Shabbat Commentary

5/6 March :Ki Tissa + Shabbat Parah: Shabbat comes in 5:33 pm, ends   6:36 pm

Parashat Ki Tissa – Holy (and Unholy) Cow  

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?  

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Natasha 

March 1, 2021