Leading into the month of Nissan, we read a series of four Torah portions (maftir) that have unique qualities. The first, called parshat Parah, mentions the purification process that takes place with the ashes of the red heifer. That is followed by parshat hachodesh, when we read of the sanctification of the new moon that takes place as we enter the month of Nissan.  The sages said that we must purify ourselves in order to be ready for the month of Nissan; hence the maftir of Parah precedes that of Hachodesh.

However, looking at the matter historically, we find that they actually occurred in the opposite order: first, the Jews sanctified the month of Nissan, and then they underwent the purification process of the red heifer.  So, why do we read them in the opposite order?  The Jerusalem Talmud (Megila 3:5) suggests that the reason is that the red heifer provides “purification for all Jews.”  That is, those Jews who entered Jerusalem to offer the Pascal offering needed to undergo purification.  However, that was not all Jews, but only those who owned land were obligated to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and offer the Pascal lamb.  Moreover, if the majority of Jews of Israel were impure (a plausible scenario, since this form of impurity is transmitted via air), so it was not necessary to undergo purification at all.

When we look at the Rambam on the Red Heifer (Sefer Hamitzvot number 113), he says the following: “The commandment is to do the red heifer, so that its ashes will be ready at all times for whomever needs them in order to purify themselves from contamination of the dead.”  Interestingly, the Rambam does not place emphasis on the purification process.  Instead, he emphasizes that the ashes must be “ready” – at all times present – for whomever needs them.  The Rambam mentions the purification but places emphasis on the availability of the ashes over all else.

All mitzvoth exist first and foremost in the spiritual worlds, and only afterward to they descend to express themselves in our physical world.  Since the ashes of the red heifer were always available down here, it means that the process of purification exists on a spiritual level, constantly available Above.  That process is the process of teshiva, or return to God, which is always available to all of us.  That the ashes are always available is to teach us that we can always do teshuva – we can always find our way back to God.  One way we can see that is in where the person stood as he received the ashes of the red heifer during the purification process – he stood just outside the Temple compound, but within sight of the inner sanctum of the Temple.  That is, he was unable to enter until he purified himself, but nevertheless the process took place in a manner to indicate that he was within reach, within eyesight of holiness and could always therefore return.

It is not only Jews that have sinned, but all Jews who need the purification of the red heifer.  All of us, on our own level, have sinned, so it is important that we know that the doors to teshuva are open to us at all times.  And that is why we read parshat Parah before parshat Hachodesh – to remind us that before we can ascend to a new level, we need to do teshuva.

For a longer and more detailed version, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 16, page 417-423

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: