1. This week is Shabbos Parah; it is also the Shabbos that follows the holiday of Purim,1 and the twentieth of Adar. Each of these three elements teaches us a different lesson, and their concurrence in one Shabbos results in a fourth lesson. These lessons in turn, are not limited to this year alone, but are also relevant in every other year.

Our sages declare “He who works on Erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos.” Erev Shabbos is not limited only to Friday but refers to the entire week. In this context, the work of a “meritorious day” such as Purim is different from the work of an ordinary weekday. Hence, the “eating” on the Shabbos after Purim produced by such work is also different.2

Just as the preparation for Shabbos on Purim is higher than that of the normal weekday, the manner in which Shabbos elevates Purim is higher than the manner in which it elevates other days. Shabbos adds pleasure3 to all the days of the previous week. Consequently, the Shabbos after Purim, the day when the Jews “carried out what they had previously accepted,” i.e. they dedicated themselves to Torah with new commitment, adds pleasure4 to that service thus elevating this commitment to a high level.

Hence, this Shabbos emphasizes this deeper commitment to Torah. At Mt. Sinai, “G‑d held a mountain over them.” Resultantly, they accepted the Torah reciting “Na’aseh V’Nishmah,” (we will do and we will listen). On Purim, they reached an even higher level of commitment, for then “they carried out” the Torah. This level, in turn, is further elevated and enhanced by the following Shabbos.

Parshas Parah also emphasizes Torah. It begins “this is the decree of the Torah.” On the surface, “this is the decree of the Red Heifer” would be a more appropriate choice of words., However, the Torah uses the former expression because the Red Heifer is a general decree, pertaining to the entire Torah. Hence, the reading of Parshas Parah stresses the importance of Torah.

The above adds to the emphasis on Torah study that prevails throughout this year because it is a Shemittah year, a year that is “a Shabbos unto G‑d.” In Israel, it is forbidden to work the land and the free time which would have been spent in those labors should be spent in the study of Torah.5 As the Seforno declares, “even those who work the land will be aroused to seek G‑d when they rest in this year.”6

The lesson which we can learn from the twentieth of Adar is as follows: Megillas Ta’anis (Ch. 12) relates that on the twentieth of Adar, Choni HaMagel prayed for rain. The Mishnah explains that there was a severe drought and the people came to Choni HaMagel and asked him to pray for rain. He prayed and no rain descended. What did he do? He drew a circle (in the ground), stood within, and declared “Master of the universe... I swear by Your Great Name that I will not move from here until You have mercy on upon Your children.” From this story we see that the twentieth of Adar stresses the quality of, and the need for an emphasis on, prayer. This is connected with the above-mentioned emphasis on Torah study, for the purpose of studying Torah is to bring one to the level of “fear of G‑d,” a level related to prayer. Therefore, even R. Yehudah whose “business was Torah” i.e. he was fully involved in Torah study, would pray once each thirty days. Similarly, R. Shimon bar Yochai, the epitome of Torah study, described his service as “with one knot I am tied with G‑d.” Such a connection is established through prayer. Likewise, the Alter Rebbe writes in Shulchan Aruch that the Chassidim Rishonim would pray for “nine hours a day. They did not worry about neglecting Torah study because they would bind their minds to the Master of all, Blessed be He, in awe, powerful love, and true cleavage until they would transcend their physical existence; and the Mitzvah of true cleavage with awe and love is greater than the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah.”7

The Mitzvah of prayer is intrinsically bound with Shabbos; as the Alter Rebbe writes in the Siddur “the prayer of the Shabbos elevates all the prayers of the whole year.” Just as Shabbos is connected to Torah, as the Talmud declares, “the Torah was given on Shabbos,” it is also related to prayer. Therefore, our sages declared “with difficulty they permitted the study of Torah on Shabbos” for Shabbos should be devoted to prayer.

A practical lesson results from the above: We must increase our study of Torah and our service of prayer. Even though it is after Purim and we are still “slaves of Achashverosh;” and although we are still vulnerable to the impurity that is caused by touching a dead body and is purified by the Red Heifer,8 we can still become fully involved in Torah study and prayer. We must study Torah with diligence and desire, working to understand, grasp, and become one with the Torah we study. Even our “animal soul” must understand it. However, as a preparation to such study, we must develop a connection with G‑d through prayer. This, in turn, enables us to be conscious of the “Giver of Torah” in the midst of our study; then we can come to the level of “fear of G‑d” which is established through prayer. Since we have been given the power to fulfill this service, it is undoubtedly possible for each of us to carry it out. Furthermore, if we do not use these powers, we disturb the entire order of the world. “G‑d did not create anything without a purpose.” He has given us these powers and they must be used.9 When we decide to do so, we will be able to succeed. This success will hasten the coming of Moshiach who will “fight the wars of G‑d and be victorious,” redeem us, and lead us upright to our land.

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2. Chassidus explains how the sacrifice of the Red Heifer purifies the impurity caused by touching a dead body. The Red Heifer represents the service of Teshuvah. That service is made up of two elements: the elevation of the below and drawing down of the above. In our personal service, the elevation of the below, the burning of the Red Heifer, refers to the “burning” i.e. the total nullification of the body and the animal soul. This is the service of yearning for G‑d, a yearning which arouses the innermost aspects of our hearts, the “actual part of G‑d” that is our soul. It affects the very essence of the soul, the level of Yechidah which is tied to G‑d’s essence. Then, from G‑d’s essence, we draw down — we collect the ashes that remained from the burning — and “pour upon them (the drawing down from above to below) living waters into a vessel.” We draw from the essence of the soul, the source of living waters, into the body after it has been elevated through the burning (the nullification). The establishment of a connection with one’s own essence in turn binds one to G‑d’s Essence, a level that is higher than both life and death. From that level, we draw down the potential to purify an object that has touched a dead body. For this reason, the service of the Red Heifer is carried out “outside the camp of Israel,” where no holiness is revealed. Since the Red Heifer draws down from G‑d’s essence, it cannot be confined within any boundaries and extends outside the realm of holiness, (thus, giving it the potential to purify the impurity of death which is also outside the realm of holiness.)

In general, the service of Teshuvah involves establishing a connection with G‑d’s innermost aspects, despite the fact that one has previously sinned. This connection, in turn, brings out forgiveness and atonement.10 Sin causes a separation between the soul as it is enclothed in the body, and its source; as the verse declares, “your sins separate between you and G‑d.” Through Teshuvah, a connection is established with the essence of the soul, which in turn is bound to the essence of G‑d. This causes forgiveness and atonement, establishing an even stronger bond with G‑d than previously existed. This is the service symbolized by the Red Heifer.

At this point the question arises:

The Medrash states: “The Holy One Blessed be He said to Moshe ‘to you I will reveal the reason of the Red Heifer but to everyone else, (it will remain) a decree (whose reason cannot be grasped).” Even King Solomon who “was wiser than any man” declared, “All these (the other aspects of Torah) I was able to understand but (in regard to) the portion of the Red Heifer, I searched, I asked, and I sought. (Finally,) I declared ‘I said I will understand it and behold it is beyond me’.”

How can Kaballah and Chassidus describe at great length the reason for the sacrifice of the Red Heifer? How can we understand something that King Solomon, the wisest of all men, could not grasp?

We cannot dismiss the question by saying that our understanding of the Red Heifer is not complete, or in the words of the Alter Rebbe “the reason which we understand is not alone the ultimate reason...rather within it is enclothed an inner hidden wisdom that is above intellect and understanding.” For this statement applies to the reasons for all the Mitzvos not just the Red Heifer. Therefore the question remains: how can Chassidus explain (and even translate into foreign languages which a non-Jew can understand) concepts that could not be grasped by King Solomon? (The main question in this whole matter is.) Why is this question not asked by others?

Regardless of whether we understand the above or not, the concept still applies and provides us with a clear lesson in regard to our behavior. A Jew must approach the totality of Torah and Mitzvos as a decree, displaying a commitment that extends beyond the bounds of knowledge (even the knowledge of the G‑dly soul). Hence, the Red Heifer is called “the decree of the Torah” implying that all of Torah must be carried out with similar dedication.

Furthermore, just as the Red Heifer was used to purify someone who was impure, including even someone tainted with the impurity of death, we must go out into the streets and search for a Jew who is “impure” and teach him “Aleph Bais,” the importance of Shabbos, etc. One might argue, “I am an advanced scholar. Why should I spend my time teaching someone the fundamentals? Let someone else, a simple person, do so and I will continue to study Torah. When it comes to explaining a deep or complex idea, I would be willing to cooperate. However, it is not necessary for me to teach Aleph Bais; someone else can do so and I can continue my progress in Torah study.” Furthermore, his teachers and Rosh Yeshivah have also told him that he has potential and should continue to study and proceed further in Torah study.11 Therefore, the Torah tells him that the Red Heifer, and similarly the entire Torah, is a decree. One cannot follow only what appears correct according to one’s own calculations. It is necessary to go out and search for another Jew and teach him Aleph Bais, teach him the importance of Shabbos, conveying these thoughts on a level that he can understand.

One might ask: How can I lower myself to the level of a simple person? The Torah answers, teaching us that the Red Heifer had to be burnt, totally consumed by flames. Likewise, in a personal sense we must reach self-nullification.12 Then one will go into the street and find a Jew who is impure and purify him. Thus, one will bring “the precious out from the worthless” and with that service hasten the coming of the Messianic redemption. We will proceed further to the month of Nissan, the month of the redemption, and await the fulfillment of our sages’ statement: “In Nissan they were redeemed and in Nissan they will be redeemed” when “as in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders,” with the construction of the third Temple, speedily in our days.

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3. As mentioned before, the twentieth of Adar is the anniversary of the prayer of Choni HaMagel. In Chassidus, the difference between Choni’s prayer for rain and the behavior of R. Shimon bar Yochai is described at length. The Zohar (Part III, p.59b) relates how when the world suffered a severe drought, R. Shimon’s students came to him and asked him to try to bring rain. He recited a discourse on the verse “How good and how sweet is it for brothers to sit together” and rain came. R. Shimon was able to bring rain through the medium of Torah, while Choni HaMagel used the medium of prayer.

Chassidus explains that there is an advantage to the service of Torah for in order to bring rain Choni had to go through a long process. First, “he prayed and no rain descended. What did he do? He drew a circle,13 stood within and declared, ‘Master of the world, Your children have turned their faces to me. I swear in Your Great Name, that I will not move from here until You have mercy on Your children. The rain began to descend lightly.” He continued to ask for heavy rain. Then, the rain descended “angrily.” Each drop was at least a ‘lug’ (12 ounces). He then prayed for “rain of will, blessing, and generosity (for otherwise the world would have been destroyed) and brought a sacrifice; only then did the rain descend as it should.

The Talmud relates that Rav Shimon be Shotach told Choni that he should have been excommunicated for his boldness but “what could I do to you? Behold you appeal to G‑d and he carries out your will as a son who appeals to his father and he carries out his will.” He continued to explain with a parable. “A son asked his father ‘take me to wash in hot water because I am cold, give me nuts, almonds, apricots, and pomegranates,’ and he (the father) gives him.”14

From the above, we can derive a lesson about the importance of prayer. There are those who argue that the Previous Rebbe laid a heavy stress on the study of Torah and the spreading of Torah and Mitzvos to others. They maintain that it is necessary to apply oneself to these areas with self-sacrifice, but other areas of Yiddishkeit — for example, the service of prayer — are not that important. They will explain that in the time of the Rebbe Rashab, the service of prayer was relevant as evidenced by the publication of the Kuntres HaTefillah (the essay of prayer) and Kuntres HaAvodah (the essay on service). However, times have changed and now those efforts are no longer relevant to us.

The reply to such an argument is clearly expressed in the Torah in Pharaoh’s statement to the Jewish taskmasters: “Idle are you, idle; therefore you say, let us go sacrifice to the L‑rd.” They are too lazy to become involved in the service of prayer. However, rather than admit the truth, they try to rationalize their behavior, arguing that since the Previous Rebbe stressed the service of spreading Torah, it is unnecessary to become involved with prayer.

We must realize that such an argument stems from laziness, for on the contrary, the twentieth of Adar teaches us the importance of prayer. Just as in the time of Choni HaMagel, most of the month of Adar had passed and rain had still not descended. They had plowed, sown, etc. — but since there was no rain, there could be no crops. Similarly, in our own times, if we have devoted time and effort to Torah study and Mitzvah campaigns, and yet have not seen fruits of our labor, we must follow the example of Choni HaMagel and devote ourselves to prayer. If, at first, our prayers are not successful, we must pray again, showing a determination similar to that of Choni HaMagel; then G‑d will fulfill those prayers. Furthermore, blessings will then come in one moment and in one minute. The blessings that stem from Torah take time to materialize, for our efforts in Torah study are dependent upon time, extensive study, and meditation. However, the blessings brought about by prayer come immediately, for in prayer a connection to G‑d is established in one moment.15

The Book of Psalms declares that G‑d “tells His words to Ya’akov, His statutes and ordinances to Yisroel.” Just as G‑d commands us to pray in a manner that surpasses all limitations, so too his prayers go beyond all boundaries and are infinite in nature. Hence, they will bring about the Messianic redemption and the revelation of the third Temple speedily in our days.

4. Trans. note: The Rebbe spoke about the need for the preparations for Mivtza Pesach. He mentioned that Shulchan Aruch requires one to begin learning the laws of Pesach thirty days before the holiday and also to begin collecting and distributing money for Kimcha D’Pischa (the Pesach needs of the poor); hence, it would have been proper that directly after Purim, efforts should have been devoted to Mivtza Pesach. He had not seen any evidence of such efforts and therefore urged the Chassidim to begin this immediately. Within the context of his remarks, he mentioned that a possible reason was a desire to save money. On that he commented:

Our sages declared: “A Tzaddik is careful about (the way he spends) even less than a penny’s worth.” In general, “the Torah has mercy on the money of Israel.” Therefore, if a possibility exists that a house will be declared impure, one should first remove all one’s vessels, before calling a priest to decide upon its status. What is the need for this precaution? If the priest would declare the house impure, its’ vessels would also be considered as impure. Anything metal or cloth, etc., could be purified by immersion in a Mikvah, but since there is no way an earthenware vessel could be purified and they would have to be broken, we are advised to remove them. Hence, we see that Torah considers saving things of even such small value.

Why? Because in each article of property there are sparks of G‑d which that individual is destined to elevate. (Trans. note:) However, the Rebbe concluded that at present no expense should be spared to try to spread the Mivtzoim, particularly Mivtza Pesach.