Ki Tissa-Shabbat Parah - Weekly Torah Portion
Another special Shabbat, Shabbat Parah, where we read a Maftir that discusses the ordinance of the red heifer. It details a seemingly odd ritual where a red heifer is burnet into ashes and then add “cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet material”. Water is added and together participate in the purification process of people and objects. For example, “Anyone who touches a dead body, the body of a person who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from Israel. Since the water for impurity was not sprinkled on him, he will be unclean; his uncleanness is still on him.” Sometimes it is necessary to cleanse a tent and then the purifier takes a “hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent, on all the furnishings, on the persons who were there, and on the one who touched the bone or the one who was killed or the one who died naturally, or the grave.”
The Haftarah brings the words of the prophet Ezekiel who refers to the purification process, “I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the lands; and I will bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” The feeling is as if he is referring to our very time. A time in history where Jews from all corners of the world arrive to the State of Israel, sometimes in large numbers, sometimes one-by-one, and rebuild their lives in their unique homeland. It is a home that we read about in the reading from this week’s portion of the Torah, “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to count them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you count them, so that there will be no plague among them when you count them. This is what everyone who is counted shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the Lord. Everyone who is counted, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the Lord. The rich shall not pay more, and the poor shall not pay less, than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves.” Every one gives and everyone is equal.
Nevertheless, something is missing here. Missing are members of the Knesset who attack Jews of another stream and say that they are not equal to themselves, that they have some kind of superiority over others. In our reading though, everyone is there, everybody gives, everyone is equal. The children of Israel are not asked what kind of conversion they have gone through, or if they are careful to fulfill all the rules of Judaism. Rather every one participates, and participates equally. It seems that these rude attackers of the supreme court decision on the conversions issue this week. They have forgotten the over fifteen years long patience of the court towards them, those who are quick to use foul language but have done nothing to help positively solve the conversion issue. They preferred that the court takes a decision because that way they have an opportunity to blame others to that which they are directly responsible for. Finding a creative solution that connects, unites, and connects people does not serve their interest, because they thrive on dispute, controversy, contention and jealousy.
The court did not decide that the orthodox rabbinate has to accept a Jew who passed a non-orthodox conversion, they can do whatever they like. What it did decide was that the Ministry of Interior Affairs, a body that operates under the law of the State of Israel, and only under its laws, must exercise its authority accordingly. The shouting, cursing, and yelling that we hear from those who self-portray themselves as the sole bearers of Judaism should not be given a listening ear because as the process was going on, their heart of stone had no room for those who needed a righteous and well-deserved conversion solution. Paraphrasing on the words of the prophet, they are people having hearts made of stone, and therefore remain displaced, devoid from the basic need of human beings to have compassion towards each other. A person can have heart of flesh even when outside of Israel, but it is unfortunate that hearts of stone exist in the Holly Land. A heart that is stuck in some sort of past rather than leveraging the past to forward the future.
As Reform Jews we might be tempted to disconnect ourselves from Shabbat Parah – we do not wish for these rituals to come back into our lives, certainly not the killing of an innocent animal for the purpose of purification. Nevertheless, it does not mean that we cannot learn from its teachings, the need to purify of that which has stuck to us, that corrupts or damages us in one way or another. This is actually an essential part of our living as Reform Jews. It is not simply enough to point out to those who act in bad faith, or speak badly about us, and surely, we had more than a fair share of that last week. We must take responsibility over Judaism, our Judaism, and never leave it to the control of others, a single, self-proclaimed elite. We need to purify the entire camp from this petrifying line of thinking, that petrifies also the heart. We need to lift our heads up high, speak against those who have bad mouthed us, and speak these words loud and clear. We have been purified from the days where there was one stream of Judaism that fits all, as if there ever was one, a stream that must be appeased. We are hear to work with members of all streams on an equal basis, with many new hearts who see opportunity and partnerships with those who are different.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for Good Health.
Reuven Marko, 5 March 2021, 22 Adar, 5781