It should have been a day of joy. The Israelites had completed the Mishkan, the Sanctuary. But tragedy struck. The two elder sons of Aaron “offered a strange fire" and they died. Aaron’s joy turned to mourning.
“I work as a leather tanner. Should I train for a different parnasah, so that I can make a living after Moshiach comes?” “What is the difference between a toad and a frog?” What does either of the previous two questions have to do with this week’s parshah?
In the aftermath of the death of two of Aharon’s sons, who brought “a foreign fire” (Vayikra 10:1), the Torah commands kohanim not to drink wine or other intoxicating drinks before entering or serving in the holy sanctum (ibid. 9). The Torah goes on: “… and to make rulings for Bnei Yisrael on all of the statutes that Hashem spoke to them by Moshe’s hand” (ibid. 11).
We begin the reading of two special maftirs that remind Bnei Yisrael of the preparations for the upcoming central mitzva of the Korban Pesach (see Rashi, Megilla 29a). Parashat Para discusses the step of those who came in contact with the high level of tumah coming from a human corpse, who needed to purify themselves in order to bring the Korban Pesach. Next week’s Parashat Hachodesh reminds people generally about the need to prepare for the Korban Pesach with a variety of halachot to keep in mind.
In Parshat Shemini, Aharon is commanded to bring as a sacrifice “a young calf as a sin offering” (Vayikra 9:2). Rashi explains that Hashem thereby informed Aharon that this was his atonement for the Golden Calf. Similarly, Chazal said that the red heifer was to atone for the Golden Calf (Midrash, Bamidbar Chukat 19:2).
This week the maftir is the section on the Para Aduma (Red Heifer). It is a good time to look at the place of logic and human intellect as a central part of our belief as Jews, and how the Para Aduma fits into the fabric of the mitzvot in this regard.