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)
In preparation for Passover, 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 on Nissan 14–22 on the Jewish calendar, which is April 10–18 this year).
The Red Heifer sacrifice is an essential part of the Temple services.
(Temple Institute YouTube capture)
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, 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 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)