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Shvi’i shel Pesach – Yeshuah

All nations have enemies, and all nations fight wars. The primary purpose of a leader of a nation is to defeat these enemies and provide security for his people. The term used in the Tanach for defeating enemies is “ישועה,” deliverance. There are many stories in the Tanach of G-d appointing leaders in order to bring about “yeshuah.”
One of the earliest examples of this is found in Shoftim, when Midian had been raiding Jewish towns in the north of the country. An angel of Hashem came to a young man who was threshing his wheat in a wine press, so that the Midianites wouldn’t find it and steal it, and said to him:

…וַיֹּאמֶר לֵךְ בְּכֹחֲךָ זֶה וְהוֹשַׁעְתָּ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִכַּף מִדְיָן הֲלֹא שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ:
He said, ‘Go with this strength, and deliver Yisrael from the hand of Midian; as it is you that I am sending.’ (Shoftim 6:14)

This young man was Gidon, who went on lead the Jewish People to a decisive victory over Midian, and entirely eliminated them as a threat. The same term appears when describing the actions of other leaders, and in particular, the kings Shaul and David, who were appointed to bring yeshuah by defeating Israel’s enemies.

However, the first time that the enemies of the Jewish People were soundly defeated, the yeshuah did not come from a human king or leader. The term first appears at the Splitting of the Sea, which is the Torah reading for the last day of Pesach, the anniversary of that event.

וַיּוֹשַׁע ה’ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִיַּד מִצְרָיִם וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת מִצְרַיִם מֵת עַל שְׂפַת הַיָּם:
Hashem delivered Yisrael on that day, from the hand of Egypt. Yisrael saw Egypt dead on the shore of the sea. (Shemot 14:30)

It was G-d Himself who defeated Egypt and delivered the Jewish People from their enemies. The magnitude of the defeat was such that they expressed their stunned reaction in song:

עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה…ה’ אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה ה’ שְׁמוֹ… ה’ יִמְלֹךְ לְעֹלָם וָעֶד:
My strength and my song is G-d, He became my deliverance… Hashem is a man of war, Hashem is His Name … Hashem will be the king for all eternity!
(Shemot 15:3-4,18)

By effecting this yeshuah, G-d showed us not only that He is all-powerful, but that He is specifically our King, and that He uses His power to defeat our enemies.
But if G-d is our king, why did He need to appoint mortal leaders to bring about yeshuah?

It seems that it is not ideal for G-d to directly intervene and miraculously get rid of our enemies. Part of the function of the Jewish People as the Nation of G-d is that we have a partnership with Him. He doesn’t fight our battles for us while we stand around helplessly wringing our hands, He expects us to defend ourselves. At the same time, we must realize that we will not succeed without His assistance, and it is vital that we continue to see Him as our King, and the source of our yeshuah. It needs to be clear to us that we will only defeat our enemies if Hashem, Ish Milchama, is with us.

A prime example of this is yet again with Gidon:

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל גִּדְעוֹן בִּשְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת הָאִישׁ הַמֲלַקְקִים אוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם וְנָתַתִּי אֶת מִדְיָן בְּיָדֶךָ וְכָל הָעָם יֵלְכוּ אִישׁ לִמְקֹמוֹ:
Hashem said to Gidon: with these three hundred men who lapped up the water, I will deliver you, and I will hand Midian over to your hand; everyone else should go home. (Shoftim 7:7)

Gidon took these three hundred men and used them to wreak mayhem on the Midianite war camp, who turned on each other in their confusion. As a result, the victory of the very few over the very many was credited to G-d.
That brings us to the Haftarah that we read on the last day of Pesach, after reading of the Splitting of the Sea. It is the song that David composed to praise G-d for delivering him from his enemies:

אֱ-לֹהֵי צוּרִי אֶחֱסֶה בּוֹ מָגִנִּי וְקֶרֶן יִשְׁעִי מִשְׂגַּבִּי וּמְנוּסִי מֹשִׁעִי מֵחָמָס תֹּשִׁעֵנִי. מְהֻלָּל אֶקְרָא ה’ וּמֵאֹיְבַי אִוָּשֵׁעַ
My G-d is my rock that I can shelter in, my shield and the ray of my deliverance, my sanctuary and my refuge, my deliverer – from injustice, You deliver me! Praised, I will call Hashem, from my enemies I will be delivered. (Shmuel II 22:3-4)

None of David’s victories were miraculous; no seas were split. It would have been natural for him to credit his own courage, his military prowess, and the dedication and training of his staff. Instead, he attributed all of his victories to G-d.

As the king of the Jewish People, David HaMelech was responsible for fighting and defeating our enemies. As the king of the Jewish People, David HaMelech was also responsible for making it known to everyone that the victory belongs to our true King:

עַל כֵּן אוֹדְךָ ה’ בַּגּוֹיִם וּלְשִׁמְךָ אֲזַמֵּר: מִגְדּוֹל יְשׁוּעוֹת מַלְכּוֹ וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לִמְשִׁיחוֹ לְדָוִד וּלְזַרְעוֹ עַד עוֹלָם:
Therefore, I praise Hashem among the nations, and to Your name, I sing. The greatness of His deliverance for His king, with devotion to His anointed, to David and his descendants, forever. (Shmuel II 22:51)

And so, even as we wait for the descendants of David HaMelech to do their part in defeating our enemies, the yeshuah that we hope and wait for, is from Hashem, our King.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל

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Shabbat HaGadol is the Shabbat before Pesach, and it has a special Haftarah, the last chapter of Malachi.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat HaGadol.

There are many connections to explore between Pesach and the Haftarah – the role of Eliyahu, the meaning of G-d’s protection, the importance of Ma’aser. But the one I chose is my favorite Midrash of all time, which is based on a verse in the Haftarah.

Shabbat HaGadol – “Who will write for us?”

Happy Pesach!

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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

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