A friend of mine with whom I used to work at camp, taught me and our campers his family tradition. Every Shabbos, when he and his family sat down for the meal, they would share with each other a “Highlight of the Week.”* They would each share a highlight (followed by the classic “da na na, da na na”), and then they would enjoy Shabbos together. I am sure that many people have had similar weekly rituals--my family also had a similar ritual, though without a catchy theme song. These rituals enable our ability to enjoy the Shabbos meal in a transformed state. We often enter Shabbat rushed, tired, frustrated, hurt, etc. The world is a difficult place, and one cannot simply flick a switch that turns on our happy and spiritual selves. It takes focus and intention.
This week we read Parshat Hukkat and we are given the mitzvah of the Red Heifer/Parah Adumah/פרה אדומה. God commands Moses and Aaron (Num. 19:2), “This is a statute of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish and on which no yoke has been laid/זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ לֵאמֹר. דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין בָּהּ מוּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ עֹל.”
The Minhas Elazarꜛexplains that there is a connection between Shabbat and the Parah (Hamisha Ma’Amarot Parshat Hukkat:1). In the Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 56b) it is stated that The Israelites received several mitzvot when they were camped at Marahꜜ, the place of bitterness. Shabbat is one of the mitzvot given at Marah. The Minhas Elazar teaches that Shabbat was given in order to sweeten the bitterness through the sweetness of Shabbat. Rashi explains (Ex. 15:25) that Parah was also given at Marah. According to the Minhas Elazar, Erev Shabbat/Friday Night has the power to sweeten our realities and allow us to experience the rest of Shabbat revitalized. The Parah functions the same way, it turns the unready (impure) into the ready (pure).
The mitzvah of Parah reminds us that we need rituals to help us become ready to truly enjoy Shabbat. During Kabbalat Shabbat/Ma’ariv and Kiddush, if we focus and take a few moments to envision a world where harshness and judgement were lifted from this world^, then when we make Kiddush and bring in Shabbos in that image, we will be enjoying a different world, a transformed world, a world that is a taste of the World to Come/מעין עולם הבא. May we all enjoy the sweetness of our Shabbat tables.
*This was a take on the Sports Center segment called Highlight of the Night.
ꜛChaim Elazar Spira (December 17, 1868 – May 13, 1937) was one of the rebbes of the Hasidic movement Munkacz (pronounced Munkatsh).
ꜜEx. 15:25. This is when The Israelites complained about not having water to drink. Because of the bitterness of the water, the place was renamed Marah/Bitter.
^The Kabbalistic idea here is that Judgements/Dinin in our world can be elevated back to their source and thus sweetened.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.