1. Several times during the year we add a special Maftir section to the regular Shabbos Torah reading, we suspend the regular Haftorah and we substitute a special Haftorah. This Shabbos is one of the ‘Four Shabbosim’ and it is known as ‘Shabbos Parshas Parah.’

This year Parshas Parah falls on the Shabbos when we read Ki Sisa. As such there is a connection between the portion of Ki Sisa and the special Maftir of Parah, since the first section of Ki Sisa speaks of the half-Shekel donation and is read as the additional reading on ‘Shabbos Shekalim,’ which is also one of the ‘Four Shabbosim.’ What is the significance of this connection, and what can we glean from this practice which will illuminate and inspire the personal Divine service of every Jew?

At first glance the themes of Shekalim and Parah could not be more different. Shekalim is connected to Purim and signifies that G‑d nullified the ‘shekels’ of Haman because of the half-Shekels of the Jewish people.

Parah is connected to Pesach to remind the people to purify themselves so that they will be able to sacrifice the Paschal lamb in spiritual purity.

What common theme unites these two portions of Parah and Shekalim and what significance do we ascertain when they are read on the same Shabbos?

Actually there is a strong common theme to Purim and Pesach which is also expressed in the association between the special portions of the Torah which are read in preparation for Purim and Pesach. Essentially, Purim and Pesach are both associated with redemption, as the Gemara (Megillah 6b) states:

Bring one period of redemption close to another period of redemption — Purim to Pesach. (Rashi, loc. cit.)

In each, the salvation stressed Jewish unity despite the differences that existed. On Purim: ‘...young and old, children and women in a single day.’ On Pesach: ‘young and old alike...with our sons and our daughters.’ (Shmos 10:9) Similarly, in the portion of Parah and Shekalim we will find the emphasis on Jewish unity as a preparation for unity in salvation.

There is a primary connection between Parah Adumah — the Red Heifer, and the Shekalim — the half-Shekel tax. Both are related to the sin of the Golden Calf. The Midrash explains that the yearly half-Shekel tax brings expiation for the sin of the Golden Calf.

Rashi also says that the Red Heifer, too, brings atonement:

A red cow — (Why this rite was performed with a cow may be exemplified by) a parable. (It may be compared) to (the case of) a handmaid’s child that defiled the king’s palace. They said: ‘Let the mother come and clean up....’ Similarly here, (since they became defiled by a calf) let its mother (a cow) come and atone for the calf. (Rashi, Bamidbar 19:22)

The sin of the Golden Calf affected everyone to the point that the Zohar tells us that when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf the impurity (of the serpent) returned to them — which was originally caused by the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. This included also the punishment of death that affects everyone. Consequently, to repair the damage we must invoke action which unites all the Jewish people: a) in the giving of the half-Shekel and b) in the purification of the Red Heifer.

A — In the portion of Shekalim we find a rare expression:

The rich may not give more, and the poor may not give less than this half-Shekel. (Shmos 30:15)

Normally, mitzvos show no favoritism, everyone puts on Tefillin that contains four chapters of the Torah; rich and poor alike. Here the Torah makes a point of specifically commanding us not to allow any fluctuation in the head tax. We do not find such an expression in any other case.

There are two aspects to the half-Shekel tax: A — the foundation-bases of the Mishkan were made of the silver collected from the half-Shekel; and B — the daily communal sacrifices were purchased with the funds so collected.

In both of these cases one might think that perhaps there could be room for the rich to increase and the poor to decrease their donations. After all, the foundation-bases were in fact part of the Mishkan, why should they be different from all the other items solicited from the people in a voluntary manner?

In the case of sacrifices this point stands out perhaps even more strongly because of the broad rule that if a rich man offers the sacrifice prescribed for a poor individual he does not fulfill his obligation.

Furthermore, since each offering carries the characteristics of a donation, every sacrifice must represent the true good-heartedness and generosity of the people. If so, we should allow the rich to give more for the communal sacrifices.

The whole existence of charity depends on the give and take between rich and poor. As the Midrash (Tanchuma) relates that Dovid HaMelech asked G‑d to equalize the balance between rich and poor — to which the Holy One, Blessed be He, responded: If everyone will be rich or poor who will bestow kindness on the other. Thus, the differences between the rich and the poor create the opportunities for charity. So, why not give each the opportunity to donate on his level?

Despite this rationale the Torah tells us that in the case of the half-Shekel there is a set amount to be given and no room for individual munificence.

It was this unity and unanimity which formed the foundation bases and laid the basis for the entire Mishkan.

B — The Taharah provided by the Red Heifer removed a person from the state of Tumah caused by contact with a corpse. This ‘heaviest’ level of Tumah is tied to the phenomenon of death in the world which came about as a result of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. At that time death was decreed on the world even for those people who have no association with sin. As the Gemara teaches: ‘Four died through the serpent’s machinations.’ (Shabbos 55b)

We see then that there is a real difference between one who in his lifetime has sinned and therefore has a connection with death, and one who has never sinned and would therefore not be subject to death. These are truly diametrically opposite states — yet in practical terms when it comes to death we are all equal — even those who should not die for their own actions expire, for death has been decreed on mankind ‘because of the serpents machinations.’

So, despite the many levels of Tumah and Taharah, the Red Heifer purified the Tumah of death and in that sense it deals with a unifying aspect of the Jewish people.

If we turn our attention for a moment to the Paschal sacrifice we will once again find an aspect of Jewish unity, and it is in fact concerning the Paschal offering that we are commanded to purify ourselves with the water and ashes of the Red Heifer; so as to partake of the Paschal offering in a state of Taharah.

In what manner is this unity expressed?

A — While the Korban Pesach (Paschal Sacrifice) is basically an offering of an individual, it is nevertheless, simultaneously, also called a community Korban because it must be offered by a group of pilgrims. It is consequently considered ‘a personal Korban similar to a community Korban.’

B — The Paschal offering is sacrificed on behalf of all the people who subscribed to it, including small children. Young and old are unified by it.

C — The minimum amount to be eaten in order to fulfill the obligation of Korban Pesach is one kezayis (approx. 1 oz.). Although different people may consider different amounts of food satisfying, the rule is set at one kezayis — this unifies all Jews, old and young, in the amount of the Korban they will eat.

Here the connection between Parah and Shekalim surfaces — that despite the different strata among the Jewish people all Jews can unite and the unity will express itself especially in relation to the redemption of Purim and Pesach.

What lesson do we learn from this in our personal Divine service, relative to the theme of Jewish unity?

Jewish unity allows and condones the continued existence of individuality and personal differences. We are nevertheless united because we all stand united before G‑d.

In practice this unity is expressed by carrying out the mission of the Previous Rebbe in the work of spreading Torah and Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings of Chassidus to the outside. This role of spreading Yiddishkeit to the outside is a classic example of inherent disparity. After all, the one who teaches and the one who is ‘outside’ are worlds apart; at opposite ends of the spectrum. The one who is outside is far from the ‘living waters’ of Torah, while the one who must spread the fountains is in possession of the ‘fountains’ — plural! Not only is he close to the source, but they are also in fact considered as his personal domain just as Torah is attributed to one who studies it diligently. Clearly, the distance between the ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ is substantial and real.

And yet, through the Divine service of spreading the fountains of Chassidus a unity is formed, for the wellsprings go outside, and even the most profound aspects of the esoteric teachings are revealed and unified (not only the fundamental levels of simple faith); and even those areas (of esoteric philosophy) which invariably entail many details and differences all come together in true unity in order to illuminate the ‘outside.’ And since one must properly evaluate the ability of those who are ‘outside’ to receive the fountains, it follows that the wellsprings will adapt themselves to the conditions outside and bring the basic aleph-beis of Yiddishkeit to them. Consequently, while the work of spreading Yiddishkeit accentuates the vast differences among the Jewish people, at the same time it engenders real unity.

Considering the Parah Adumah we will find a basic similarity to this theme, for the Parah Adumah had to be burned ‘outside’ the Jewish camp and at the time of burning the Kohen had to see the inside of the Tabernacle — hence there was a fundamental association between the inside and the ‘outside.’

Consider too that the portion of Shekalim (at the beginning of Ki Sisa) precedes Parah (read at the end) — this indicates that there must be an initial act of unity — two Jews together bring a Shekel — and then the more profound, essential unity will follow.

The unity that we build by spreading the wellsprings of Torah and Yiddishkeit will usher in the ultimate unity that will be brought by the true redemption of Mashiach. May it be in a manner of ‘bringing close the redemption to the redemption,’ so that we will celebrate Pesach in our Holy Land — the chosen land, in Yerushalayim, the Holy City, on the Holy Mount, in the Bais HaMikdash and there we will partake of the sacrificial offerings. Prior to that we will all be purified by the tenth Red Heifer which will be sacrificed by Mashiach and the purifying waters will be sprinkled on us all — speedily and truly in our days.

* * *

2. The central theme of this week’s Torah portion is epitomized by its name — Sisa:

When you take a census of the Israelites (lit: When you lift the head...). (Shmos 30:12)

The word ‘Sisa’ connotes uplifting and raising, thus the Torah tells us to raise the ‘heads’ of the Jewish people and thereby cause them to be uplifted.

The ‘head,’ of course, refers to the intellect and understanding of the mind. When the intellect is raised it automatically causes an elevation in the attributes of the person, for ‘the mind controls the heart,’ and this in turn effects an uplifting also in the resultant action — which is of the essence.

Even a small child can grasp this concept, for although the child may not comprehend the principle of ‘mind over emotions,’ he does recognize a developmental change in his own desires and caprices as he becomes more mature, and as he learns more. The little boy remembers his fancies when his father first began to teach him words of Torah, and then when he had his first haircut, and when he became five years old and started learning Chumash.

Similarly, the little girl perceives these changes — children realize that as they become older and wiser their emotional desires also develop.

It is therefore elementary that it is necessary to increase the study of Torah quantitatively, as a result of which there will come about that uplifting of the ‘head’ followed by the whole body, and the daily action of the individual will be modified and improved; Torah assures us that we will achieve our goal.

Having brought the small children to understand this concept we will find that they will influence the adults.

Concerning the ‘latter days,’ at the last stages of the diaspora, the prophet tells us:

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children’: ‘through the children.’ (Malachi, 3:24; Rashi, loc. cit.)

When a father trains his child to recite the morning blessings which include the Mishnaic dictum: ‘and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all,’ (Siddur), it will be incumbent upon the father-educator to live up to his own teaching. If not, the child will be troubled by his father’s inconsistent conduct. How can it be that during the day his father is involved in all the good practices mentioned in the Mishnah: ‘leaving the crops of the edge of the field for the poor...deeds of kindness...bring peace between husband and wife...’ but does not devote the necessary time for Torah study equal to the time spent on all the other good deeds? Even the child knows that you cannot fulfill your requirement by just reciting this Mishnah!

Thus, in addition to the basic requirement for set times to study Torah daily, it is also necessary as an aspect of training for the children — for whom no alibis or excuses will suffice. Moreover, when the child sees how the father honors his responsibilities to G‑d he will consequently show greater respect for his father (and vice versa).

During the week of Sisa the child comes up with a flood of questions: How is a Jew uplifted? In what way can we rise one day beyond the previous day. The only answer is for the child to see a real increase and improvement in the study habits of his father. This concept applies every year in the week of Sisa and this year when the first day of the week was Purim, when the Jews ‘reinstated what they had accepted earlier’ it adds a new dimension and new strength to an old principle.

Here we may introduce another point that during the galus, when we are spread out among the nations of the world, we must stand staunchly as ‘the one nation’ whose ‘religious laws are different from other peoples.’

From that position we must inspire and influence the nations of the world to respect and observe the Seven Noachide Laws.

Every additional moment we find ourselves in exile should be utilized to bring more goodness and holiness into the world. As we are told in the Megillah that:

Many of the people of the land became Jews because the fear of the Jews fell upon them. (Esther 8:17)

The ‘fear of the Jews’ means He whom the Jews feared — the Holy One, Blessed be He. This should ultimately be the real motivation for the acceptance of the Seven Noachide Principles, as laws ordained by the Creator, for all mankind. Thus we realize the full expression of the theme of ‘lift up the head.’

But what about one whose past is filled with undesirable events and actions, can such a person also come along and be uplifted? The answer is clear and precisely given in the following verses: ‘to atone for your lives.’ (ibid.:15) If anything, this process of uplifting was specifically associated with forgiveness for sin — even for the serious crime of the Golden Calf!

And the atonement is so complete that it reaccepts the individual to be part of the people who together built the Tabernacle by providing the silver bases, and then the daily sacrifices, both of which came from the uniform half-Shekel tax.

On a more profound plane we may say that the ultimate role and purpose of all undesirable things is really to ultimately bring about a ‘lifting of the head.’

Everything was created for G‑d’s honor, even the existence of evil. How so? All material existence serves man and assists him to rise to a loftier spiritual state — his purpose of existence — for the Holy One, Blessed be He, desired to have an abode in the lower worlds, which are filled with kelipos and contrary forces.

How does the process work?

A) Testing. ‘For the Eternal your L‑rd is testing (menaseh) you.’ (Devarim 13:4) This word menaseh — testing — also means uplifted, for when one withstands the test he rises to an immeasurable height, as we learn from the parable of the harlot and the prince, explained in Zohar. (II 16a)

B) Repentance (if one should fail the test). Through repentance one attains an even higher plateau: ‘The righteous cannot stand in the place where penitents stand.’ (Berachos 34b)

In both cases the ascent is accomplished by subduing the evil prompter (Yetzer Hora).

It thus follows that the higher state is reached by means of (subjugating) the undesirable forces. Thus, the ultimate goal of the negative forces is also to ‘help’ raise the head of the Jewish people. And the process of Teshuvah also applies to the completely righteous. (see Likkutei Torah 92b)

May our Divine service in this area of ‘raising the heads...to atone for you...’ merit us the true and complete redemption. For teshuvah nullifies the cause of exile and automatically brings salvation.

Then the Jewish people including the righteous will truly rise to the highest possible station. So may it be with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach — speedily and truly in our days.

* * *

3. In describing the system used for the census-taking the Torah tells us:

Every man from 20 years old and above shall be included in this census and give this offering to G‑d. (Shmos 30:14)

To this Rashi comments:

Scripture teaches you here that anyone less that 20 years of age does not go forth to the host (army) nor is he to be counted among the ‘men.’ (Rashi, loc. cit.)

The question which immediately came to mind and was raised is: who mentioned ‘army’ that Rashi introduces it into the meaning of the verse? There is also a troubling klotz kashe on this Rashi, not yet thought of.

A — Why does Rashi phrase his statement in the negative voice (‘less than 20...does not go...’) It would seem more appropriate for Rashi to speak in a positive voice: ‘from the age of 20 one does go.’ Especially since the Levi’im did not start their service in the Mishkan until the age of 25, why should Rashi use an expression which mainly emphasizes that men younger than 20 were not included?

B — What is Rashi’s intention with the term ‘counted among the men,’ what characteristic must one possess to be included ‘among the men,’ only at age 20?

In order to answer these questions we must recognize that there is a problem with the order of the verses in this chapter which bears sorting out.

At first glance we perceive the following sequence to the rules outlined at the beginning of Ki Sisa:

A — The commandment to give: ‘Then they shall give.... This they shall give.’ (vs. 12-13)

B — Who must give: ‘every one that passes in the counting.’ (vs. 13)

C — How much is to be given: ‘half a shekel.’ (Ibid.)

D — Once again, who must give: ‘Everyone that passes in the counting from 20 years and above shall give an offering to the Eternal.’ (vs. 14)

E — Once again, the act of giving: ‘The rich may not give more and the poor may not give less....’ (vs. 15)

All of this seemingly disorganized dialogue could have been condensed and included in a simple, orderly sentence: ‘This shall they give, everyone who passes the counting, from 20 years of age and above, a half-shekel...the rich may not give more....’

Rashi actually tackles this problem by interspersing his commentary between the words of the text. He does this by citing words from the text, adding his comments and then quoting more words of the text and thereby he shows us how the words fit in properly to the sequence. When Rashi finishes his restructuring of the text and we reread the whole story in the context of Rashi we see that everything makes sense, including the order of the words. (Sometimes the typesetters did not realize that Rashi was citing the text when he included certain key words in his commentary.)

Rashi should be understood as follows:

A: The safe system of census taking: (vs. 12) ‘Ki Sisa — when you wish to know how many there are — do not take their census by their polls (head count) but each one shall give a half-shekel...count these and ascertain their number.’

B — How the actual count was taken: (vs. 13) ‘This shall they give — G‑d showed Moshe a kind of fiery coin which weighed a half shekel and said... ‘Like this shall they give.’ Everyone that passes the counting — it is the practice...to make them pass one after the other.’ This Rashi does not refer to the rule of who is counted rather to the system of how the count is done, by passing the people by some table or booth.

C — How much should each person give? Half a shekel...by the sanctuary standard (holy Shekel)...as an offering to G‑d. Here Rashi explains the correct weight and measure of the half-Shekel and concludes with the words from the verse as ‘an offering to G‑d!’

D — Now, for the first time, the Torah informs us who will be counted. (vs. 14) ‘Everyone who passed the counting, from 20 years old and above shall (be counted to) give this offering to G‑d.

E — The Torah then goes on to say that the rich may not add, nor the poor subtract from this amount.

It is here that Rashi included the commentary that ‘one who is under 20 is not counted for the army.’ Why mention military service — simple. Rashi must tell us what the count was actually for. Not just a plain census, but one that will count able-bodied men for the army.

If so, there will be a few 20 year olds who will not be eligible for military service, so Rashi adds another factor which helped Moshe filter out the ineligible ones: ‘counted among the men.’

The five-year-old Chumash student remembers that back in Beshallach when the Jewish people had to face Amalek in battle, Yehoshua was told to choose ‘men.’ There Rashi explained:

Brave men and men who fear sin so that their merit may stand them in good stead. Another explanation: choose us men who know how to make witchcraft have no effect (because the sons of Amalek were wizards). (Rashi, Shmos 17:9)

So here the five-year-old Chumash student understands that this census counted only those people who had the necessary qualifications, and in fact, although a 13 year old may be considered a ‘man’ in certain cases — here he had to wait till the age of 20 to be ‘counted among the men.’ Rashi also tells us that it is from this verse that we actually learn that a man between the age of 13 and 20 was not accepted to be counted for military service.

* * *

In Ki Sisa we learn of the formulation of the ketores, the fragrant incense that was burned on the inner altar. The Torah tells us:

You must take the finest fragrances, wild (distilled) myrrh (musk). (Shmos 30:23)

Here the question was raised why Rashi leaves the meaning of Mor Deror (wild myrrh) to us, while at the same time he goes on to explain ‘fragrant cinnamon’, ‘calamus spice’ and ‘cassia.’

The question is all the more pressing when we remember that there are differing opinions about the identity of Mor Deror. The Ramban holds it is myrrh, a fragrant gum resin-extract and from certain trees and shrubs, while the Eben Ezra holds it is the odoriferous musk extracted from an animal source.

The Rambam and Raavad also discuss the halachic implications, whether it is of animal (non-kosher) or vegetable extraction. [The Alter Rebbe in Torah Or, in a rare halachic excursion, explains that although its fragrance was permitted, it may still not be eaten.]

How can it be that in such a controversial subject Rashi chooses to remain silent?

* * *

In the past we have had occasion to state that Rashi wrote his commentary on Torah for the five-year-old Chumash student who is knowledgeable in the Holy Tongue. For this reason it is not necessary for Rashi to translate common words of Tenach (only rare words). Consequently, it is clear that Rashi must not explain Mor Deror, for the five-year-old Chumash student will be able to figure out the meaning on his own.

Mor is a type of fragrant spice (myrrh) known by the Hebrew word Mor. In Megillas Esther we find ‘six months with oil of myrrh’ (Shemen HaMor) and several other examples in Tenach. So Rashi has no reason to explain it.

[Although in Halachah there may be a question concerning the use of the animal-based Mur — musk, the simple meaning of Mor refers to the tree-sap myrrh].

The word Deror is really the words Dar — to live — with a double ‘resh’ for emphasis — it is the myrrh which grows and lives all over (wild myrrh).

There is another aspect to the meaning of Deror — which we find in the case of the liberty of Yovel, the Jubilee year. There Rashi emphasizes that Deror means the right to live wherever one wishes. On the subject of Yovel Rashi must make that point since we might think that the liberty of Yovel applies only to work — therefore Rashi stresses that the right of free movement is a basic human right and liberty.

May we merit that speedily we will see the fulfillment of: ‘you shall declare emancipation all over the world’ (Vayikra 25:10) complete and true salvation.

So long as Jews are in exile they are not at home, but in a state of ‘children who have been exiled from their father’s table,’ and so they cry out: ‘How long!’ Dovid HaMelech expressed it thusly:

Even the bird has found a home and the wild bird a nest. (Tehillim 84:4)

G‑d has mercy on all His creations and Divine Providence will see to it that the small bird will find a home. It will have to search for it, but it will find a real, permanent house. The migratory bird, who moves from place to place, will also be provided for by the Holy One, Blessed be He, that even in a temporary stopover it will find a place to rest.

And yet, the only child of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, has no home or nest — not even a temporary home! The Jewish people must be buffeted from place to place in the diaspora, in this lowly dark world!

Hence the question and the cry, ‘How long — till when must the only child of the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, wander in the exile?’

The only answer: ‘I have found My servant Dovid’ and, ‘in all their affliction it is also painful to G‑d.’ (Yeshayahu 63:9) As a result of which the Jewish people who are compared to a bird will find a true house — the Bais HaMikdash. May it come speedily in our days — through the clouds of heaven which will form a temporary nest and then bring all the Jews to the permanent abode, the future Temple, which is built and ready, waiting to be revealed from Heaven.

* * *

While on the subject of myrrh we should note a connection to the just passed holiday of Purim. The Gemara tells us in Chullin:

Where is Mordechai indicated in the Torah? In the verse, ‘wild myrrh’ which the Targum renders as Mira Dakia (which sounds like ‘Mordechai’). (Chullin 139b)

Thus the verse Mor Deror is the Scriptural source for all the aspects of Mordechai, to which are bound all aspects of Purim and the Megillah. The story of Purim itself includes the affirmation of all areas of Jewish life and observance, it is thus appropriate now to speak of increased inspiration and involvement in all areas of encouraging others to Torah and mitzvos. At this time we should especially emphasize mivtza Pesach. This includes studying the laws of Pesach and providing Ma’os Chittim for the needy.

It is most appropriate to speak of this on the Shabbos after Purim, and we pray that it will bring the complete redemption. To speed things up, it is important to increase Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity through appropriate gatherings; great is charity for it brings the redemption closer.