This Shabbos we read the weekly Torah portion of Shemini and Parshas Parah, which discusses the laws of one that becomes impure from contact with a corpse and the method for becoming pure once again.
Additionally, this Shabbos we bless the new month of Nisan, which begins the following Shabbos. Our tradition has taught us that throughout Jewish history there have been nine red heifers and that a 10th one will appear during the time of the Mashiach, the future redemption when the third temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. What is so special about the red heifer that it is deserves its own Shabbos? One possibility is its message of hope.
The concept of hope is central to the Jewish people. Not only do we announce our hope that the Messiah will come on a daily basis, but even Israel’s national anthem is called Hatikva, meaning, “The Hope.” I see so many patients in hospitals around the Valley who have high hopes for health, life and some sense of normalcy. Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik zt”l explained in discussing Parshas Shemini that there are two defining aspects of the Jewish people.
The first is our ability to start over anew notwithstanding the fact that previous attempts have not panned out.
The second is our great patience and ability to continually dream even though our aspirations may seem distant and their fruition doubtful.
It is not by happenstance that these sections of the Torah appear and are read so close to Pesach. Pesach exemplifies these concepts — looking to the future and dreaming about leaving Egypt and its confines — both physically and spiritually. On the seder night and throughout the holiday we have countless customs and rituals meant to take us back in time to relive our bondage and freedom from Egypt, but these memories also propel us to be forward-looking as well.
There is an anecdote told about Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin zt”l who lived in Jerusalem towards the end of the 19th century. One morning he was to be picked up from his home by one of his students and escorted to his synagogue. When the rabbi emerged from his home, instead of going towards the student, he started to ascend the steps of his building. The student could not understand where his rabbi was headed. Moreover, it seemed that Rabbi Diskin was looking for something in the distance from his higher vantage point.
After a while, the rabbi returned and was prepared to head towards the synagogue. The perplexed student asked the rabbi what he had been searching for. The rabbi responded that although the first two Temples were manmade and had to be built during the day, the third one is to descend from heaven, and this can happen even at night. He was therefore looking to see if the prayers of the Jewish people had been answered the previous night!
So much of our lives is spent on personal prayers and hopes just as a person who becomes impure, looks forward to the process of the Parah Aduma to return him to a state of purity. But we should also understand from this week’s double Torah reading that there is a national component to our hope and that we should keep these thoughts in our minds throughout our daily lives. This is the special connection between these Torah portions and the time of the year that they fall out in — between Purim and Pesach, both holidays that focus on the unity, redemption and hope of the Jewish nation. JN
Rabbi Michael Dubitsky is a hospital chaplain for Jewish Family & Children's Service and a teacher of Jewish law at Shearim Torah High School for Girls.