Parah Adumah - Turning Muck into Luck

I had a really strange dream the other night. I was in a restaurant and had ordered my meal, but when it came it was gross looking. It was hooves of cow, with the legs attached, and they were a deep red colored, like nothing I had ever seen.

“Waiter,” I cried, “this is not what I ordered.”

Waking up, I wondered, what could this dream mean? Then I remembered the very strange story of the red heifer, the red cow, the symbol of this very Sabbath, called Shabbat Parah. Parah means young cow, neither a calf nor a full-grown cow.

You see, thousands of years ago, in the days of the Temple, Jews had a ritual that was used for moral and spiritual cleansing, and it was called the Law of the Red Heifer. This unusual heifer, red in color and without blemish, was burned with special herbs, and its ashes were mixed with water. This became “water of purification” and it was sprinkled on those who had become impure by contact with a dead body.

The Temple no longer exists, nor does this mysterious ritual. So we understand it in a symbolic way. We understand that sometimes the only way to redeem ourselves from guilt or depravity is to have someone or something else, a person or Divine Spirit, get down in the muck of our lives with us, and help pull us out.

This is the season of the year that is muddy, or mucky. The ground is soft and when there are hard rains, our shoes become covered with mud. It’s also the time of year when we begin preparing for Passover, with all the tasks of cleaning and cleansing that entails.

So tonight’s theme of the Red Heifer comes to help us remember that it is an ancient and unfathomable spiritual law that says that being pure and renewed only comes after first getting in the mud and then working to get it all cleansed away. This is true for emotional and spiritual issues, and also for physical tasks.

Down the road from where I live, a new houses is being built. At first there was just a hole in the ground, then the basement, then the first floor, and now it even has a second story. As the house continues to grow in size and stature, the heaps of mud in front get larger and larger. It’s going to take a lot of work in landscaping, in smoothing and digging and planting, before this new house will truly look beautiful.

So it is, too, getting ourselves and our homes ready for the purity of Passover. Passover, or Pesach, is really about getting rid of our selfishness and pride, and remembering our call to help build sacred community.

May this Sabbath remind us of the joy of holiness and community, and inspire us to share our hearts and our lives with others.