Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Para
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

At first glance the messages of Parshat Zachor - last week’s parsha - and Parshat
Parah - this week’s parsha - seem to be unconnected. Parshat Zachor deals with the age old enemy of the Jewish people, Amalek. In every generation Amalek assumes different guises but he is always there threatening the very existence of Israel and the Jewish people. His threat is real and palpable and very threatening. Amalek minces no words in declaring his goal - the annihilation of Jews. Parshat Parah deals with a completely esoteric spiritual matter - the laws and rituals of the purification of people who became tamei - ritually impure and are therefore restricted in participating in certain human activities and Temple worship and sacrifices. Now these two subjects, Amalek and ritual purification seemingly have no real connection one to another. They are merely part of the preparation for Purim in the case of Parshat Zachor and the preparation for Pesach as far as Parshat Parah is concerned. But people must be aware that there are no mere coincidences in Jewish life and lore. The Torah itself and Jewish tradition and custom are so multilayered that everything contained therein requires study, analysis and additional insight. Studying the Torah makes one realize that every subject and custom is truly interlinked one with another at its deepest level. Superficial understanding of Torah and Judaism is dangerous. It leads to wrong conclusions and false theories about the Torah and Jewish values. Just as in modern medicine the physician relies upon CT scans and MRI images to make a correct diagnosis so too does the Jew have to search for the underlying principles that unite the Torah and Jewish life and make it an indivisible whole.

I think that the common thread between Parshat Zachor and Parshat Parah lies in the irrationality of the elements of both parshiyot. The hatred of Israel by Amalek over the millennia defies any rational explanation. Why should Norway and Sweden hate Israel so? Why do the Arabs not see peace as being to their advantage and a chance to bring a better life to their millions? Why the hatred and incitement and the refusal to see things as they are and not as they somehow would wish them to be? It is by now clear that all of the peace making efforts here in the Middle East over the past many decades have made one basic error. These efforts are founded on the basis of rationality and practicality. They deal with a reality that can be rationally explained and thus confronted, compromised and eventually solved. But the Amalek conundrum is an irrational one. It is not given to explanation or reasoning. From the first unprovoked and unnecessary and costly attack of Amalek on the Jews in the desert of Sinai through the Holocaust and now the terrible threats and words of Ahminejad it is all simply insanity and irrationality. But that is the reality of an irrational world. And the Torah wishes us to realize that there are many things that are beyond our rational abilities to control. And the Torah tells us to remember this lesson at all times.

Parshat Parah is also based upon an irrationality. The Talmud pointed out that the ritual laws regarding purity and impurity, the power of the ashes of the red heifer to contaminate the pure and purify the impure at one and the same time, are all irrational. We have no explanation for them. They are the exception to the otherwise generally rational and well reasoned structure of Torah life and ritual. The Torah purposely introduces into the structure of Judaism an element that is beyond ordinary human comprehension. It does with the intent to impress us with the fact that Torah and its attendant halachic principles are not always capable of being fully comprehended by human minds and opinions. There is always in faith an area that is beyond our reach and understanding. The Torah points out here our human limitations and that the finite can never quite reach an understanding of the Infinite. Rationality is as it must be the basis for human actions and behavior. However part of rationality is the realization that there is much that exists beyond our powers of rational thought. And the Torah emphasizes this by teaching us Parshat Parah. It also does so by linking Parshat Parah to Parshat Zachor which preceded it as examples of the underlying irrationalities that govern our world, society and even our faith and beliefs. Thus do these disparate parshiyot become linked in purpose and thought.
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