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Parasha Vayakhel-Pekudei | Shabbat Parah: Purified for Passover

Vayakhel (And He Assembled)-Pekudei (Accountings Of)
Exodus 35:1–40:38; Ezekiel 36:16–38; Mark 6:14–29; John 6:1–71;
Maftir: Numbers 19:1–22

In this week’s Torah study, we are blessed with a double portion of the Word of God with two Parashot (portions of Scripture) combined into one.  The first, Vayakhel, repeats God’s instructions regarding the building of the Tabernacle as outlined in the previous study, Terumah.

Torah scrolls in Temple Beth El synagogue in Casablanca (Photo by David Lisbona)

Torah scrolls in Temple Beth El synagogue in Casablanca  (Photo by David Lisbona)

When Moses assembles the people together, he underscores the fact that the message he is conveying to them is not his own, but Adonai’s.  That message includes a set of instructions for living a Godly lifestyle:

“Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, ‘These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do.’”  (Exodus 35:1)

The Israelites, who entered into covenant with the God of Israel to do what He commanded, were not expected to only listen to the message—they were expected to follow through with it, applying it to their owns lives, turning from their former ways.

Likewise, we are not just to be hearers of the Word of God; we are also to do what He has commanded us.

“Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  (James 1:22)

If we think that we know the Word of God just because we have heard it, read it or memorized it, then we deceive ourselves.  We know the Word when we are doing it by walking in obedience to God’s commands.  In the same way, Yeshua said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  (John 14:15)


Jerusalem (Photo by Peter van der Sluijs)

In this Parashot, God lays out consequences for not obeying.  For instance, He tells the people that the consequence for breaking the Sabbath would be death.

“For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a Sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.”  (Exodus 35:2)

Also in this week’s reading, the wilderness Mishkan (Sanctuary) is completed and anointed with the holy anointing oil.  Aaron and his sons are initiated into the priesthood and a cloud appears over the Mishkan demonstrating the indwelling of God’s Presence.  (Exodus 40)

Although we see that the priests were consecrated with anointing oil and washing with water in this Torah portion, a different ordinance was later given for the cleansing of the priests and those who were found unclean, such as the persons who encountered the dead, which were many during the plague of Numbers 16:46–50.

This ordinance is the sacrifice of the Red Heifer.

A red heifer-Shabbat Parah

A red heifer  (Photo by Robert Scarth)

Shabbat Parah: the Sabbath of the Red Heifer

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer [parah adumah] in which is no defect and on which a yoke has never been placed.  You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence.”’”  (Numbers 19:1–3)

Parasha Vayekhel–Pekudei falls on the Sabbath before Shabbat HaChodesh (the Shabbat that falls on or before the first of Nissan, or head of months) in which we celebrate the Passover.

In preparation for Passover, therefore, a special portion of Scripture from Numbers 19:1–22 is added today.  It describes the sacrifice of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer).

This Sabbath, therefore, is called Shabbat Parah (Sabbath of the Red Heifer). Shabbat Parah always occurs on the Sabbath after Purim and begins the formal preparations of the Passover (which falls Nissan 15–22 on the Jewish calendar, which is April 3–April 11 this year).


A family enjoys a Passover seder, a ritual meal in which the Passover story is recounted.

The sacrifice of the red heifer sacrifice is an essential part of the Temple services.

Through it the Jewish priests (cohanim) and the Jewish People purify themselves before the festival of Passover.  The Red Heifer brings about the ritual purity (tahor) necessary for sacrificing the Paschal lamb.

Anyone who had been defiled through contact with the dead and had not been cleansed with the sprinkling of the waters of purification containing the ashes of the Red Heifer would be disqualified from celebrating the Passover and cut off from the community of Israel:

“But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean.”  (Numbers 19:20)

One of the great enigmas of this ceremony is that while these waters of purification make the defiled person clean, the one performing the ritual becomes unclean until evening.

We can understand this irony by comparing it to cleaning a dirty house—the house becomes clean, but the once clean rag or sponge becomes dirty, as perhaps does the person doing the cleaning does as well.


In the above photo, metal vessels are being prepared for Passover through a 30-second koshering procedure called hagalah (purging).

The rabbis consider the ritual of the sacrificial Red Heifer to be one of Judaism’s greatest mysteries; even so, the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) gives us great insight into it.

The book of Hebrews refers to this special ritual when explaining how we are cleansed (not just outwardly but to the depth of our inner being) through the blood of Yeshua the Messiah.

“The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”  (Hebrews 9:13–14)

The Messiah, who was totally clean and pure of all sin, took our sins and impurities upon Himself so that we may become the righteousness of God in Him.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Though our sins may have made our souls look like scarlet, they will become white as snow, as the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah prophesied thousands of years ago:

“Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”  (Isaiah 1:18)


“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:6)  (Flickr photo by lovecatz)

Building the Third Temple

Finding this pure, unblemished red heifer is an essential requirement for building the Third Temple.

It is, therefore, a matter of extreme urgency for The Temple Institute who has already crafted the holy vessels, identified the priests of Aaronic descent and created their holy garments, produced the pure olive oil for the lighting of the Menorah, and crowdsourced funds to draft the blueprints of the Third Temple in Jerusalem.

A near breakthrough came in the summer of 2014 when the rabbis reported finding a red heifer in the USA that meets their stringent requirements; however, hopes were dashed when the heifer developed some white hairs, which disqualified it from serving as the sacrificial Parah Adumah.

The search for the perfect Red Heifer for the restoration of purity to the Temple continues to this day.

This model of ancient Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Second Temple is located at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

This model of ancient Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Second Temple is located at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  (Go Israel Photo)

Haftarah (Prophetic Reading) for Shabbat Parah

“Again the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions.  Their conduct was like a woman’s monthly uncleanness in My sight.’”  (Ezekiel 36:16–17)

The corresponding Haftarah (prophetic) portion for this Shabbat Parah (Ezekiel 36:16–38) also speaks of purification from sin.

The people of Israel had defiled themselves to such an extent that their conduct is seen in God’s sight as a woman’s monthly uncleanness.

As a result of that uncleanness, the people of Israel are sent into exile, causing even the land itself to lie barren.

But the people are not to remain in exile and the land is not to remain barren. God promises restoration of the land and the people of Israel:

“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”   (Ezekiel 36:24–26)

Jewish men pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Jewish men pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

We have had the awesome privilege of witnessing God accomplish this miracle in our very generation!  Out of the ashes of the Nazis’ crematoriums, the nation of Israel has been reborn and the Jewish People are coming home from all the countries of the earth.

God’s fulfillment of His Word in the re-gathering of the exiles gives us every confidence that He will completely restore Israel spiritually, too.

We can trust Him to sprinkle clean water upon us and make us clean from all of our sins, impurities and idols. God promises to give us a new heart and to put a new spirit within us to empower us to obey His commands so that we can experience the rich, abundant life promised to His people.

“And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.  Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be My people, and I will be your God.”  (Ezekiel 36:27–28)

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