13/14 Mar: Shabbat Parah : Shabbat comes in 5:47 pm, ends 6:50 pm
Parashat Ki Tissa – Holy (and Unholy) Cows
This Shabbat could be called ‘A Tale of Two Cows’: It was the best of cows; it was the worst of cows. This Shabbat, we read Parashat Ki Tissa – the story of the golden calf – and we celebrate Shabbat Parah, the first of the Shabbatot leading up to Passover. Shabbat Parah is so named because the maftir (extra reading) describes the parah adumah (‘red heifer’), a ritual purification sacrifice of Temple times. This sacrifice is linked to Passover due to its connection with the Passover sacrifice (only those who had been purified could eat of it), and also to the Torah portion, as there is an understanding that the red heifer exists to counterbalance the sin of the golden calf.
The red heifer has a special place in the Judaism of the post-Temple periods, due to the rarity with which a perfectly red heifer is born, and its necessity in establishing Temple worship. As Jews have longed through the ages for the establishment of the Third Temple, the red heifer has become a symbol of hope.
So here we are, between two cows: one gold, and one red. The first cow, infant and formed from gold, represents the greatest sin of the wilderness – the urge toward the worship of idols. The second cow, a perfectly red heifer, represents hope for the restoration of Temple worship. They are two poles in religious urges. Do we need something physical to bow down to, like the Israelites in the Wilderness? Or can we make do with the intangible hope of a better future, without being able to grasp it in our hands?
Rabbi Natasha Mann
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman