Tag Archives: parah

Shabbat Parah – Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh

(A translation of the Dvar Torah that I gave in Kinor David on 23 Adar 5775 (3.14.15). It was written as a speech, not an essay)

Today is the yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l. This Dvar Torah is in his memory.

The Haftarah of Parshat Parah describes the transition between Exile and Redemption. One of the stages is:

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם וַהֲסִרֹתִי אֶת לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will place in you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. (Yechezkel 36:26)

The prophet does not explain what the “heart of stone” of Exile is, nor what the “heart of flesh” of Redemption might be, nor how this transition is supposed to take place.

Many years ago, my father and I were discussing making Aliya, and he told me that he is afraid to live in Israel. Not because of the security situation, not because of the economic situation. He said like this: if someone betrays you and harms you, if that person is not Jewish, it is upsetting and disappointing. But if another Jew does this to you, it is intolerable. And he was not interested in putting himself into a situation where everyone around you is Jewish and the person who will harm you is a fellow Jew.

To fear that you will be betrayed is to live with a heart of stone. A heart that is defensive, closed, that is always anxious and distrustful. A heart of Exile.

But my father did make Aliyah. And those of you who knew him, can testify to the fact that he did not walk around with “a heart of stone.”

Pirkei Avot says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות
“You should greet every person with a pleasant countenance.” (Avot 1: 15)

That is, even if you are worried, if you are sad, or in pain, that is not a reason to pass that forward, so that everyone who sees your angry face will also become upset. Chazal tell us that even if you are living with a heart of stone, you must make an effort that when you meet another person, you at least don’t ruin his day with your expression. This is a minimum, “sever panim yafot”, a pleasant countenance.

But there is another Mishna in Pirkei Avot, and it says:

והוי מקבל את כל האדם בשמחה
“You should greet every person with joy.” (Avot 3:12)

And this is a completely different experience. This is, when someone runs into you on the street, you see true joy, not just on the face, but from the heart. “How wonderful to see you! How great it is that you are here, and I am here, and we are here together!” That is a “heart of flesh”, a heart that has nothing to fear, a heart that knows to rejoice. That is Redemption.

But how do we reach this? How do we build a society that supports these kinds of hearts, and doesn’t trample upon them?
The prophet of the Haftarah, Yechezkel, says that it will be G-d who will remove the heart of stone from us, and replace it with a heart of flesh. But what about our role? Can it be that we don’t need to do anything, and G-d will do it all?

There is a general rule that “words of Torah that are limited in one place, are expanded upon in a different place” – it doesn’t say what we must do in Yechezkel, but it does say it in Zechariah. Zechariah chapter 8 also talks about the transition between Exile and Redemption, and here, G-d tells us precisely what we are supposed to do:

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשׂוּ – דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם: וְאִישׁ אֶת רָעַת רֵעֵהוּ אַל תַּחְשְׁבוּ בִּלְבַבְכֶם
“This is what you must do: speak truth to each other. Judge with truth and justice in your courts. Do not plan evil to each other in your hearts.” (Zechariah 8:16)

This is exactly what my father said: if a Jew undermines another Jew, if he “plans evil in his heart”, to harm him and betray him, it is intolerable. If society accepts it as a norm, then it is not Redemption.

But the truth is, our society here in Israel – which perhaps is not as refined as it ought to be, and still has much to improve – this is not part of our culture here. Even now, with the upcoming elections, the advertisements are all about how this party does not do enough for this segment of the population and that party should do more for that segment. Because we actually do want everyone to do well.

And this is why my father truly enjoyed his ten years here in Israel, years of Redemption, the opportunity to greet every person with joy.

Now that we are entering the month of Nissan, which is the season of Redemption and national joy, and also our family is entering the joyful time of the Bat Mitzvah of the first granddaughter born to Dedushka in Israel, I wish all of us that we will succeed to continue and build a society of joy, a community of joy, and continue to share many joyful times together.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

Leave a Comment

Filed under Shabbat Parah, Special Shabbatot, Yahrtzeit

Shabbat Parah

Shabbat Parah is the third of the four special Shabbatot of the spring, and the Haftarah is taken from one of the chapters of comfort of Yechezkel.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat Parah

For the connection between the Parsha of Parah, the Haftarah, Passover, and Purim (yes, Purim), see: Shabbat Parah – Paradox.


Filed under Shabbat Parah, Special Shabbatot

Shabbat Parah – Paradox

Shabbat Parah is the third of the four special Shabbatot between Rosh Chodesh Adar and Roch Chodesh Nissan, a time of preparation for the Passover season. At the time of the Temple, Passover included an actual sacrifice that was brought and then eaten at the Seder, and in order to participate, one had to be ritually pure.  Hence the custom to read Parshat Parah, which describes some of the laws of ritual purity, several weeks before Passover.

In addition to the connection to Passover, the date of Shabbat Parah is related also to Purim. The Gemara says,

ואי זו היא שבת שלישית – כל שסמוכה לפורים מאחריה

“Which is the third week? The one right after Purim.” (Megilla 30a).

It could just as easily have said, “the week before Shabbat Hachodesh”, which is how it actually comes out on the calendar. Phrasing it as “after Purim” implies that Shabbat Parah is connected to the events that happened after Purim, and not only to the upcoming Passover.

The Haftarah of Parshat Parah begins by describing the shame of exile:

וַיָּבוֹא אֶל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר בָּאוּ שָׁם וַיְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי בֶּאֱמֹר לָהֶם עַם ה’ אֵלֶּה וּמֵאַרְצוֹ יָצָאוּ:

They came to the nations to which they had come, and they desecrated the Name of My holiness, when it was said about them, “This is the people of Hashem, and they have left His land.”  (Yechezkel 36:20)

The prophet Yechezkel says explicitly that when the Jewish People are in exile, it is a “Chillul Hashem”, a desecration of G-d’s Name. It shows that we failed in our mission to further G-d’s plan for the world, and is an embarrassment to the Jewish People and to G-d Himself.

Why do we need to read this “after Purim”?  Purim was a great miracle; the Jewish People narrowly escaped destruction. But when it was all over, they were still in exile. The Haftarah of Parah tells us that this is not good enough. We must not for a moment think that our salvation on Purim shows that living “spread out among the nations” is an acceptable state for the Nation of G-d.

On the other hand, if even Mordechai and Esther, with all the power that they wielded, were unable to end the exile, then perhaps it was just too hard. We know from the Books of Ezra and Nechemiah that life in the Land of Israel at that time was barely tolerable. The state of the economy, security, even religion itself, were all sub-par, certainly relative to the strong and vital community in Shushan.  Given the problems that they were facing, they must have wondered if G-d was actually interested in them coming back. Perhaps they did not deserve to be redeemed.

The Haftarah of Parah tells us that G-d will not tolerate the shame of exile indefinitely, regardless of the relative merit of the Jewish People:

…לֹא לְמַעַנְכֶם אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי אִם לְשֵׁם קָדְשִׁי אֲשֶׁר חִלַּלְתֶּם בַּגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר בָּאתֶם שָׁם:

…וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַתְכֶם:…וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וּטְהַרְתֶּם…

… It is not for your sake that I do this, House of Israel, but for the sake of the Name of My holiness that you desecrated among the nations to which you had come.
… I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your land… I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be purified  (Yechezkel 36: 22-25)

When G-d chooses to do so, He will take the Jewish People out of exile and back to the Land of Israel. Once they are there, He will take steps to “purify” them, to make sure that they deserve to live in the Holy Land.

This appears to be illogical, out of order. It would make much more sense if the Haftarah first said, “I will purify you”, and then, “I will bring you to your land.”

This paradox is one of the lessons of Shabbat Parah. The section in the Torah that we read on this Shabbat describes the ritual of “Parah Adumah”: an unblemished red cow is slaughtered and burned, and its ashes are mixed with water to create a solution that is called “purifying water”. This solution is the only way to remove the ritual impurity caused by direct contact with death. Paradoxically, every person involved in the preparation of this “purifying water” becomes impure himself[1].  This law is not meant to be logical or understandable to human beings. To make this point, this commandment is introduced as an “חוקה”, a decree.  As Rashi puts it:

גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה

It is a decree before Me and you have no permission to second-guess it. (Rashi, Bamidbar 19:2)

According to the following Midrash,  this is not only true of decrees that G-d made in the Torah, it is also true of decrees that He has made in history:

זאת חקת התורה זש”ה מי יתן טהור מטמא לא אחד (איוב יד) כגון אברהם מתרח חזקיה מאחז יאשיה מאמון מרדכי משמעי ישראל מעכו”ם העה”ב מן העה”ז מי עשה כן מי גזר כן מי צוה כן לא אחד לא יחידו של עולם … תמן תנינן כל העוסקין בפרה מתחלה ועד סוף מטמאין בגדים היא גופה מטהרת בגדים אלא אמר הקב”ה חקה חקקתי גזרה גזרתי ואין אתה רשאי לעבור על גזרתי.

As it says, “Who makes pure from the impure, not the one” (Job 14). E.g.: Avraham from Terach, Hizkiyahu from Ahaz, Yoshiahu from Amon, Mordechai from Shimi, Israel from pagan nations, the World To Come from the World As it Is. Who makes this happen, who decreed this, who commanded this? The One and Only … as we learned, “everyone involved in the red cow from beginning to end becomes impure, and it itself purifies.”  G-d said, I wrote an edict, I decreed a decree, and you may not transgress My decree. (Bamidbar Rabba Chukat 19)

It would make a lot more sense to us humans if pure would come from pure. Avraham ought to have come directly from the righteous Noach, and not from ten generations of pagans. Israel ought to have come into being in purity and isolation in the Holy Land, not in the immoral filth of Egypt. The World To Come should have been created in the first place, not as an outcome of the World As Is.

But that is not how G-d chose to run the world. Just as the laws of Parah Adumah do not make sense to us, yet we accept is as a decree from Above, so, too, we must accept G-d’s choices in history as a decree from Above.

We might have expected the steps toward redemption to proceed in a logical order, that the Jewish People would first be purified and only then return to our land. We might have expected that the redemption would be led by the purest and holiest of the Jewish People. Yet the Haftarah of Shabbat Parah tells us otherwise. If G-d chooses, the converse can be true: first we return to our land, and only then we are purified. This might not make sense to us, it might not be how we would have done it, but it is a decree from Above, and we do not have the right to second-guess it.

On the first Shabbat between Purim and Passover, we prepare for national redemption, an end to the shame of Exile, no matter what form it takes.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

[1] At a lower level of impurity, avoiding infinite recursion

Leave a Comment

Filed under Connections, Shabbat Parah, Special Shabbatot