This week we read the third of four special Sabbath readings prior to Passover. This week is Shabbat Parah. The word “parah” is cow, and the portion is found in Numbers chapter 19 and deals with the Red Heifer. The ashes of the red heifer were important to purify people who were ceremonially unclean. We read about this at this time of year because while the Temple stood people had to cleanse themselves from all such impurity (ceremonial) to be able to offer the Passover sacrifice. This cleansing was an important part of the preparation that was required to enter into the Temple area with one’s sacrifice. We are told that the ashes of the red heifer were mixed with water which had cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson dipped in it. This commandment is called the “statute of the Torah”, an important title. Why would this ceremonial act receive such an important designation by the Torah?
First one needs to remember that the purpose of this statute is to remove the spiritual affects of coming in contact with death. Since death is related to sin; one learns that coming into contact with sin will influence an individual in a negative manner. That is, one must learn that sin is dangerous not from only the act itself, but sin will influence a person long after the sinful act is completed. Sin affects the inner person and will affect the way one thinks and behaves long after the sinful act is over. Hence the commandment of the red heifer is outward cleaning that affects the inner being.
The Torah gives the highest significance to this commandment because it is the inner man that G-d is most concern with. Remember the words of Messiah who said, “But I will warn you from whom to fear, fear the one that has the authority to kill and afterwards to cast into hell…” Luke 12:5. This verse emphasizes that one should not be overly concerned with the physical body, but rather place one’s emphasis on the soul of man. This is the emphasis of this commandment. Whereas the sacrifice itself dealt with the act of sin, the sprinkling of the water which contained the ashes of the red heifer dealt with the effects of sin on the inner person. When one reads this nineteenth chapter of the book of Numbers he will learn that are several important principles contained in it. First is that heifer is red. This color represents blood which relates to redemption. Hence true redemption deals not with the act of sin, but also all the effects of sin, physical and spiritual. The heifer had to die in order to serve in this purifying process. Therefore death is necessary to deal with sin.
There are many who see Messiah Himself also relating to the commandment of the Red Heifer. Yeshua’s sacrifice deals with not only paying the price for our sinful acts, but also deals with the spiritual effects of sin on the inner man. It is also interesting to note that in the same manner that the commandment of the Red Heifer took place outside the city, so too was Yeshua’s crucifixion outside the city.
As you prepare for Passover this year, just three weeks away, emphasize your inner being and how the Passover story and the seder itself speaks not only about physical redemption, but also to the spiritual. Remember the words of Rav Shaul from I Cor. 5:8, “Therefore let us keep the festival, not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and evilness, but with the Matzah of sincerity and truth. Shabbat Shalom.
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