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Dvar Torah by Sophie Rapoport

Parashat Parah, the third of four special Parshiot read between Pesach and Purim, explains the complex rituals that enable Bnei Yisrael to become ritually purified after contact with death. At first glance, it seems to function as a lead-in to Pesach. In order for Israelites to fully participate in the sacrificial reliving of Yetziat Mitzraim, they must purify themselves.

However, a Braita brought in Megillah 30a rules that Parashat Parah should be read on the Shabbat immediately following Purim. This indicates a deep connection between Purim and Parashat Parah, and also suggests that Purim is part of the spiritual preparation for Pesach, rather than just a natural reminder to begin Pesach cleaning.

One way of understanding this connection emerges from Rava's statement in Shabbat 88a: “[...] the Jews accepted the Torah in the time of Ahashverosh, as it is written 'The Jews accepted and received' (Esther 9:27) that is, they accepted that which they had received previously (i.e. at Sinai).” This Midrash situates Purim not as part of the preparation for the Korban Pesach, but as a fulfillment of the Exodus narrative.

But that is not where the story ends. Following Purim, Parashat Parah evokes the somber aura of the Yamim Noraim. Perhaps it is meant as a sobering reminder that victory over Haman was not without consequence. Parashat Parah (and the rest of the four Parshiot) also leads up to Rosh Chodesh Nisan – the day on which the Mishkan was dedicated. God has strict demands for the sacrificial structures in the Mishkan. The altar cannot be built with tools of war (Shemot 20:25). While we celebrate military victory with great revelry and joy on Purim, Parashat Parah cleanses us in its aftermath.

And just before dedicating the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, we begin to re-tell the Pesach story in Parashat HaChodesh. God has barely achieved His stated goal of bringing Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt in order to dwell among them (Shemot 29:46), when we return to slavery in Egypt. This creates the rather ungratifying sense that redemption is never complete. But the framing of the stories of Purim and Pesach by the four Parshiot teaches us that riches and swords may facilitate success and survival, but they can easily become the false gods of glimmering gold and military might.

God demands a 'Mizbeach Adama' where God can 'come to [us] and bless [us]' (Shemot 20:21). We may not build dirt altars with our students, but as R' Chalafta Ish Kfar Chananya learns from this Pasuk (Avot 3:6), God's presence is with those who study Torah. May the Torah of our mouths and those of our students be a source of joy in this month of happiness, and a source of light as we emerge from the darkness of Egypt in the coming month.