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Taharah and Pesach

The Golden Calf and the Red Cow -- Error, Death and Defilement, Purification

Before Pesach, the parsha describing the purification process is read as a special maftir: Parshas Parah -- the laws of the Red Cow. It is especially appropriate for this week's regular sedra, which describes the incident of the Golden Calf. The error of the Golden Calf brought death upon the community; death in Jewish Law is associated with impurity; impurity can only be removed through the Red Cow procedure.

It is specifically before Pesach that the laws of purification need to be reviewed. In ancient days, the offering of the Pesach lamb required that all participants be completely purified. Although we don't have the sacrifices today, the shank bone, korech sandwich and afikoman at the Seder represent the Pesach lamb. The egg on the Seder Plate represents the Chagiga -- the usual holiday sacrifice. It has further been suggested to eat two portions of matza for afikoman, one in place of the Pesach lamb and one in place of the Chagiga offering. (Magen Avraham)

Since our Seder represents the eating of sacrifices, it is associated with utmost purity. For example, although Jewish Law requires the pouring of water upon the hands before eating bread, at the Seder, there are two handwashings. It is reminiscent of the law (cited in this week's parsha) that the Kohein must wash his hands before the services. Every Jew is a Kohein in his own house.

Purity of the Kohein

It is particularly interesting that the parsha begins with warnings for the Kohein. His hands must be purified. Part of the tragedy discussed in our parsha involved the Kohein, Aharon.

When Moshe ascended Mount Sinai, Chur and Aharon were left in charge. Upon seeing the mixed multitude intent on producing an object with idolatrous implications, Chur put up a fight. The mob killed him. Aharon, knowing that the people had gone wild, figured that they would be better off with his influence intact. Therefore, he pretended to go along with them, in order to maintain as much control as possible.

Such apparent ambiguity is not unthinkable in Judaism. Shimshon (English Samson) is a much maligned character. People think of him as an immensely strong individual who intermarried. Actually, he was a great prophet and spiritual leader of Israel. He lived among the Philistines because he saw that Israel was weak. By appearing to be a part of the enemy, he would be best able to bring about their downfall. Until the days of Dovid Hamelech, there was no military leader as successful as Shimshon. Yet, Shimshon worked singlehandedly! Still, his life involved risky endeavors, for which Shimshon paid dearly: his downfall was brought about by his Philistine wife, who tricked him.

Aharon, most of all, had to represent purity and intense consistency. The servant of G-d must be "clean of hands and pure of heart." Moshe chastised Aharon, although his thinking was for the sake of heaven. The only proper course of action would have been to suffer the martyr's death -- just as Chur had done! (This is clearly implied by Nachmanides and enunciated by the Ari Hakodesh).

There were only two sacred utensils in the outer courtyard of the Tabernacle: The Altar and the Kiyor (for washing hands). They represent the two requirements for ascent to G-d: Sacrifice and Clean Hands (referred to as "sanctification"). [Rav Elie Munk]

What a shame that today these two concepts are completely foreign: sacrifice and sanctification! The Megilas Sesarim states that all of Israel was ready to die the martyr's death, rather than accept Haman's offer of conversion. The Birth of the Jewish Nation came about at Pesach, when all Israel were prepared to die for having slaughtered the Egyptian's god, the lamb.



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