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The Four Portions and its Finale

By Rabbi Kalman Topp

This week completes the cycle of four special parshiyot that we add on to our regular Torah reading on Shabbat. Shekalim is the contribution of the half shekel, Zachor is to remember Amalek, Parah discusses the purifying ashes of the red heifer and Hachodesh celebrates the month of Nissan and the laws of Pesach.  Aside from each portion’s specific theme, what is the thematic relationship, if any, between these four parshiyot?

In the Haftorah for Tisha B’av, we read the verses in Yirmiyahu 9:22-23 which declare:

כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, אַל-יִתְהַלֵּל חָכָם בְּחָכְמָתוֹ, וְאַל-יִתְהַלֵּל הַגִּבּוֹר, בִּגְבוּרָתוֹ; אַל-יִתְהַלֵּל עָשִׁיר, בְּעָשְׁרוֹ. כִּי אִם-בְּזֹאת יִתְהַלֵּל הַמִּתְהַלֵּל, הַשְׂכֵּל וְיָדֹעַ אוֹתִי--כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה בָּאָרֶץ:  כִּי-בְאֵלֶּה חָפַצְתִּי, נְאֻם-יְהוָה.

Thus says G-d: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; rather let him that wants to be glorified, be praised with this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am G-d who exercises mercy, justice, and righteousness, in the earth; for in these things I delight, says G-d.

Rav Aharon Soloveitchik zt’l explained that these verses are the key to understanding the thematic thread between the four portions. The first expression- that a wise man should not boast because of his (or her) wisdom- is reflected by the portion of Parah. Even King Solomon, the wisest of human beings, openly expresses his frustration with the incomprehensibility of the red heifer. There is no compelling logical explanation as to why the heifer’s ashes defile the pure and yet purify the defiled. The red heifer reminds us about the limits of our wisdom and that some things we, as mortals, will never understand.

The second expression- that a strong man should not boast because of his physical might- is reflected by the portion of Zachor. Amalek had the qualitative military edge. Yet, they were defeated by the weaker Jewish army because the Jews possessed the power of faith.  

The third expression- that a wealthy person should not boast due to his wealth is symbolized by the portion of shekalim. With the half shekel, there was no distinction between the wealthy and the poor. For the census, the sockets and communal sacrifices- all of which were destinations of the half shekel contribution- all Jews were equal partners and not divided by economic class.

Wisdom, strength and wealth are all, each in their own way, very worthwhile pursuits. Each one however has its limitations and requires a certain sense of perspective. Shekalim, Zachor and Parah make sure that we approach these pursuits properly. The general perspective to keep in mind is that all of these pursuits are not ends but rather means to a goal. That grander goal is to utilize our resources to perform mitzvoth and to develop a strong, healthy relationship with our Creator which is symbolized by the last special portion, Parshat Hachodesh. In the portion of Hachodesh from the book of Exodus, the relationship between the Jewish nation and G-d begins to develop in a significant way through the obligation of mitzvot. In fact, Hachodesh hazeh lachem, sanctifying the new moon, is the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a nation.

Wisdom, strength and wealth are wonderful but if you—and our community- really want praise, as the verse in Yirmiyahu states, let us use those talents and possessions to come to know G-d, to develop a relationship with Him and emulate his ways of mercy, generosity and social justice because in these G-d truly delights.

Shabbat starts Friday: 7:13PM
Shabbat ends Saturday: 8:12PM
Mon, August 19 2019 18 Av 5779