Special Shabbatot

Sabbath services throughout the year highlight upcoming holidays.

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In the special haftarah, 2 Kings 11:17-12:17, King Yehoash commanded that all money brought to the Temple be used for its repairs and renovations--both the required contributions and the free-will offerings. Shabbat Shekalim occurs about a month before Passover as a reminder that the due date for the half-shekel contributions was approaching, on 1 Nisan, a month later. Some people contribute to an institution of Jewish learning in remembrance of the half shekel.

Shabbat Zakhor

The next of the Arba Parashiot is Shabbat Zakhor, whose maftir reading, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, is an admonition to remember Amalek, the nation that surprised the Israelites wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt with a rear attack on the stragglers. The Israelites constituted no military threat, leading some Jewish commentators to view Amalek as rebels against God, because they were trying to destroy the Israelites. God commands the Israelites, therefore, that when safely settled in Palestine, "You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."

The Torah instructs Jews to "remember Amalek," a commandment fulfilled each year by publicly reading this passage on the Shabbat before Purim, because Haman, the arch-villain of the Scroll of Esther [megillat Esther], who tries to kill the Jews of Persia, is an Amalekite. The haftarah reading is I Samuel 15:2-34, which describes Saul's war with Amalek.

Shabbat Parah

Shabbat Parah, the Sabbath of the Red Heifer, occurs on the Shabbat prior to Shabbat Mevarkhim of the month of Nisan. The maftir reading, Numbers 19:1-22, deals with the red heifer whose ashes were combined with water to ritually purify anyone who had been in contact with a dead person. Because only people who were pure could eat from the Passover sacrifice, a public announcement right before Nisan reminded anyone who had become impure to purify themselves before making the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The haftarah, Ezekiel 36:16-38, also deals with issues of being cleansed from contamination, but the impurity in this case symbolizes human sinfulness. But, like physical impurity, sins can be overcome. As God says in Ezekiel 36:25,26: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes [idolatrous practices]. And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you." This renewal of self and nation reflects Passover's theme of redemption.

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Michele Alperin is a freelance writer in Princeton, New Jersey. She has a masters degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.