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We continue the countdown of four special Shabbatot before Pesach. This week is the third, Shabbat Parah (Shabbat of the Cow). The additional Torah reading is from Numbers 19:1-22 and describes a ritual of purification involving the ashes of a red heifer. All Israelites came to the Temple in Jerusalem on Pesach in order to offer the Paschal lamb, but they had to be in a state of ritual purity to perform this rite.

Today, without a Temple in Jerusalem, the rites of Passover revolve around home observance. Many of us prepare our homes by cleaning out all traces of chametz (leavened foods). The ritual of the red heifer reminds us that our Passover observance will be that much more satisfying if we take the time to prepare ourselves spiritually as well. Are we ready to participate in a Seder as if we ourselves had left Egypt? Have we eliminated from our lives the mitzrayim (the narrow places in our hearts and thoughts) that keep us from being our best selves? Over the next three and a half weeks, amidst the cleaning, shopping, cooking and review of the Haggadah, may we remember to prepare ourselves as well.

Rabbi Sandra M. Bellush