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Kami Knapp Schechter

Andrew Levin

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Dvar March 6 and March 7 2020: Shabbat Zachor

This week’s parsha marks the second special shabbat leading up to Passover. My Jewish Learning writes: “These special Shabbatot may create the mood for an upcoming festival, reflect or enhance festival themes, or ease the transition from a festival back into the weekly flow of Shabbatot.

A special Shabbat usually includes a special Torah or haftarah [prophetic] reading that either replaces the standard weekly reading or is read in addition to it.”


Two weeks ago we had Shabbat Shekalim which coincided with Parshat Mishpatim and the beginning of the month of Adar. Shabbat Shekalim alerts us that Passover is coming! “Shabbat Shekalim is the 1st of 4 special Shabbat before Pesach. Its name comes from the maftir aliyah reading which describes the obligation of every Israelite man to contribute a half shekel. The contribution served 2 purposes. It provided funds to support the operation of the mishkan. At the same time, it accomplished a census of Israelite men. In temple days, this annual tax was to be paid during Adar. Shabbat Shekalim was scheduled to fall before or on the 1st day of Adar as a reminder of the upcoming obligation. Today we observe this obligation by collecting mahtsit hashekel before Purim.” “It customary to contribute 3 half-shekels (about $1.50). Currently, the funds support Jewish institutions or other charitable endeveaors” and is paid on Erev Purim- Monday, March 9th this year. (luach)


This week we have our second of special shabbatot before Pesach: Shabbat Zachor. We read in today’s maftir about Amalek and our obligation to wipe out the name Amalek. “It recalls Amalek’s cowardly attack upon the weak and weary of the people Israel as they traveled in the wilderness. The people Israel is commanded to remember what Amalek did and to wipe out Amalek’s memory. The Rabbis prescribed that we fulfill this commandment once a year by reading this passage publicly from a Torah scroll. They chose the Shabbat before Purim for this reading to connect the wiping out of the memory of Amalek to the Purim practice of “blotting out” the name of Haman, who was descendent of Amalek.” (luach) Interestingly enough the obligation to hear the maftir in Shabbat Zachor supersedes the obligation to hear the Torah portion, in other words- if you cannot hear the torah portion at a minimum you should make it to synagogue to hear the maftir. 


We have two more special Shabbatot coming up each marking as we get closer and closer to Pesach. Shabbat Parah, this year on March 14th. It falls on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nisan and represents the beginning of preparation for Pesach. It details the matter of the red heifer. In temple times Priests would use the ashes of the red heifer to cleanse impure people so they could eat the Passover sacrifice. 


Our 4th special shabbatot is Shabbat Hahodesh, falling on March 21st this year. This special maftir reading describes the night of the 1st passover. It includes eating the lamb sacrifice with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and painting the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of Israelite houses. 


And then, although not considered one of the 4 special shabbatots we have Shabbat Hagadol which is the Shabbat preceding Pesach. We do not have a special maftir but we do have a special haftarah which speaks about Eliyahu. The Rabbis argue we read this haftarah to remind us of the role Eliyahu plays at our Pesach table. 


There are additional special shabbatot that happen throughout the year leading up to other holidays but the 4 special shabbatot are especially poignant as we prepare for passover. These are all ways to mark the counting down to Passover. They give us pause for reflection as we prepare and come together as a community to recount our exodus from Egypt.