Ever wonder why...we read Parashat Parah?
Parashat Parah is
the third of four special parashiot that were instituted in order to
remember the Beit Hamikdash and its practices. Parashat Parah is read
from Chukat, the section of the Torah that deals with the Parah Adumah
or Red Heifer. When the Beit Hamikdash was standing, every Jew would
come to Yerushalayim in order to bring a Korban Pesach, a Passover
Offering. One of the prerequisites for bringing this korban was
spiritual purity. A person had to be cleansed from many types of
spiritual impurity including tumat meit, the impurity associated with
coming into contact with a corpse. The only way to achieve this purity
was, and still is today, through the Parah Adumah, the sprinkling of
special water made from the ashes of the red heifer. The nature of
tumat meit makes it very likely that large segments of the population
would have needed the special water of the Parah Adumah. Consequently,
already in the times of the Beit Hamikdash it was established that
Parashat Parah would be read before the month of Nissan as a reminder
to the people that Pesach was coming and that they needed to purify
themselves from tumat meit.
There is much discussion among the halachic
authorities as to whether the reading of Parashat Parah is an
obligation from the Torah or from the Rabbis. That’s the reason
why many are careful to attend this Torah reading and make sure that
they catch every word.
Any discussion of Parashat Parah would not be
complete without mentioning the unique nature of the mitzvah of Parah
Adumah itself. Those who are involved in the preparation of the ashes
of the cow become ritually impure, while the sprinkling of the water
with those same ashes actually removes ritual impurity. The Torah calls
this a Chok, a mitzvah that we do not know the reason for. The Sefer
Hachinuch writes that God explained the reason for this mitzvah only to
Moshe alone on Har Sinai. God told Moshe that the reasoning behind this
mitzvah is only going to be given to him and not to others. Indeed,
when Shlomo Hamelech, King Solomon, whom the Rabbis refer to as the
“Wisest of all men”, wrote out the reasons for every mitzvah in the
Torah, he was successful with all of them except for Parah Adumah.
The Mishnah tells us that there were only nine Parot
Adumot in all of Jewish history. The first was prepared by Moshe in the
midbar and its ashes lasted until the destruction of the first Beit
Hamikdash. The second was prepared by Ezra at the beginning of the
second Beit Hamikdash and its ashes lasted well into its tenure.
The next seven came and went and their ashes lasted until the final
destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash. The tenth Parah Adumah,
it is said, will be prepared by the Melech Hamashiach, himself, may he
come speedily in our days and usher in a time when these ashes will no
longer be needed.
Rabbi Eliezer Kessler