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Torah Reading Vayikra (Leviticus) 6:1 - 8:36
S HA B B A T PARAH
Bamidbar (Numbers) 19:1-22
Haftorah - Ezekiel 36:16-38
The Shabbat after Purim is called Shabbat Parah (the Shabbat of the Red Heifer), therefore we remove two Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) from the Ark. First we read seven Aliyot from this week's Parsha Tzav, and the final Aliyah (Maftir) is read from the book of Bamidbar 19:1-22, from the second scroll. The reading of this Maftir and Haftorah were chosen for this time of the year so that Jews could purify themselves before bringing the Pascal sacrifice at the Passover pilgrimage.
The entire Book of Vayikra and half of the Books Shemot and Bamidbar are related to the concepts of holiness, purity and ethical spirituality, which comprise the essence of our belief. To remove any part from Judaism would be like amputating a limb, a component of the body, yet separate from the whole. What would Judaism be without Mitzvot (commandments) such as the separation of milk and meat (life and death), marriage which is called Kiddushin (holiness), family purity (again, the separation of life and death) even the removal of Chametz (leaven) from our homes on Passover. Yet, Mitzvot without ethics is just as lifeless.
Our Pasha this week deals with the Korbanot (the sacrifices) brought by individuals and by the Kohanim (priests) on behalf of the nation. Each Kohen connected the nation or the individual to a higher level of holiness. Yet one could only bring an offering in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) and only on the Temple Mount, and before doing that, one had to remove the Tumah (impurities of death) from one's body. The Parsha of the Red Heifer explains how that was done.
Anyone contaminated by the impurity of death had to be separated from his neighbors for a seven day period. He came before the priest and was sprinkled with water mixed with the ashes of the Red Heifer and thus purified on the third day and then again on the seventh day. Only then would he be in a state of purity that would allow him to bring a sacrifice on the Temple Mount (Bamidbar 19:11-20). This state of purity was not only necessary to bring offerings, it was an essential part of the daily life of the Children of Israel. Anyone who was Tameh (impure) contaminated others by direct contact!
In Judaism, morality and ethics are not determined by society but by the Torah. Anyone who wishes to live by a different standard and therefore does not follow the laws of Tumah and Tahara (impurity and purity), contaminates those who choose to follow the precepts of Torah. To contaminate others in this way is an immoral and unethical act. This emphasis on remaining pure clearly shows that according to the Torah the sacred elements of Jewish living are connected with morality and ethics.
I remember singing as a child, "Eretz Yisrael B'li Torah, He K'guf B'li Neshama (The land of Israel without the Torah, is like a body without a soul)." The Torah is a mix of morality and ritual. Let us take this concept one step further. Just as physical defilement requires separation of the individual from his community, spiritual defilement requires an element of exile. But the exile of the Jewish people is different from that of any other exiled nation; when we are exiled so is the Land of Israel.
Think about it. How could so many nations have conquered the land of Israel and yet never successfully inhabited it? As informed Jews we know that since the exile of our nation from our homeland almost 2,000 years ago, Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel a.k.a Palestine) has remained desolate and uninhabited. Only when Jews tried to resettle the land at different times since the exile, did other inhabitants also try to claim Eretz Yisrael as theirs. The fiction of a Palestinian national identity that has caused so much suffering in the last three quarters of a century is historically untrue.
Let me cite you some eye witness accounts:
Alfons de Lamartine, in his "Recollections of the East," Volume 1, page 238 (London 1845), writes;
Professor Sir John William Dosson, in his "Modern Science in Bible Lands," pages 449-450 (London 1888), writes;
Until today, no people has succeeded in establishing national dominion in the land of Israel...No national unity, or spirit of nationalism has acquired any hold there. The mixed multitude of itinerant tribes that managed to settle there did so on lease, as temporary residents. It seems that they await the return of the permanent residents of the land."
And most striking of all is by Samuel Clemens (or Mark Twain) in his book, "Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrim's Progress," Volume II, pages 216-359 (Harper and Brothers 1922), writes in his diary of his world tour;
"We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough but given wholly to weeds - a silent mournful expanse... A desolation is here that not even the imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tabor safely... We never saw another human being on the whole route. We pressed on to the goal of our crusade, renowned Jerusalem. The further we went the hotter the sun got and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became... There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bounds the approaches to Jerusalem... Jerusalem is mournful, dreary and lifeless. I would not desire to live there. It is a hopeless, dreary, heartbroken land... Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered it fields and fettered its energies... Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? Palestine is no more of this work-day world."
It says in the pilgrimage festival Musaf service, U'mipnay Chato'aynu Galinu May'artzaynu (but because of our sins we were exiled from our land).
We became Tameh (contaminated) as a nation because of our transgressions and so we were exiled from our land. But Hashem in His abundant mercy promises us that this will not last forever, that there will come a time when He will let His countenance shine on us again.
Our special Haftorah reads:
"And I shall take you from the nations and gather you in from all the countries, and I shall bring you into your Land; and I shall sprinkle pure water upon you, so that you be cleansed. From all your contamination and from all your filth will I cleanse you... and My spirit shall I put within you, and I shall cause you to go by My decrees and guard My laws and perform them; and you shall dwell in the land that I gave your fathers; and you shall be to me a people and I shall be your G-d; and I shall save you from all your contaminations, and I shall summon the grain and increase it, and I shall not place famine upon you; and I shall increase the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field so that you no longer accept the shame of hunger among the nations...On the day that I cleanse you from all your sins, and cause the cities to be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt, and the desolated land to be tilled and not desolate in the eyes of every passerby; then they shall say, 'This very land that was desolate has become the Garden of Eden; and the cities that were destroyed and were desolate and ruined shall be fortified - inhabited!' And the nations that will remain around you will know that I am Hashem, I will have rebuilt the ruins replanted the wasteland. I, Hashem, have spoken and acted."
Can you read this Haftorah and not be affected by its power? Has any other people, or any other land experienced the miraculous nature of Hashem's will? Did America become desolate after Western Europeans stole the land from the American Indians? And those places where Indians reside today, are they lush, fruitful agricultural marvels? Only Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael can claim a unique relationship between land and people, whether we dwell upon the land or not.
Our grandparents could only believe that Eretz Yisrael would once again bloom but never dreamed they'd live to see it. We have seen with our own eyes that Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are reuniting. The Zohar says:
"Yisrael, V'araitah, V'kudisha B'rich Hu Chad Hu (Israel, Torah and the Holy One Blessed Be He are one unit)."
I have often said that we are lucky to be living in the most exciting era in Jewish history. Our generation has seen the Ichvetah D'meshicha (the footsteps of the Messiah); the partial ingathering of the exiles; the creation of the State of Israel; the regeneration of the Land of Israel; a resurgence of Judaism and now, the recent discovery of a Red Heifer in Moshav Kfar Chassidim, for the first time in 2,000 years (Arutz Sheva news service, Friday, March 21, 1997).
This past Erev Purim we saw again a massacre of Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Each murdered and mutilated body seems to push the prospect for peace farther away. We must always be aware that with the help of Hashem, we will soon see the actual coming of Hamelech Hamashiach (our anointed king) and the everlasting peace that he will bring. The moment before a child is born is wrought with pain and suffering. The period prior to the coming of the Mashiach is often described as the Chevley Mashiach (the birth pangs of the Mashiach). Given the powerful statements of our special Haftorah and the corroborated eye-witness accounts from non-Jewish great men of the last century, I believe that we are living in that time.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
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