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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Four That Are One1

They are not well understood, but we have it on good authority that the Four Parshios are laden with special potential. R. Pinchas Koritzer related that he achieved extraordinary episodes of ruach ha-kodesh on these Shabbosos.

But why would reading another section of Torah text make a Shabbos essentially special? Why do we read these parshios altogether? They all grow out of mitzvos that can be fulfilled actively. Why read about them, rather than just do them? Why would the public reading of them rise to the level of a mitzvah de-orayso in the case of Zachor, and possibly even Parah? Why do we attach a kriah to one group of mitzvos, in contradistinction to so many other mitzvos of the Torah that are observed without any special fanfare or reading?

The common element to all of these parshios is that they support the all-important goal of devekus. Each parshah showcases a different factor in the long journey towards more meaningful connection with Hashem. The message of each is so vital that it simply persists in all times, even when the mitzvah that it is paired with cannot be practically fulfilled.

Machtzis ha-shekel, the subject of Parshas Shekalim, connects a Jew to the beis ha-mikdosh. The latter, and the korbanos that were offered therein, point to the eternal bond between a Jew and his Creator. They address the sins that can tarnish the relationship between them and restore it to its previous luster. Each year brings a new cycle of korbanos to the beis ha-mikdosh; machtzis ha-shekel renews the commitment of a Jew to the avodah of the system of korbanos.

The kernel idea behind the avodah is central and essential to us. It remains strong even in the absence of a Temple. Paraphrasing the gemara[2] , the Magid of Kozhnitz taught that the Temple’s destruction was restricted to its “outer” chambers. Its “inner” chambers were unscathed. The churban did not and could not touch the place that hosts the primary bond between Hashem and His people. (The gemara[3] depicts the cheruvim locked in embrace at the time of the churban, even though this was supposed to happen only at times that the Jewish people were faithful to their calling. The hour of the Temple’s destruction, when Divine wrath was vented on His house, would hardly seem to be such a time. The gemara’s point is that the devekus between HKBH and us remains even in such times. Hashem engineered this manifestation of devekus precisely at the time of the churban to lend comfort and support to us at such a difficult time.)

Amalek is the root and source of the kelipah of evil. The Torah speaks[4] of Hashem placing His Hand upon His throne in an oath regarding the perpetual war with Amalek. The word for throne is spelled deficiently, leading Chazal to remark that His very throne is incomplete as long as Amalek has not been eradicated. Moreover, no individual can achieve the full complement of devekus so long as Amalek’s power is left unchecked.

While the mitzvah of physically battling Amalek is limited to certain times and conditions and not applicable today, the inner meaning of the mitzvah is very much with us. We address that inner core with a daily mitzvah of remembering Amalek, and a yearly one of doing so through the Torah reading of Parshas Zachor. The contemporary mitzvah demands of us that we do not make peace with the existence of evil for a single day – not within ourselves, and not in the world in general.

Parshas Parah addresses a different dimension of evil. Tumah is a related phenomenon, a state brought on by the existence and flourishing of evil. It is incompatible with taharah, its opposite. Thus, when Man gives the sitra achra the opportunity to succeed, not only does Man falter and fail, but tumah takes up residence within him. This tumah estranges him from Hashem, moves him in the opposite direction of the devekus -union he seeks.

We are unable today to deal with the layers and dimensions of tumah that used to be neutralized by the parah adumah. Inner taharah, however, remains an option through teshuvah and achieving devekus. Reading Parshas Parah plays a role in this, as will be explained later on.

Parshas Ha-Chodesh stresses the essential and central role of beis din in determining when Yom Tov will arrive. All the spiritual gifts attendant to a Yom Tov are dependent upon the deliberations of a human court. The Heavenly Court, as it were, operates in this regard at the behest of its human counterpart. The proclamation of the New Moon by flesh-and-blood judges sets off the cascade of spiritual reactions in the Upper Worlds that shape the content of the Yom Tov.

The inner core of this, on the level of the individual, is the dependence of isr’usa dil’eila on isr’usa dilesasa. All kinds of spiritual gifts are waiting to be sent to us from Heaven, but they require that we make something of a first move ourselves. Reading Parsha Ha- Chodesh is such a move, whereby we draw down the holiness of the approaching holiday through an expression of the holiness already within us.

A well-established teaching of kabbalah sees every mitzvah acting upon each of the four Worlds: atzilus, beriah, yetzirah, and asiya. Those four worlds relate in the microcosm to four parts of our individual makeup: our bodies, and the three primary parts of our souls – nefesh, ruach, and neshamah.

Depending on our preparedness and intention, our mitzvah performance takes place on different levels. Sometimes, we perform a mitzvah merely with our bodies. Sometimes, we function on the level of ruach, or higher.

Without a Beis Ha-Mikdosh, it is impossible for us to perform many mitzvos on the physical level. We must know, however, that these mitzvos have not disappeared or been shelved. They still exist, on the level of neshamah. They can be accessed through Torah. The Torah always functions as the cement between Hashem and the Jewish people. When the neshamah of a mitzvah can no longer be joined to its physical counterpart in the avodah of the Beis Ha-Mikdosh, the substitute “location” for it is Torah itself.

R Moshe of Dolina explained with this why we recite the Torah verses dealing with the Exodus at the Pesach seder. The special ohr of the evening is resident within the words of Torah. By reciting them, we gain access to that ohr. This reasoning also helps explain why we read the section of vay’chulu before kiddush Friday night.

We now understand why we designate a Torah reading for this particular group of mitzvos. Each is fundamentally important as a step towards devekus; the active fulfillment of each of them is somewhat distant and inaccessible to us, after having lost thebeis ha-mikdosh. Each, however, remains realizable on the level of the neshamah of the mitzvah, even as its physical aspects are beyond our grasp. We enter into this level of observance specifically through words of Torah.

The Zohar calls Shabbosyoma de-nishmasa, the “neshama day.” It makes perfect sense that Shabbos is the time best suited to engage these four pillars of our avodah, yielding for us the Four Parshios.

[1] Based on Nesivos Shalom, Shemos, pg. 282-286
[2] Chagigah 5B
[3] Yoma 54B
[4] Shemos 17:16

Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and