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Friday, 17 Sep 2021
Parashat 
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Surprise!

This Shabbat, after we finish reading the portion of the week, Shmini, we will roll up the Torah scroll and take out another, and read in it a special Torah portion—Parshat Parah. This portion speaks about the mitzvah of parah adumah, a process of purification that involved the ashes of a red heifer. First the cow was slaughtered, then its body burned. Its ashes would be mixed with water and sprinkled on those who became impure through contact with the dead. This would complete their purification.

The details of this mitzvah are strange, mysterious—what relevance does a red heifer have to the impurity of death? Why do its ashes and only its ashes have the power to remove impurity? Why a red heifer and no other color? There are no rational explanations for any of this. In fact this mitzvah is introduced as “zot chukat hatorah”—this is the rule of the Torah. It is a chok, the category of law for which we have no explanation. Even King Solomon, wisest of men, could not understand it. Only to Moses did G-d reveal the meaning behind this mitzvah.

And this is the relevance to our day and age. Like the mitzvah of the red heifer, we live in a time that defies understanding. There is no justification for why we remain in exile. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe said numerous times, there is no sin great enough to warrant such a prolonged and severe punishment. Any sins we have committed have already been atoned for, and surely everyone who sinned has had at least a thought of teshuvah. The world is ready for redemption, and any further delay is inexplicable.

However, just as the length of exile is entirely unexpected, so will be the redemption. It will come suddenly, as a complete surprise.

*

Once a group of chassidim were sitting and discussing amongst themselves how it would be when Moshiach will come. Each one presented a scenario for how he imagined the long-awaited arrival of Moshiach. Suddenly the door to the Rebbe’s office opened. “This is how he will come,” the Rebbe pronounced. Without warning, with no prior notice.

*

This does not mean that there is no need for us to prepare for Moshiach’s coming. On the contrary, we must be fully prepared at any moment – and for this reason, among others, we read the portion of Parah every year. Nevertheless, Moshiach’s coming will still take us by surprise.

We read the portion of Parah as preparation for Passover. When the Holy Temple was in existence we would travel to Jerusalem and bring the Passover offering. In order to enter the Temple and partake of the Passover offering we had to be pure. Therefore, a week or two before Passover we read this portion of the Torah as preparation.

The Torah reading of the red heifer arouses in us the anticipation and desire to fulfill the mitzvah of Pesach to its fullest, in the rebuilt Holy Temple with the true and complete Redemption. It is our responsibility to prepare for Redemption and expect it at any moment—even though the actual coming will take us by surprise.

The exodus from Egypt also came as a surprise. After years of enslavement in Egypt, a country from which no slave had ever escaped, it seemed unimaginable that they would ever be free. From a spiritual perspective as well, they had sunk to the lowest levels—a situation that should have brought about utter despair. Yet suddenly in the right moment their redeemer arrived and began the process of Redemption.

So will be with the future Redemption. Suddenly, without notice, the door will open and Moshiach will appear. It’s up to us to prepare for that moment.

 

 


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