“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
No doubt you’ve heard this saying. It almost sounds like it could be a verse from the Biblical book of Proverbs. It isn’t.
One way we can assure that we do things well is through thorough preparation. There are many ways I have learned this lesson, but none more than watching and listening to my then-teenage son practice pieces for an upcoming piano recital. Preparing to play nearly an hour of classical piano without any music in front of him required extraordinary dedication and concentration. All of us who have worked hard to achieve a goal or complete an accomplishment know the feeling of satisfaction when our efforts bear fruit.
The importance of careful and detailed preparation is on my mind this week, because it is Shabbat Parah. This Sabbath we read not only the weekly parasha, Ki Tissa, but also an additional Torah reading from the Book of Numbers, as well as a special Haftarah reading from the prophet Ezekiel.
The added readings are included on Shabbat Parah to spur us to prepare for the upcoming festival of Pesach (Passover). Just as a chemical reaction may utilize a catalytic agent, so too does Pesach require Shabbat Parah.
Chapter 19, the extra reading from the Book of Numbers describes a ritual purification process that enables a person to cleanse or purify themselves after coming in contact with a human corpse. The details of sacrificing and then burning a reddish or brownish cow without blemish and using the ashes to purify a person stand out as an example, par excellence, of a commandment that defies human comprehension.
Solomon, the wisest of all of the Biblical characters, is supposed to have said that he studied and understood all of God’s teaching, save for this one. (Midrash Rabbah Medieval commentators poetically suggested that the purification process was akin to a lover’s kiss. It cannot be explained, but only experienced.
The Haftarah verses from Ezekiel, Chapter 36, focus on God accepting the people of Israel despite their sins and misdeeds. Speaking to a people who have been cast into exile in ancient Babylon in the 6th century B.C.E., God reassures them that they will be taken back into the Divine Presence and returned to their holy land of Israel. God’s promise is absolutely clear and unambiguous, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
Shabbat Parah is our inspiration to prepare, to ready ourselves for the liberation and redemption that we will experience on Pesach. Merely preparing our homes for Pesach is insufficient. It is our heart and our soul that we must prepare. It is our very being that we must make ready. We do this through intention and consciousness. We do this thoughtfully and thoroughly. We dedicate ourselves so that we might do this well.
Rabbi Eddie Sukol directs The Shul, an independent organization in Pepper Pike that reaches out to individuals and families interested in enlivening their Jewish identity and observance through study, spiritual practice and celebration of life events.