Free translation from a talk of the Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Ki Sisa, Parshas Parah, 5747 (1987), (excerpt)

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.