This Shabbat begins the period in which Jews around the world have been reading the Arbah parshiyot – the four special passages known as Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh. These parshiyot, read as the Maftir, after the weekly Torah portion, prepare us for Pesach by expressing the values of communal commitment and involvement, integral to the holiday.
How do these specific parshiyot remind us and therefore motivate us in our communal responsibilities?
Parshat Shekalim speaks of the census taken while the Jewish people were in the desert. In order to count b’nei yisrael, a half-shekel, silver coin was donated by each person over twenty years old. The Torah explicitly states that the amount must be the same for everyone whether rich or poor. While this money served to provide for the upkeep of the Mishkan, the coins themselves were used to count the members of Bnai Yisrael.
Of course this demonstrates the significance of contribution to the mishkan and Jewish establishments. But it also emphasizes the importance of the individual within the community by acknowledging their individuality and underscoring that each person must be treated with equal respect and dignity. Each individual is an important member of Klal Yisrael.
In Parshat Zachor we read from the passage in Devarim which speaks about our obligation to blot out the memory of Amalek. For Am Yisrael, Amalek is the nation who preys upon the weak, who acts without justice, who hates without reason. Chazal even teach us that if Amalek were to adopt any principle moral ethics, they would cease being Amalek, proving for us that Amalek is the nation that lacks morality. They are the opposite of what we as a nation aim to be and sustain. Namely, a nation which respects and has compassion for the elderly, the weak and the needy. A people striving for fairness. And a nation united in purpose in our fundamental belief of God in his omniscience and omnipotence.
Parshat Parah, which takes place on the Shabbat following Purim, marks the beginning of our formal preparation for Pesach. This reading from Bamidbar discusses the purification of the nation through a red heifer, the parah adumah, from the ritual impurity which comes from contact with the dead. In what seems to be a contradiction, the person who performs this ritual becomes temporarily impure in the process of purifying the other. It is this individual’s sacrifice which enables every member of the entire nation to come to the Beit HaMikdash Tahor, and offer the korban Pesach. The people are once again able to relive the redemption experience and reclaim their nationhood with the Karban Pesach.
Parshat HaChodesh, taken from Shmot, Parshat Bo, discusses the first mitzvah given to the nation which was to set the months of the year and establish the Hebrew calendar. This arrangement endeavors to allow the holidays to occur in their proper time. Here, Hashem enters into a partnership with us, empowering his people to set the calendar and develop this unified voice to determine when the chaggim, will occur. We establish Nissan, the first month of the year - The month when the creation of the nation begins with Yitziyat Mitzraim.
The Arbah Parshiyot serve to highlight the values of chesed, yirat Shamayim, commitment to halakha and dedication to the nation coming together united in purpose and belief.
In fact, this time starting with the Arbah Parshiyot through Pesach is often referred to as Bein Geula l’Geula, the time between redemption and redemption.
But, what does that mean? Wouldn’t you think it should be galut to geula? Trying to recover from the terror of exile under Babylonian and then Persian rule and trying to find our way back to Israel?
The Gemara in Megilla 6b helps us with this difficulty. The Gemara raises a question: When there is an established leap year in the Hebrew calendar and the extra month of Adar Bet is added, when should we fulfill the various obligations of Purim and when should we read the Arbah Parshiyot? – In Adar Aleph or Adar Bet?
There are varying opinions, but I will present the Gemara’s two opposing opinions. One, Rav Eliezer bar Rav Yose says we observe Purim and all its obligations, along with the Arbah Parshiyot in the first month, Adar Aleph. However, Rav Shimon ben Gamliel opines that every observance must be executed during the second month of Adar.
The Gemara understands one reason for this disagreement is that according to Rav Eliezer bar Rav Yose, he is interested in the concept of “Ain Maavirin al Hamitzvot” – we don’t pass up the opportunity to do mitzvot. When the month of Sh’vat passes and we immediately go into Adar, we should not miss out on the chance to perform mitzvot on the very first month.
However, Rav Shimon ben Gamliel reasons that there is a concept of simuch geula l’geula. That there is an important message linking the redemption commemorated in Adar to the redemption that we observe in Nissan.
Where we see this is in the “kimu v’kiblu” phrase in Megillat Esther. Thekimu v’kiblu, statement unconditionally expresses our commitment to Hashem’s Torah and dedication to our people, commemorated on Purim - this is the first step in redemption. Then, with our people and commitment to Torah and mitzvot in tact, we are able, to embark on the next stage of redemption. We proceed to the next phase of geula, the ultimate geula of the nation - forging ahead as a cohesive unit and dedicated to the observance of the Torah in Eretz Israel.
This time of year is therefore viewed as the quintessential time for members of community to recommit to each other, to strengthen our sense of purpose and to work as a community to express our values through action.
When a kehilah unites, they facilitate the final geula that we yearn for and look forward to, particularly during these months. May Hashem grant us the strength to achieve our goals and overcome obstacles that may challenge us to contribute what we can, to bring the ultimate geula we hope for on Pesach.