This week is Parshas Para, the third of what is known as the Arba Parshiyos. I would like to explore the significance as to why we read these Parshiyos and some of the various practices that are associated with them.

The Mishna[1] states that the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar we read Parshas Shekalim. On the second Shabbos of the month, we read Parshas Zachor. On the third Shabbos, we read the Parsha of Para Aduma. On the fourth Shabbos, which is the shabbos preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we read Parshas HaChodesh. On the fifth Shabbos, we resume reading like usual.

The order of these Parshiyos is significant.

In Adar a communal collection had already begun towards buying Korbanos and other necessities for the upcoming YomTov of Pesach. Therefore, as Adar is about to come in, we read Parshas Shekalim to remind everyone that the Judaic tax season is coming.

Parshas Zachor, as we know is the Shabbos before Purim, to remember Amalek’s attack on Klal Yisrael.

Parshas Para we read about the Mitzvah of Para Aduma and using its ashes to purify the impure. This serves as a reminder for people to maintain a state of tahara so they can eat the Korban Pesach at the proper time.

On the fourth Shabbos we read Parshas HaChodesh which is proclaiming the specialness of the month of Nissan and its designation as the first month of the year.  It is read before Pesach as it contains the Halachos of Pesach.

Why do we still read Parshas Zachor and Para these days if the application is no longer practical, as there is no longer a Beis HaMikdash? The Meleches Shlomo[2] explains that the reason we read Parshas Zachor nowadays notwithstanding the fact that we cannot destroy Amalek, is to remember the Aveiros that Klal Yisrael did which caused Amalek to take advantage of our weakened spiritual state and attack us. By reading Parshas Zachor and remembering this, we are reminded to do teshuva. He explains from the Sefer Chen Tov, that even when Mashiach comes and Amalek is obliterated from the face of the earth, there is still a mitzvah to remember Amalek. Why are we remembering Amalek if he was already destroyed? We aren’t. Rather, we are remembering what caused Amalek to come, and therefore, use the reading of Parshas Zachor as a wake-up call to Teshuva.

Similarly, Parshas Para is read nowadays, even though the Para Aduma is no longer practiced. However,  if we have proper Kavana while reading Parshas Para, it is as if we are burning the Para Aduma and it is purifying us from our Tumah. Even though there are no actual ashes of the Para Aduma, it is still MeTaher from the Yetzer Hara which causes us to become Tamei.

The Nesivos Shalom has a similar approach to how these Parshiyos are applicable nowadays. He explains that the central theme of the 613 Mitzvos & the entire Torah is to bring a Jew closer to Hashem. He elaborates, based on the Kozhnitzer Maggid, the relevance of reading these Parshiyos even though the Beis Hamikdash has been destroyed. The Beis Hamikdash that was destroyed was a physical and external structure, but there is still a mikdash internally, with an eternal connection between the Jew and his Creator.

The Nesivos Shalom continues and explains that these four Parshiyos represent the four fundamental tools / concepts that bring us closer to Hashem, namely: Beis Hamikdash; Destroying Amalek, Tahara and Kiddush HaChodesh.

Parshas Shekalim – Every Jew needs to give a Half Shekel which went towards the purchase of korbanos. The Korbanos signified the connection between Jew and Hashem. This continues even in galus by reading the Parsha of Shekalim.

Parshas Zachor – The Nesivos Shalom explains that Amalek is the  source of klipa and all evil and until amalek is eradicated from the world, Gods presence and representation is incomplete. Therefore, a Jew cannot reach his fullest potential of reaching a level of connectivity to Hashem as long as the klipa is still extant. Thus, we read Parshas Zachor.

Parshas Para – The ashes of the Para Aduma were used to bring a person who was in a state of Tuma back to a state of tahara. The Tuma causes a disconnect from Hashem, the Para Aduma brings one to a state of  Tahara thus bringing back the connection to Hashem. This is applicable nowadays by reading the parsha which inspires one to Teshuva and although it does not purify ones body, it still purifies ones Neshama.

Parshas HaChodesh – Parshas HaChodesh describes the mitzvah to institute Kiddush HaChodesh by Beis Din. This is fourth of the fundamental tools to have a connection with Hashem. This mitzvah shows us how Hashem revealed to us that he wants Beis Din to institute the calendar and the dates on when the Moadim fall in that year. We find that Beis Din has the power to make something a law even in Shamayim, so if Beis Din says when Rosh Chodesh is, that is when it will be in Shamayim as well.

On the Moadim, we have a special Mitzvah of Aliyas HaRegel and Reiyah to come and see the Kodesh HaKedoshim, which is the makom of the Shechina and re-connect with Hashem. We find that through the Moadim we become closer to Hashem. All this comes from Beis Din instituting when the Chodesh will be.  The Nesivos Shalom explains that even when we do not have Beis Din paskening on Rosh Chodesh, we still have the essence of the Yomtov and the Parshiyos that we read on the Yomtov, which bring us to a higher level of Kedusha  and Dveikus to Hashem.

Part II

We learnt that there is a mitzvah to read the four Parshiyos, but it is not clear what it is that we are actually reading, should we take for granted that this is referring to the Maftir and Haftora?

The Gemara[3] asks when we say that on the fifth shabbos we resume reading like usual, what is that referring to? Rav Ami says that we went back to the regular reading of the Parshiyos, Reb Yeremiah says we went back to the regular reading of the Haftoros. Abaye said on this, that it seems that the Halacha is like Reb Ami. He explains that this is the simple Pshat in the Mishna: on these four Parshiyos we only read the special Parsha i.e. Parah, Zachor, etc. The Turei Even poses the following point. We know the shortest an aliyah can be is three pesukim, therefore on Shabbos we must read a minimum of 21 pesukim for 7 aliyos. The largest of the four Parshiyos is Parshas HaChodesh, which is only 20 pesukim and we cannot add to the Parshiyos, so how did this work according to Rav Ami? The Turei Even answers that they must have read the same Parsha for each aliyah!

The Bartenura, Rambam and other meforshim explain that when the Mishna says that the 5th Shabbos  for which we resume reading per usual, is referring to the Maftir and Haftoros, and the special Kriya is indeed the Maftir and Haftora.

I would like to take this a step further, but first the following introduction.

The Gemara[4] tells us that there were different cycles for reading the Torah in different places. In Bavel (Iraq) it was completed once a year, and in ‘the West’ referring to Israel, it was once every three years.

There are sources from the seventh and eighth centuries that tell us that the variation in customs had continued through the Gaonic times. Those sources indicate that although in Bavel everyone stuck to the same schedule, in Eretz Yisrael it was a little more open-ended. Each community had its own breakdown of weekly portions, all ending different times. In fact as late as 1170, when Rav Binyamin of Toledo, a famous Jewish traveler, visited Cairo, he reported that there were two communities. One consisted of Iraqi expatriates who had a one year cycle, and one of Israeli expat’s who had a 3-year cycle. Incidentally, he reports that the Israeli’s would join together with the Iraqi’s on Shavuos and Simchas Torah, to celebrate with them.[5]

The Rambam writes that the wide spread minhag amongst Klal Yisrael is to complete the Torah in a yearly cycle starting the Shabbos after Sukkos with Parshas Bereishis and completing it by Sukkos. He notes that there are those who have a 3 year cycle, but it is not widespread nor accepted.

My Facebook Chaver, Reb Shraga Homnick, pointed out that if you look at the end of a Chumash where the statistics appear, it will also give the total number of ‘sedarim’. This refers to the division that was used for the 3-year kriya cycle. When the first Mikraos Gedolos was printed, the publisher wanted to divide the text into chapters and hoped to get hold of the sedarim division, but it didn’t arrive on time so he used the Christian system which henceforth became our standard. The Koren Tanach actually has it appear in the inner margins.

Rav Sperber[6] quotes a minhag that there were communities in Eretz Yisrael that would read the pesukim of Shekalim, Zachor, Para or HaChodesh by each aliya and they would totally forego the Parsha that they were up to, as the Turei Even said as well. However Rav Sperber explains at length based on Professor Ezra Fleisher that they extended the parsha to be at least 21 pesukim and they would divide that into 7 aliyos. However since Maftir had to stand out as being special for the uniqueness of the Parsha and its significance they would read the first five pesukim instead of the last pesukim. It comes out contrary to the Turei Even, however we see that they did go back and read again from the first Aliyah for Maftir.

Rav Sperber explains that on the 5th Shabbos, they would then go back to where they had left off. This seems to be the literal meaning of the mishna that says: “on the fifth Shabbos, we resume reading like usual.” This would be in accordance with the minhag of Eretz Yisrael to keep a 3-year cycle. I suspect that the minhag changed to the standard one year cycle with the Aliyah of the Baalei Tosafos and their influence on the Community in Eretz Yisroel.

The Pnei Yehoshua[7] explains that the reason the Mishna had to mention that the 5th Shabbos they would resume reading like usual, is because one would think that since there is a Halacha that one should start learning Hilchos Pesach 30 days before YomTov, therefore every Shabbos between Parshas HaChodesh and Pesach we would repeat the Maftir of HaChodesh to remind everyone the halachos. Therefore the Mishna has to tell us simply that the mitzvah of ‘Shoalin V’Dorshin’ does not apply in a Shul rather, it is referring to a Beis Midrash, and therefore we continue reading the regular Maftir.

The Shulchan Aruch[8] rules that one should make sure to be with a minyan to hear the Parshiyos of Zachor and Para as there is a Torah obligation to hear it. The source that Parshas Para is M’doraisa is based on the Beis Yosef who quotes Tosafos in Brachos. However, the Shl’a explains at length that Parshas Parah is not a Torah obligation. The Magen Avraham also says that he doesn’t see a reason to say that Parah is M’Doreisah.

The Malbim[9]  explains where Tosafos was coming from, as we learned by Parshas Zachor the mitzvah to remember Amalek from the Pasuk of זכור אל תשכח. Similarly, we see the words זכור אל תשכח by the Eigel as well, so why isn’t there a special mitzvah learnt from there that we are obligated from the Torah to remember the Eigel? The Malbim and Arugas Habosem explain that since the saga of the Golden Calf was embarrassing for Klal Yisrael, there is no mitzvah to read it. Nonetheless, since there is still a Torah obligation to remember the Parshas HaEigel, Chazal instituted to read Parshas Parah which serves as a Kappara for the Cheit HaEgel.

However, everyone agrees that Parshas Zachor is definitely a D’Oraisa to read/hear from a Sefer Torah.

Part III

Lastly, there is an old minhag to say Yotzros and Krovos during the Shabbos morning Tefilla. These are extra piyutim, similar to Selichos or Kinos, in Birchos Krias Shema and Chazaras HaShatz. Yotzros are the piyutim inserted into the Birchos Krias Shema and Krovetz is the outing inserted into the Chazaras HaShatz. Nowadays, they are collectively known simply as Yotzros.

This minhag became popular amongst the Chassidim. This is because the Chassidim believe the Arba Parshiyos is an auspicious time, coming on the heels of Shovavim, and the significance of the day should not be lost on people. The Shulchan Aruch[10] clearly says that this is considered a hefsek in Tefilla and one should not say these piyutim. The Rema comments that the R’i, Rashba and the Tur all hold that there is no issue with interrupting your regular tefilla for this, but if you do not say the Yotzros it is still fine. The Levush[11] writes that one should include the Yotzros in their Tefilla. The Rema continues and says that although one is not required to say it, if one is in a place that is saying the Yotzros one should say it along, as he may end up interrupting his tefilla in other ways, such as learning or talking to someone.

Interestingly, the Mishna Berura quotes Rav Chaim Vital that the Arizal would only say the piyutim that were written by Rishonim such as Reb Eliezer HaKalir. However Rav Chaim Vital’s son, Rav Shmuel Vital, wrote that when his father was a Shaliach Tzibur during the Yomim Noraim he would say all the piyutim so as not to change the already established Minhag. This is interesting as we find many Chassidic practices are common with those of the Mekubalim, this seems to be an exception.  The Shl’a Hakadosh writes that it is actually a Mitzvah to say these piyutim. The Ibn Ezra[12] takes issue even with the piyutim of Reb Eliezer HaKalir and rules that one should not deviate from the standard Nusach of Tefila. The Mishna Berura instructs us that everyone should follow the minhag of the shul they are davening in.

The Minhag of the Chasam Sofer was not to recite the piyutim during davening, rather he would sing them during the Shabbos or YomTov seudah. The Mesora is that the Chasam Sofer learnt this from his rebbe the Baal Hafla’ah who learnt it form the Mezritcher Maggid who learnt it from the Baal Shem Tov. (Based on this it is difficult to understand why the Chasidim still say Yotzros during davening, when even the Baal Shem Tov didn’t say them during davening!)

It seems, however, that this may not be a Chassidic custom at all, to the contrary we find that the Vilna Gaon said Piyutim and Yotzros.[13] The Meishiv Davar[14] explains that this is referring to the piyutim of the Yamim Noraim which is similar to the Brachos of the Chazaras HaShatz and therefore not considered an interruption. However, regarding the piyutim of the four Parshiyos, the Gra only said them after Chazaras HaShatz. The Meishiv Davar continues that this was the practice of Rav Chaim Volozhin and Volozhin Yeshiva as well.

By following the path set by our Gedolim of previous generations, may we all merit to forge a lasting connection with our Creator and go into Pesach B’Kedusha V’Tahara.


[1] Megilla 3;4

[2] Mishnayos Megillah 3;4

[3] Megilla 30b

[4] Megilla 29b 

[5] http://www.torahlab.org/calendar/article/simchas_torah_origins_and_laws/

[6] Minhagei Yisrael Vol 1 Ch. 9 

[7] Megilla 29 

[8] OC 685;7 

[9] Artzos HaChaim 8 

[10] OC 67 

[11] OC 685;1 

[12] Koheles 5

[13] Chayel Adam 5;27; Maase Rav – 193;195;225

[14] Siman 13