This week, in addition to reading the regular Parsha we add for Maftir – Parshat Parah. In effect we are entering into what goes on in each and every Jewish household right after Purim- the preparations for Pesach. In most of our homes we begin by starting to clean this or that, or at least making lists of what has to be done in order that we can plan our procrastination in an organized fashion. We all are familiar with the myriad of tasks to be completed as Pesach approaches.
Chazal, as well, have decided to show us that with all the importance of the day to day life, represented by the reading of the regular parsha, we add this week, as we did for Shekalim, Zachor and as we will add for Hachodesh, special elements relevant to the festive season in which we find ourselves.
What is the message of Parshat Parah?
I think that firstly we must note that the earliest preparations for Pesach are meant to be of the spiritual nature. The Parsha of Parah Aduma is read to remind us that we ought to get ourselves together in order to purify ourselves to be eligible for the bringing of the Korban Pesach. Yes, of course a sheep must be purchased, a suitable courtyard must be found in Yerushalayim and many other tasks but we must first tend to the most basic of issues that of personal purity.
We are all familiar with the fact that the Mitzvah of Parah Aduma is exceptional in nature. It is the “chok” par excellance, we do not understand how it works and the whole ceremony seems to be strange. I think this as well to be very symbolic, as we renew our relationship with God, which after all is one of the major themes of Pesach (note that the punishment for not bringing a Korban Pesach is Karet similar only to the punishment of not doing Brit Milah), we are meant to undergo a process that has a major element of pure belief involved. In truly accepting a religion one must be able to make the commitment needed, knowing full well that they may not be able to understand all that is requested of them. The question marks that are left may remain unanswered but ones faith cannot be shaken. As we say in the tefilla immediately after Musaf on Shabbat- “Ein k’elhohanu ein k’ adonanu…”there is no god like our God there is no master like our Master…after which we begin the next stanza “Me ch’elohanu me ch’adonanu…” Who is like our God who is like our Master. Only once we have made the clear declaration that there is no one like God can we allow ourselves to ask the questions. The Parah Aduma is our statement that proceeds our questions.
Not only is the Parah Aduma an anomaly in terms of philosophy and theology but even in pure Halachic terms it is a mystery. The Parah was to be taken outside of the camp, or Yerushalayim in the case of the Mikdash and burned. The ceremony had to be performed by a Kohen as stipulated in the parsha. The question is- Is this a Korban or not? On one hand it would seem that the requirement of specifically a Kohen doing the work would indicate that it is indeed in the category of the Korbanot. While in the other hand we know that one is not allowed to bring any Korban outside of the confines of the Mikdash.
It would seem that this debated amongst the Tanaim in the Mishnah in Parah 4:1 According to the Tana Kama if one did not have proper intent upon slaughtering the Parah it would be invalid. As well if the Kohen did not wash his hands and feet before tending to the Parah it would be invalid. According to R. Eliezer in both of these cases the Parah is Kosher and considered valid. The commentators point out that the debate here is exactly how to define the status of the Parah. While the Tana Kama see the Parah as a Korban and therefore requires all the details of the Avodah in the Mikdash R. Eliezer argues and contends that it is not related and therefore the details relevant to the usual Korbanot do not apply here.
I would like to focus on the opinion of the Tana Kama for a moment. It is clear that we have come across yet another internal conflict in the realm of Parah Adumah. We are dealing with a Korban, yet one that must be tended to outside the bounds of the Mikdash. I believe that h4ere as well we are taught an important lesson. A Korban is generally restricted to the Mikdash, as is our own spiritual existence. We tend to compartmentalize our religious experiences and relegate them to areas well defined and remote. Parah Adumah teaches us that as a precursor to the Mikdash type holiness one must first be able to engage in the Parah type holiness. One must have the ability to lead one’s spiritual life as an element of Kedusha while they have not yet entered the Mikdash. It is our challenge to take the “ceremonial” realm and expand it areas beyond our own personal Mikdash in add it to all aspects of our lives.