet Hashem was going to put Bnei Yisrael in a position where they can ‘revamp’ their Kedushah.
As for the sprinkling of the water mentioned both in Parashat Parah and in the Haftorah, it may be suggested that the connection is that these are two levels in the process of becoming purified. Sprinkling water with the ashes of the Red Cow would only purify the physical Tumah, and allow us to sacrifice and eat the Korban Pesach. However, there is another level of Tumah that needs to be purified before Pesach, and that is the Tumah mentioned in the Haftorah, the Tumah of our sins. These must also be purified before we enter the holiday.
Perhaps, the message of Parashat Parah falling out on Parashat Shemini is to remind us that before Pesach we are expected to remove the Tumah from within ourselves, both physically and spiritually. In addition, we are to strive to reach a level of Kedusha in which we fulfill the obligation of ‘Lalechet Bidrachaiv’ as well as the fulfillment of the Kedushah we are obligated to simply by being the nation fortunate to be elevated from the land of Egypt into the land of Israel.