Friday, March 25, 2011

Arba Parshios: The Four Stages

Chazal instituted that on the first week of Chodesh Adar we read about the Shkalim. This small reading discusses how the Jews donated to the Mishkan. On the Shabbos Kodesh before Purim we read Parshas Zachor, a reminder of our eternal struggle with Amalek. This week, the week after Purim we read Parshas Para in which we learn about the Para Adumah the laws and details of a fully red cow which is completely burnt and whose ashes are used to purify those who are under the status of Tamei Meis, meaning that they have contracted a certain type of intense impurity via contact with a corpse. The ashes of the Para Adumah nullify this impurity. The week after Parshas Para, which is the week before Rosh Chodesh Nisan we read Parshas HaChodesh, in which Moshe Rabbeinu is commanded by HaKadosh Baruch Hu in regards to the first Mitzva given to the Jewish people - Kiddush HaChodesh, the obligation to organize the beginning of the months around the discovery of the new moon every thirty days or so.

These four special readings: Shkalim, Zachor, Para and HaChodesh are called the Arba Parshios.

If we can analyze each one by itself, maybe we will see how they work as a unit.

Parshas Shkalim represents the intrinsic holiness and pure intentions inherit to every Jew. The Jews were commanded to give the Shkalim to the Mishkan, but when they did so it wasn’t merely a monetary donation, it was an investment of self, of personal devotion to the cause of what the Mishkan represents. And the Mishkan stands for living with the reality that Hashem really dwells within our lives. How do we know? A possible hint is given to us by the Ba’al HaTurim who points out that Shekel is the same numerical value as the word Nefesh, which means soul. When the Jews gave to the Mishkan they were really giving of themselves.

Then comes Parshas Zachor which reminds us of our eternal battle with Amalek. Amalek is more than just a physical people who we are at odds with. Amalek embodies all of the struggles that the Jewish people as a whole go through and on a deeper level they are the spiritual source from which all of the struggles that every individual undergoes.

Rav Yitzchak Hutner Zatz’al explains this based on the Passuk which describes Amalek. The verse says, “Reishis Goyim Amalek” - Amalek is the first of the nations. What does it mean that they are the first of the nations? Every nation serves in some way as a counterforce to the growth of the Jewish people. Amalek was the first nation to attack the Jewish people, as the Torah describes their ambush upon our exodus from Mitzrayim. Therefore, them, being the Reishis - the first, they serve as the prototype to this counterforce. Thus, in both the physical and spiritual realm, they set the mold for all the challenges to spiritual growth.

Amalek contains a very intense spiritual impurity, and it leaves a mark on everything it comes in contact with. The same is true with their attack on the Jewish people when they left Egypt. The sources bring down that via spiritual-cause-and-effect, the ‘spiritual dirt’ that Amalek left behind eventually caused Cheit Ha’Egel - the sin of the golden calf, an offense which left a heavy claim in heaven against the Jewish people.

This is where Parshas Para comes in. The Midrash explains that the Para Adumah was a Tikun - a rectification for the Cheit Ha’Egel, and therefore it’s also a tool used to battle Amalek’s effects on us.

Amalek comes to sever our relationship with the Divine. They try to get us to believe that we don’t need the Torah and that really we can make it on our own. That’s where all our problems start. Para Adumah represents the opposite. The Torah describes the Para Adumah as a Chok, a Mitzvah without a rational explanation. As we explained, Para Adumah comes to extract a person from the deepest impurity - Tumas Meis. Says the Para Aduma - You think can get out of Tumas Meis with your own formula? That’s Amalek thinking. The only way to escape Tumas Meis is by forfeiting your knowledge to God. This is very anti-Amalek.

This brings us to the fourth stage. This is Parshas HaChodesh - HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem - This renewal shall be for you, the Sanctification of the new moon. The Sfas Emes explains that the hidden meaning. The moon whittles down and diminishes, and then just as it hits rock bottom it begins to grow back. But it’s not really that simple, because the moment that we notice its renewal it takes on a new identity, one step, one month higher in the cycle. It was the moon of Chodesh Adar, but now it’s the moon of Chodesh Nisan. Once a struggle is met and subsequently overcome, the combatant is not the same person he was before hand – he’s stronger, he’s more experienced, but most importantly he’s ready to take on a new, stronger adversary.

These four special readings are the path of how we grow: Shkalim - Things are going well. Zachor - A Challenge comes. Para - We grapple with the difficulty. HaChodesh - We overcome and take on a new, stronger persona; ready to repeat the process on a higher level.

When we are living in a Shkalim state of mind, we need to know that it’s possible to reach a level of HaChodesh if we just fight Zachor with Para. When we feel like we are cruising in our Avodas Hashem, and then a struggle hits the most inspiring thing that we can know is that we will be we won’t just be back to where when we started once we overcome, rather we will be exponentially stronger because of it.

This is really the depth of what Chazal say, “B’Makom She’Ba’alei Teshuva Omdim, Ain Tzadikim Gemurim Omdim.” – In the place where a Ba’al TeShuva stands, a complete Tzadik doesn’t reach a level. Because even though the Shkalim level is nice, he who falls and gets back up is even higher – and this what the process of Shkalim, Zachor, Para, HaChodesh is coming to teach us.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha that we should be able to live with the inspiration needed to overcome the challenges that He sends us, and that we should have the awareness to appreciate the growth that we do achieve. If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

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