The Four Parashiot: Mis'mach Ge'ulah l'G'ulah
By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom
לע"נ אמי מורתי מרים בת יצחק ורבקה הכ"מ
During each of four of the five (or six - see below) Shabbatot surrounding
the month of Adar, a second Sefer Torah is taken out of the Aron, from which
a special reading is added to the regular Parashat haShavua, as follows:
a) On or before Rosh Hodesh Adar, the section known as *Shekalim* (Sh'mot
30:11-16) is read;
b) On the Shabbat immediately before Purim, the section known as *Zakhor*
(D'varim 25:17-19) is read;
c) On the Shabbat after Purim (except when Purim falls on a Friday or
Thursday - see below), *Parah* (Bamidbar 19:1-22) is read; and
d) On or before Rosh Hodesh Nisan, *haChodesh* (Sh'mot 12:1-20) is read.
Although some scholars maintain that these four were the earliest instance
of a public Torah reading on Shabbat (see e.g. Elbogen "HaTefillah
b'Yisra'el" p. 119; he notes that nowhere in Tannaitic literature is there
mention of a "conflict" between these Parashiot and the "regular" reading,
implying that there was no "regular" reading as yet; indeed, these four
Shabbatot were the springboard from which the weekly readings were
launched), the Rishonim, by and large, agreed that a regular Torah reading
as established by Mosheh Rabbenu (see, e.g. Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Tefillah
Resolving this issue is beyond the scope of this shiur; in any case, the
questions raised by the ordinance of these readings are troubling according
to either approach.
Before presenting the questions, here is the basic Mishnaic source for this
If Rosh Hodesh Adar falls on Shabbat, the portion of *Shekalim* is read. If
it falls in the middle of the week, it is read on the Shabbat before and on
the next Shabbat there is a break. On the second, *Zakhor* is read, on the
third, the portion of the *Parah Adumah*, on the fourth, *HaHodesh haZeh
Lakhem*. (M. Megillah 3:4)
The Gemara (BT Megillah 30a) explains:
Our Rabbis taught: Which is the "third Shabbat"? The one which follows
Purim. It was stated: R. Hama b. Hanina said: The Shabbat next to Rosh
Hodesh Nisan. There is no conflict [between these two statements]; the one
refers to where Rosh Hodesh Nisan falls on Shabbat, and the other to where
it falls in the middle of the week.
This Baraita is addressing a problem alluded to in the opening paragraph of
this essay: The four "special Shabbatot" are spread over five or six weeks,
based on the considerations mentioned above. The scheme works out as follows:
a) If Rosh Hodesh Adar falls on Shabbat, then *Shekalim* is read on that day
(1 Adar), *Zakhor* is read the next week (8 Adar), the next week is skipped
(15 Adar), *Parah* is read on the next Shabbat (22 Adar) and haChodesh is
read on the next Shabbat (29 Adar).
b) If Rosh Hodesh Adar falls on Monday (it cannot fall on Sunday, Tuesday or
Thursday), Shekalim is read on the Shabbat beforehand (29 Sh'vat), the next
Shabbat is skipped (6 Adar), and the next three weeks are all special
readings (Zakhor - 13 Adar; Parah - 20 Adar; haHodesh - 27 Adar);
c) If Rosh Hodesh Adar falls on Wednesday, Shekalim is read on the Shabbat
beforehand (27 Sh'vat), the next Shabbat is skipped (4 Adar), and the next
three weeks are all special readings (Zakhor - 11 Adar; Parah - 18 Adar;
haHodesh - 25 Adar);
d) If Rosh Hodesh Adar falls on Friday, Shekalim is read on the Shabbat
beforehand (25 Sh'vat), the next Shabbat is skipped (2 Adar), Zakhor is read
on the next Shabbat (9 Adar), the next Shabbat is again skipped (16 Adar),
then Parah (23 Adar) and haHodesh (1 Nisan) are read on consecutive
[note: this is the only scenario where the readings are stretched over six
Besides the informative value, I included this intercalating device to
demonstrate that each of the readings seems to have a unique role which
defines its timing.
The Gemara (BT Megillah 29) cites the Mishnah (M. Shekalim 1:1) which rules
that "On Rosh Hodesh Adar the announcements regarding Kila'yim and Shekalim
are made" as support for the timing of the first of these readings. Shekalim
is the Torah portion which commands us to bring a half-Shekel to the
Mishkan/Beit haMikdash every year. Since the communal Beit haMikdash fund,
made up of these half-Sh'kalim, had to be renewed every year (based on
Bamidbar 28:14) - and that year begins anew on Rosh Hodesh Nisan, the
announcement reminding everyone to prepare their donations was made a month
in advance in order to give everyone ample opportunity to bring their
half-Shekalim on time. It therefore stands to reason that this Torah
reading must be made on the Shabbat of or immediately before Rosh Hodesh Adar.
The Parashah of Zakhor includes the Mitzvah to always remember the enmity of
Amalek, who attacked our rear flank (more on this later) on our way out of
Egypt. The association between this event and Purim is plain to see. Whether
the name *Haman ha'Agagi* means that Haman was literally a descendant of
Agag, king of Amalek or that he was an ideological descendant of that evil
tribe, Purim represents our miraculous salvation from the hands of Amalek.
Since the Torah obligates us to "Remember...never forget" Amalek, we must
not let more than 12 months go by without reminding ourselves of their
hostility (Halakhically, 12 months of cognitive dissocation generates a
complete lapse of awareness - witness the longest period of mourning in
Halakhah). That being the case, the most reasonable time for us to fulfill
this Mitzvah is in conjunction with the celebration of Purim.
The Parashah of *Parah* details the laws of the red heifer, which is to be
used (under proper conditions) for the purification ritual which allows
someone who has been contaminated by contact with death to return to full
participation in the life of the Mikdash (including eating sancta and
entering the Mikdash). Since the one offering in which every Jew is
obligated to partake is the Korban Pesach, it makes sense that this Mitzvah
should be publicized a few weeks before Pesach, to "remind Yisra'el that
they should become purified in order to perform their Pesahim in a state of
purity" (Rashi to BT Megillah 29a)
Parashat haHodesh looks like a concise *Shabbat haGadol D'rashah* - it
includes the basic laws of the Korban Pesach, Matza and Maror, the
prohibition of Hametz - as well as most of the unique features which
accompanied that first Pesach (e.g. blood on the lintel and doorposts,
eating with "bags packed"). Again, the timing of this reading is sensible -
with a couple of weeks to go before Pesach, all of these preparations are
highlighted in this special reading.
THE CHALLENGES (I):
SHEKALIM AND ZAKHOR
Although the presentation of these four Parashiot and their timing seems
reasonable, this ordinance is beset by several problems which all point to
one central challenge, as follows:
1) The Parashah of Shekalim is temporarily theoretical; we do not presently
have a Beit haMikdash and we do not donate a half-Shekel to any particular
fund associated with the Beit haMikdash. Why would we then publicize this
Mitzvah, which, instead of generating excitement about the upcoming new year
and the opportunity for each of us to participate in the Avodah of the
Mikdash, almost serves as a sad reminder of how things "should" be. One
might be tempted to argue that this reading is an example of an act which is
*Zekher l'Mikdash* (a commemoration of the Beit haMikdash); this, however,
is an untenable position. Those acts which we fulfill as a Zekher l'Mikdash
(e.g. shaking Lulav during Hol haMo'ed Sukkot, the two cooked items on the
Seder plate) are all imitations of acts done in the Mikdash itself - not of
preparatory acts or those which were used to remind everyone of their
obligations towards the Mikdash.
2) The Parashah of Zakhor, in spite of its obvious associations to Purim, is
still "out of place" here - indeed, it is unnecessary. Since the reading
stems from the obligation to "remember...never forget" and, as pointed out
above, a period of 12 months is considered enough time for memory to lapse,
we must read about Amalek at least once every twelve months. The ordinance
of reading Parashat Amalek would make sense if there were no other occasion
when that reading took place - and we would be in danger of going twelve
months without hearing about Amalek. That is, of course, not nearly the
case. We read Parashat Zakhor every year at the end of the summer, at the
end of Parashat Ki Tetze (we even read it twice, since it also functions as
the Maftir of that Parashah. As an aside, the Hatam Sofer suggested that
during a leap year, when there is longer than 12 months between one Shabbat
Zakhor and the next, everyone must make sure to hear the reading of Zakhor
on Shabbat Ki Tetze and to intend to fulfill the Mitzvah of remembering
Amalek at that time in order to avoid forgetting - we will revisit this
approach below.) Unless we accept the approach of Elbogen et al., that the
regular Torah reading was instituted after these four readings (such that
there was no other opportunity to hear Zakhor), we need to find a clearer
reason for the additional reading of Zakhor at this time of year. In other
words, if there were no other opportunity to read Zakhor, ordaining it to be
read just before Purim makes sense; but once we accept the notion of a
regular weekly Torah reading on Shabbat, through which the entire Torah is
read on an annual basis, there seems to be no reason to add another reading
of Zakhor in Adar.
Two answers immediately spring to mind - neither of which is very satisfying.
A) We could argue that the ordinance of reading Zakhor was instituted in
order to solve the "leap-year" problem - i.e. the inversion of the Hatam
Sofer's approach. This suffers from the two challenges raised to the Hatam
A1) When it comes to yearly celebrations and commemoration, we do not
distinguish between a leap year and a regular year. We do not have a second
Seder in the fall in order to fulfill *Zakhor et haYom haZeh* etc. - unlike
the case with personal memory (e.g. a lost item, mourning), where 12 months
is an actual *shiur*, fixed yearly commemorations have their set time,
whether or not it is a leap year.
A2) The Mitzvah of remembering Amalek can also be fulfilled through the
reading of the account of their actual attack and our war against them
(Sh'mot 17:8-16) - which is not only read on Shabbat B'Shalah, it is also
read on Purim day itself.
B) Alternatively, we could argue that the ordinance was established in Eretz
Yisra'el where the custom was to complete the regular Torah reading over the
course of three years. While it is very plausible to posit that it was
ordained in Eretz Yisra'el, why would the Babylonian community have accepted
it if the only reason for this special reading was to ensure a yearly
reminder of Amalek - if the Babylonian custom was to complete the Torah
every year? Conversely, this ordinance could have served as strong support
for the custom of Eretz Yisra'el over that of Bavel.
In sum, the "extra" reading of Parashat Zakhor seems inexplicable.
THE CHALLENGES (II):
PARAH AND HAHODESH
3) The Parashah of Parah may be challenged in the same manner: Why notify
the public of their obligation to purify themselves via a method which is
not presently operative for an offering which we cannot bring at this point
4) In a sense, the Parashah of haHodesh is the oddest member of this group.
We find no other holiday which is preceded by a special Torah reading
designed to inform/remind everyone of the Halakhot related to that holiday -
indeed, the Mishnah at the end of the third chapter of Megillah records that
famous D'rashah: " 'And Mosheh related the appointed times of Hashem to the
B'nei Yisra'el' - the Mitzvah is to read each one in its proper time",
which, as Rashi notes, is the obligation to publicly read from a section in
the Torah relating to each holiday ON that day (not in advance of it). Why
then is the Parashah of haHodesh read at this time?
5) The "granddaddy" question is, therefore: These are the only Shabbatot
which are otherwise "mundane" (i.e. not overlapping with another holy day,
such as Yom Tov or Rosh Hodesh) when a second Sefer Torah is taken out for
an independent and disassociated reading. What so distinguishes these four
selections? Do we need to explain each ordinance independently, or can we
find a common thread which binds them to each other - and to this season?
THE FOUR PARASHIOT AND THE FOUR CUPS
Before attempting a response, I'd like to raise two more brief questions. In
the Yerushalmi, R. Levi proposes an easy signal for remembering which
Shabbatot may be interrupted (as per above, between Shekalim and Zakhor
and/or between Zakhor and Parah) and which must always be consecutive (Parah
R. Levi said in the name of R. Hiyya b. Hanina: We do not break between
*Parah* and *haHodesh*. R. Levi said: the indicator of these Parashiot is:
Between these cups, one may drink, but between the third and fourth one may
not drink. (JT Megillah 3:5)
R. Levi is borrowing a Mishnaic dictum from the description of the Seder (M.
Pesahim 10:7), wherein the Mishnah rules that you may drink wine between the
first and second cups (i.e. during Maggid) and between the second and third
cups (during the meal) but not between the third and fourth (during Hallel).
The reason for this prohibition is clear - we are afraid that imbibing
additional wine at this point will cause the celebrant to fall asleep
without completing the Seder.
The Halakhah of the Seder seems to link up well with the Arba Parashiot:
There may be an interruption between the first and second (cups/Shabbatot)
or between the second and third (cups/Shabbatot) but not between the third
There is, however, a "disconnect" in the analogy. Whereas at the Seder the
issue under discussion is adding wine (continuity), in our case, the issue
at hand is a break (discontinuity). Since the analogy doesn't fully obtain,
we must investigate R. Levi's motives for using the Seder as a model for the
B'KHOL SHANAH V'SHANAH
Our final question:
As we all know, the miracle of Purim was only fully realized on 13 Adar (and
14 Adar in Shushan) - so we celebrate on the 14th (15th) of Adar. Unlike any
other month, however, celebrations and commemorations related to Adar are
beset by confusion on a regular basis. Whenever the lunar year, which is 11
days short of a solar year, threatens to calendar Pesach in the winter, we
add an extra month of Adar - the leap month - thus ensuring that Pesach
will come out during the spring (see Ramban, Devarim 16:1). In our present
fixed-calendar system (dating back to Hillel II), we have a leap year every
two or three years (7 every 19 years). Every year that there are two months
of Adar, the questions abound - when does a boy, born in Adar, become Bar
Mitzvah? When is a Yahrzeit commemorated? etc.
The question of which Adar should host the celebration of Purim was debated
by Tannaim of the second century: Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel maintaining that
we should celebrate Purim in the second Adar and R. Eliezer b. R. Yossi
holding that Purim should be celebrated in the first Adar. Here is a
reconstruction of their dispute:
[both utilize the last three words: *b'khol shanah v'shanah*, of this verse:
enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar
and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year] R. Yohanan said:
Both of them [R. Shimon b. Gamliel and R. Eliezer b. R. Yossi] based their
opinions on the same text, *b'khol shanah v'shanah*. R. Eliezer b. R. Yossi
reasoned: "year by year"; just as in most years Adar is the month which
adjoins Sh'vat, so here [we keep the precepts] in the Adar which adjoins
Sh'vat. R. Shimon b. Gamliel again reasoned: Just as in most years Adar is
adjoining Nisan, so here [we keep the precepts] in the Adar which adjoins
Nisan. Now we understand R. Eliezer b. R. Yossi taking the view he did,
because it is inherently probable, it being a rule that we do not postpone
the performance of religious precepts. But what is the reason of R. Shimon
b. Gamliel? R. Tabi said: The reason of R. Shimon b. Gamliel is that more
weight is to be attached to bringing one period of redemption close to
another. (BT Megillah 6b)
To reiterate the question of the Gemara, R. Eliezer's position is more
fitting with general Halakhic protocol; we do not put off the performance of
a Mitzvah. Why would we elect to delay the celebration of Purim and the
Mitzvot associated with that day by a month - when we could perform them in
the first available Adar?
R. Shim'on b. Gamliel's answer seems a bit weak - what possible advantage is
there to adjoining the two redemptions (Purim and Pesach)? Even if we want
to claim that there is something to be gained by this temporal
juxtaposition, is it enough of a consideration to overrule the principle of
*Ein Ma'avirin al haMitzvot* (we do not postpone the performance of
S'MIKHUT: FOR WHOSE BENEFIT?
In order to understand the purpose of the institution of the Arba Parashiot,
we must first analyze the ruling regarding the "delay" of Purim during a
leap year. The reason given for this delay is that we wish to keep Purim
and Pesach as close to each other as possible - always four weeks apart.
What is the meaning of this consideration?
Before examining this, we might propose a question of a more general nature,
the resolution of which will certainly impact on our understanding of this
There are a number of "ordered juxtapositions" within the Halakhic corpus:
Tekeph liS'mikhah Sh'chitah for instance, is a rule which states that
immediately after "laying the hands" on an offering, that animal must be
slaughtered. The question could certainly be asked - which act is being
enhanced by this juxtaposition? Is the S'mikhah made more impactful and
connected to the offering by immediately beginning the physical process
which will lead to Kapparah? Or, conversely, could we posit that it is the
Sh'chitah which "benefits" by having a direct relationship with the "owner"
of the animal?
In some cases of S'mikhut, the "latter" member is the focus; e.g., when we
wash immediately (without a break) before Birkat haMazon that is surely to
ensure that the act of saying Birkat haMazon is done with both clean hands
and the sense of Kedushah which accompanies them. On the other hand, it
seems - both from the relevant Sugyot and the Rambam's rulings - that the
main "beneficiary" of S'mikhat Ge'ulah liT'fillah is the Birkat Ge'ulah
(which is why no such obligation obtains at T'fillat Minchah).
We may even think of this question in "mundane" terms - sometimes we will
"attach" ourselves to another person for our own benefit (such as a mentor);
other times it may be for the express benefit of the other person (such as a
parent keeping a close eye on their toddler).
Regarding the *S'mikhut* of Purim and Pesach - qui bono? Which celebration
is enhanced by this juxtaposition?
It would seem reasonable that the beneficiary is Pesach. First of all,
Pesach is, clearly, immobile within the calendar - it is only the date of
Purim which is being negotiated here. That would seem to posit Pesach as the
hinge around which this issue revolves. Second, if delaying Purim were
motivated by a desire to enhance Purim itself, the opposite consideration
(*Ein Ma'avirin al haMitzvot*) would seem to carry more weight; it is only
with the introduction of an outside factor (the enhancement of Pesach) that
the delay carries the day. Furthermore, when we look at the nature of the
celebration of each of Purim and Pesach, we will see that this "adjoining"
of holidays could only serve to intensify our Pesach experience. In order
to appreciate this, we have to take a step back and ask a larger question:
What possible value can there be in juxtaposing two celebrations within 30
days of each other? Wouldn't each one gain - if such a term could be used -
by leaving as much "space" as possible, such that we needn't be in the midst
of our Pesach preparations (mentally, financially as well as academically
and spiritually) when we are celebrating Purim?
PESACH: CREATING A FUTURE FROM OUR PAST
In two weeks, our discussion will focus on the Seder and the teleology of
the many Mitzvot and Minhagim associated with that night. Unlike other
celebrations, commemorations and holidays, Pesach (most specifically, the
Seder) is not an experience of remembering - or even reliving - the past.
During the Seder, we do much more than relate the Exodus to our children. We
endeavor, fully and completely, to immerse ourselves in the environment of
the Exodus, so that we actually experience the full range of spiritual and
emotional peaks (and valleys) of that turning point in Jewish history and,
through this experience, to connect with all of Jewish history. This
includes the long-awaited and promised future of Y'mot haMashiach,
envisioned by our prophets and sages.
We do not merely act out the steps of the Seder in order to recall or even
just to reexperience - those are necessary steps that we take in order to
accomplish the ultimate goal: To create the proper conditions for a
completion of the Ge'ulah. When our Rabbis state "In Nissan they were
redeemed and in Nissan they are destined to be redeemed" (BT Rosh haShanah
11), they are expressing this notion: It is not only a propitious time of
year for redemption, but it is only by turning the past into our present
that we can ensure our future. In other words, by reliving the various steps
of redemption experience by our ancestors and internalizing this experience
and shaping it into our own reality, we can hope to create the necessary
conditions for future redemption.
As such, it is clear that the calendar juxtaposition of Purim to Pesach is
designed to further enhance the Pesach experience - unlike Purim, which is a
celebration of the past (and, certainly, repeated pasts), Pesach is enhanced
by those weeks which precede it and how our behavior during that time helps
us build towards this meta-historic experience of the Seder.
Our thesis is, then, that the Rabbis preferred to keep Purim as close as
possible to Pesach in order to allow whatever instructive lesson we can gain
from the celebration of Purim to inform and enhance our Pesach redemption as
we turn past into present with an eye towards the future.
"A PEOPLE DISPERSED"
No one knew how to speak Lashon haRa as well as Haman. (BT Megillah 13b).
Keep in mind that Lashon haRa is defined as true but degrading statements
(slander is know by a different ignonomous title: Motzi Shem Ra). What did
Haman say about the B'nei Yisra'el? He claimed that we are a "dispersed and
disconnected people". This is, both from a perspective of Hazal's history
and what we can approximate from Biblical narrative, an accurate description
of the B'nei Yisra'el during this time. There are many indications - in the
Megillah, in Sefer Ezra and in Rabbinic literature - of the lack of unity
and mutual concern to be found among the Judean exiles in Persia during the
reign of Ahashverosh (and his predecessors). They had assimilated to the
point where Jewish concerns, specifically of the welfare of the nascent and
beleaguered community "back home" who had returned and rebuilt the Beit
haMikdash, were apparently not at the forefront of the Jewish community's
conscience. Besides their assimilation into Persian culture (to the point
where they were willing participants in Ahashverosh's idolatrous orgy - see
R. Shim'on b. Yohai's comments in BT Megillah 12a) and the high rate of
intermarriage prevalent in that community (see Ezra 9), the fact that it
took the queen's order to assemble the Jews together in Shushan may be an
indication of how "dispersed and disconnected" they really were.
What is the antidote for this lack of mutual and communal concern? Note
Esther's response to Mordechai: "Assemble all of the Jews together..."
(4:16). Esther understood that the first step needed in order to effect
national salvation (or, in other words, to create the necessary conditions
for national redemption) is to ensure that there is a nation to save. We can
not be an *Am Nosha* (redeemed nation - Devarim 33:29) if we are not a
nation to begin with.
And so, we begin the process of nation-building by publicly reading the
Parashah of Shekalim: And Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, When you take the
census of the people of Yisra'el according to their number, then shall they
give every man a ransom for his soul to Hashem, when you count them; that
there should be no plague among them, when you count them. This they shall
give, every one who passes among those who are counted, half a shekel
according to the shekel of the sanctuary; a shekel is twenty gerahs; a half
shekel shall be the offering of Hashem. Every one who passes among those who
are counted, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to
Hashem. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than
half a shekel, when they give an offering to Hashem, to make an atonement
for your souls. And you shall take the atonement money of the people of
Yisra'el, and shall appoint it for the service of the Tent of Meeting; that
it may be a memorial to the people of Yisra'el before Hashem, to make an
atonement for your souls.
The first lesson we are taught in this Parashah is not the obligation to
donate to the building of the Mishkan - we've already learned about that
(Sh'mot 25:2). Rather, we learn that everyone must participate in this
donation - and that everyone has an equal amount of responsibility towards
this project. In other words, no individual can exempt himself from his
responsibility towards the community - and no one should think that his part
is either more or less significant than his fellow's. It is often this
sense of exaggerated self-importance on the one hand and (its equally
dangerous opposite number) self-negation on the other which causes
individuals to lose a sense of perspective regarding their role and
responsibility within the body politic.
Note that the Torah obligates each person to give the same amount: The rich
shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less. Besides this common
standard, the Torah teaches us another valuable lesson regarding the role of
the individual within the community: This they shall give, every one who
passes among those who are counted, half a shekel according to the shekel of
The Torah clearly prescribes the gift of half of a shekel; why doesn't the
Torah just obligate a full shekel; or, that particular amount is inherently
significant, obligate a gift of 10 gera of silver. Why phrase it as half a
shekel (thus leading to the Halakhic obligation to change money in order to
give an actual half-shekel piece)?
The answer which suggests itself is that the Torah is teaching us about the
power of the individual - and his limitations. Everyone is needed for the
public welfare to be secure - but no individual, no matter how rich,
intelligent or powerful, is capable of succeeding on his own. Any
nation-building enterprise demands, first and foremost, a partnership. When
each individual recognizes his own strengths, not negating his own value
(the poor shall not give less) nor overestimate his indispensability (The
rich shall not give more), he can also understand that he needs his fellow
as much as his fellow needs him (half a shekel).
On the Shabbat immediately before Purim, we take out a second Sefer Torah
and read Parashat Zakhor: Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when
you came forth out of Egypt; How he met you by the way, and struck at your
rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he
did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when Hashem your God has given you
rest from all your enemies around, in the land which Hashem your God gives
you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance
of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it.
What is the connection between this Parashah and Purim? Keep in mind that if
we are only concerned with having this section read once a year, we have
already done so in the late summer - and the related Parashah (Sh'mot
17:8-16) was read a month ago. Although Haman's Amalek-association
(genealogical, ideological or both) is strongly alluded to in the Megillah,
this still doesn't explain this extra reading at this time; after all, we
don't take out a second Sefer Torah on the Shabbat of Hol haMo'ed Pesach in
order to read about the prohibitions of allowing an Egyptian convert into
the community for two generations - or how we must treat Egyptians in
general - even though these laws are clearly associated with the events
celebrated on Pesach.
A careful look at the nature of Amalek's attack reveals an intricate
connection to the Purim story beyond the ancestry of Haman. How did Amalek
attack us? How he met you by the way, and struck at your rear, all who were
feeble behind you...In other words, the infirm, old and weak who were
walking at the back of the Israelite camp were the targets of these tribal
warriors (see Ibn Ezra ad loc.) The question must be asked: Why were these
people walking at the back of the camp? Why weren't they placed safely in
the middle, with strong, young and healthy men on the outskirts of this
The only conclusion which may be drawn is that the community itself did not
demonstrate sufficient and appropriate concern for the weak and less capable
within the group. To wit, Amalek was only able to successfully attack us
when our own sense of common and mutual concern was lax. (See the comment of
the Mekhilta on the verse And Amalek came and fought Yisra'el at Refidim -
that Refidim implies that the B'nei Yisra'el acted deficiently in their own
observance of Torah).
The sequence of Shekalim-Zakhor is one which seems to produce a dialectic
tension. Shekalim teaches the equal responsibility of each person - no more,
no less - towards the communal enterprise. From Parashat Zakhor,
conversely, we learn that those who are stronger have a greater share of the
responsibility towards their weaker fellows. Which is it? Do we have equal
responsibilities or not?
This tension is immediately ameliorated when we consider which attitude each
Parashah is coming to correct. At its foundation, a community must recognize
the equal worth of each member and no one's worth should either be negated
nor should it be overemphasized to the point of feeling like a "whole
shekel". Once that sense of common obligation and equal responsibility is
internalized, we do a "reality check" and note that some people, due to
circumstances of birth and other Divine blessings, are more gifted than
others at different things. There are brilliant theoreticians, military
strategists, composers of beautiful music, and so on. Some of them, due to
their engagement and involvement with their own art, are not as strong as
others in other disciplines. As a result, each person needs to channel his
talents towards the good of the community; strength, wisdom, wealth etc. do
not breed rights; rather, they are cause for responsibility.
Both of these lessons are brought to the fore within the context of the
Purim story. As noted above, Esther directed Mordechai to "assemble all of
the people together", implying the commonality expressed by Parashat
Shekalim. Within the celebration of Purim, however, we see an emphasis on
our responsibilities towards those less fortunate: that they should make
them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one
another and presents to the poor. (Esther 9:22).
Note the words of Rambam in codifying the Purim budget in MT Hilkhot
Megillah 2:17: It is preferable for a person to spend more on his gifts to
the poor than on his feast and sending portions to his friends. For there is
no greater or more glorious happiness than to gladden the hearts of the
poor, orphan, widow and stranger. One who gladdens the heart of these
destitute people is similar to the Shekhinah, as it says: To bring life to
the spirit of the lowly and to restore the heart of the downtrodden.
In sum, the two lessons which we need to learn in order to build a nation
(which can then become a "nation which is redeemed") are the [limited] value
of each member and the responsibility of each member towards each other,
particularly those less "privileged". These lessons bring us to the first
level of redemption- the redemption of Purim, a redemption born of Jewish unity.
Once we have forged the unity necessary to create and maintain a healthy
nation, there is yet one significant step we must take to be worthy of
Ge'ulah. Any group which has achieved cohesion must also have a goal
towards which that cooperative spirit is focused. If communal concern and
mutual respect become ends in and of themselves, there is little reason to
think that they will endure. It is the engine of common purpose and
direction which ultimately drives the community (and, writ large, the nation).
What is our goal? Towards what do we aim our national resources? The answer
is provided in the introductory chapter to the Stand at Sinai: but you shall
be for Me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation... (Sh'mot 19:6)
Our national charter is not just to be a unified people, an ethical beacon
whose communal and national behavior exemplify sensitivity to others and
respect for each member of the K'lal. We are called to be much more than
that - we are charged to be a holy nation, a nation which strives to infuse
its national life - and the personal lives of its members - with sanctity.
We aim to bring God's Name into this world and to bring this world to a
greater realization of His Presence.
After we have achieved the long-desired unity on Purim, balancing the
demands of Shekalim and Zakhor, we then move this unified nation towards the
national agenda of purity and holiness.
The selection known as Parashat Parah details the laws of the red heifer,
used to purify anyone who has come into contact with the dead and has, as a
result, become *Tamei* (ritually impure). His *Tum'ah* prevents him from
entering the Mikdash/Mishkan and from partaking in any of the sancta. This
ritual is, as Rashi (BT Megillah 29a) points out, *Taharatan shel Yisra'el*
- the purification of the B'nei Yisra'el.
After we have gelled as a nation, we must move, together, towards the purity
which allows us to reenter the Mikdash - so that we can continue on our
national mission of bringing this world to God - and revealing God to this
Which brings us to the last of the four Parashiot, the one which, as we
noted above, seems the most problematic.
The opening line of this Parashah, *haChodesh haZeh Lakhem*, is itself
somewhat difficult to understand. Although it has been Halakhically rendered
as a command (either the command to declare the New Moon or to maintain a
calendar with the month of Aviv at its head - see Rashi and Ramban ad loc.),
the wording seems to be lacking a verb. We would expect it to read:
*haChodesh haZeh Yihyeh Lakhem*.
S'forno notes that this opening line is, indeed, not phrased as a command;
rather, it is a declarative statement: This month is yours. Here is his
comment: From here on the months shall be yours, to do with them as you
wish. During the days of the slavery your days were not your own, rather
they were committed to other people's work and contingent upon their will.
Therefore It is the first one for you of the months of the year - because
now you began your life of free-will.
Our liberation, giving us the opportunity to create the conditions necessary
for redemption, can only come when, as a united nation, we have become
purified and moved our national agenda towards our mission of becoming a
holy nation. As soon as we achieve that lofty goal, the time is ours - to
act as we choose. If we choose wisely, the celebration of the past Exodus
can become the promised future redemption.
THE ARBA PARASHIOT AND THE FOUR CUPS
We can now appreciate the analogy presented by R. Levi in the selection from
the Yerushalmi cited above: Just as we don't drink between the third and
fourth cup (but we may between the others), similarly, we don't skip a
Shabbat between Parah and haChodesh.
Since the goal of the entire sequence of these Parashiot is to engender the
necessary environment for turning Pesach from past into present - ensuring a
brighter future - the analogy of the four cups, which are a vehicle for
celebrating that freedom are, indeed, an apt analogy.
Text Copyright © 2014 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.