Shabbat Vayakhel-Pekudei/Parah

Purim has passed, and we’ve had the wine-tasting event. That must mean that Pesah is around the corner. So how are your preparations coming along?

Imagine if you had to make the following part of your Pesah prep: you’ve been to a cemetery recently, and you want to be sure that you’re entering the festival in a proper ritual state of purity. So you seek out the kohen, who instructs you to participate in an elaborate ceremony involving the ashes of a red heifer. You’re going to get sprinkled with ashes, but if you subject yourself to this indignity, you’ll be eligible to eat the Pesah sacrifice. 

This Shabbat, we read a special maftir and haftarah that recall this ancient ritual. The latter, from the prophecies of Ezekiel, uses the language of purification as the symbol of hope for the Babylonian exiles. “I will sprinkle pure water upon you and you shall be pure; I will purify you from all your impurities and from all your fetishes. And I will give you a new heart…” (Ezekiel 36:25-26a).

From a technical perspective, I understand the need for ritual purification in advance of Pesah. But what exactly is the need for a new heart? This isn’t Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur; what does spiritual renewal have to do with Pesah? Consider this brief passage from the Talmud:

“Rabbi Alexandri used to offer the following prayer upon finishing the ‘Amidah: Master of the Universe–You know that it is our desire to do Your will. What stands in our way? It is the leaven that is in the dough, and the oppression of the nations. May it be Your will that You save us from them so th
at we can again serve You with a full heart” (Bavli Berakhot 17a).

On Shabbat morning, we’ll look more carefully at Rabbi Alexandri’s prayer. What does leaven–hametz–have to do with prayer, and how can this image transform our Pesah preparations?

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wise