There a few premises that need to be assumed before we can get into a deeper discussion and understanding of Parshas Hachodesh. One: The four parshiyos that we read in Adar are not read by happenstance and are not coincidentally found one after another. Rather, they represent a very specific, ordered process, taking us from somewhat of an external involvement (Shekalim, a monetary donation) to “sur merah” (remove the evil — Zachor) to “aseh tov” (Parah — achieving purity and atonement) to our redemption (Hachodesh). Two: This is a process incumbent upon every individual during this period, not merely a nice topic to talk about or read from the Torah. Just as we are to experience the geulah on Pesach (and Matan Torah on Shavuos, and Hashem’s protection on Sukkos), we also should encounter this process in our own lives, in preparation for Zman Cheiruseinu.
So, what is the message of Parshas Parah? I say Parshas Parah, because that is quite obviously the makeh b’patish (the finishing touch) before we can appreciate the geulah. Proof positive of this is a strange Yerushalmi, which talks about fitting the four parshiyos into a calender which always has more than four Shabbosos between the Shabbos before (or the Shabbos of) Rosh Chodesh Adar and the Shabbos before (or the Shabbos of) Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Clearly there has to be a “break.” There are different configurations for the different calenders of different years; but there is one constant: there is to be no break between Parshas Parah and Parshas Chodesh. And, the Yerushalmi continues, if you have trouble remembering this rule, we have a natural reminder: one may drink wine at the Pesach Seder between some of the four kosos, but NOT between the third and the fourth; so, too, no break between the third and fourth of the parshiyos. Now, the four kosos also represent a process leading up to the geulah: “And I will take you out from under the oppression of Mitzrayim, and I will save you from servitude, and I will redeem you [and finally], and I will take you unto Me as a Nation.” The first three are prelude to the fourth, and are essentially meaningless without it. So, too, there is no break between Parah, its message, and the essentiality of it leading to our redemption as the Am Hashem. But what is that message? And what is the significance of it vis-à-vis Parshas Hachodesh, being read this week?
The Parah Adumah purifies a person from tumas meis, a most severe form of tumah. But what is tumah — impurity? In what way is sin symbolized by impurity? And as long as we do not have the means of bringing the korban Pesach, is the taharah we learn about as we read Parshas Parah relevant to us?
Kuzari points out that in the physical world, the higher the level of existence, the more degrading and repulsive is its spoilage and breakdown. The well-known four levels are inanimate objects (domem); plant life (tzome’ach); living creatures (chai); and the human being (medaber), the repository of intelligence, abstract thinking, and free will. Hardly anyone thinks twice about it when a rock breaks; a rotten tomato bothers you, but you quickly throw it out and easily deal with it. A carcass of a living creature is immeasurably more repulsive, and the dead body of a person, even more so.
The same is true in spirituality. Every item which exists in this universe exists due to its connection to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, which is its spiritual potential in helping to carry out Hashem’s will in this world. When the potential for spirituality is lost or flawed, tumah — that loss of spiritual potential — flows into the void. That is why the greatest tumah is a dead person — clearly the greatest loss of the greatest potential. And just as Kuzari points out that in the physical, the degree of repulsiveness at spoilage is proportional to its level of existence, so too in ruchniyus, the degree of tumah flowing into the void created by the loss of the spiritual’s potential is commensurate with the level of that potential. In descending order, a person (and the person’s death), an animal, a plant, and finally, an inert object.
Ramchal explains why this is so: Before the sin of Adam Harishon , when the world was as it was supposed to be, the physical served the spiritual, providing the means for the spiritual to function in this physical world. And then Adam sinned! The physical was now unmoored from its spiritual underpinnings. The physical had its own agenda; it could exist, do, achieve outside the realm of the spiritual. THAT is why the punishment of death was the aftermath of Adam’s sin. Until then, death could not overtake the body, as it was a tool for the spiritual, and would not be affected by physical temporality. Once it was unanchored, it became subject to the shortcomings of the physical; the lungs tire, the heart gives out, the muscles atrophy, the digestive system stops working properly… and so on. And now, with the advent of death, comes the advent of tumah — tumas meis, and all its various forms, where the loss of spiritual potential has these tumah ramifications.
Before we can ascend the ladder of geulah, before we can undergo the freedom to become avdei Hashem, we must rid ourselves of our personal agendas, of our preoccupation with what we want. We must experience a Para Adumah process: burning the symbol of sinful desire (eigel = parah) reducing it to nothing (not just killing it, but burning it); in addition, ashes are the symbol of total bitul to the Ribbono Shel Olom (as Avraham Avinu stated, “And I am naught but dust and ashes,” whereupon he was awarded, Chazal tell us, the mitzvah of the ashes of the Parah Adumah!); also, the burning ceremony must include a piece of cedar tree and hyssop thrown into the bonfire, symbolizing the great, high, and mighty becoming submissive.
When we internalize the Parah Adumah lesson, which comes to purify from tumas meis, to rectify the spiritual loss created by Adam’s sin, we cannot pause between week three and week four; we cannot allow the purification process to go by without immediately declaring our readiness for the redemption process, becoming the Am Hashem, gaining the ability to control our own lives in the service of Hashem, the true meaning of Parshas Hachodesh.