Shabbat Shalom: The Ritual of Rituals

Mar 24, 2022

Like me, I’m sure you too have had those moments when, for the life of you, you can’t find your keys or your wallet or, as with this morning, your glasses. Oy—to misplace my glasses: how to find them when I can’t see without them? I search aimlessly, blindly. My heart begins to race. My hunt through the house becomes more frantic, and then I remember two tips that help me slow down and, finally, find my glasses. A friend once told me to look for lost things with my mind not my eyes. Another advised me to begin my search by walking back through the doorway from whence I came. (She also advises doing the same when I’ve forgotten what I was thinking of.) Frankly, none of it makes sense, but the rituals seem to help. And, sure enough, this morning, I found my glasses… right where I left them.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Parah, the Shabbat of the Red Heifer, and the weekly Torah portion, from Shmini, continues the enumeration of Temple rites, including the laws of kashrut, which delineate what we can and cannot eat. But our Shabbat takes its name from another ritual: the Torah instructs that a person who touches a human corpse is ritually unclean for seven days and, during this time, cannot enter the Tabernacle, later the Temple in Jerusalem.

The prescription for purification involves a ritually clean person mixing water with the ashes from the eponymous red heifer and sprinkling that mixture on the unclean person on the third and seventh day of impurity. After the second sprinkling, the unclean one must bathe and wash their clothes and, in so doing, they become ritually pure on the following day. Perhaps not surprisingly, the ritually pure person who has mixed and sprinkled then themselves become impure for a day. Thus does the impure become pure, even as the pure becomes impure. The wisest of mortals, King Solomon himself, was said to be stumped by the laws of the Red Heifer.

But I take some comfort in knowing that not all can be explained. The ritual of the Red Heifer. The laws of keeping kosher. The miraculous reappearance of my glasses in places I know I’ve looked for and not found them. As Shakespeare put it, There are more things in heaven and earth than can be conceived of by mortal minds. We perform our rituals, whatever they may be, because they are important even if we cannot explain them—maybe because we cannot explain them.

This Shabbat, may our rituals bring comfort to both we who perform them and those for whom we perform.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO

Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.