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shabbat moshiach | Special shabbatot (Sabbaths)

The spiritual cycle of the Jewish year depends on an interaction among the flow of holidays, the marking of Rosh Chodesh (the new month) and the weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) observance. The holidays and fast days sometimes permeate the surrounding Shabbatot (plural of Shabbat) with holiday themes. 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 handful of Shabbatot (plural for Shabbat) deserve special mention. These Shabbatot have special Torah readings associated with them. The most noteworthy of these special Shabbatot are known as the Four Parshiyot (the Four [Torah] Portions). The Four Parshiyot are special Torah readings added to regular weekly Torah readings in preparation for Pesach (Passover). These additional readings come from a different portion of the Torah than the regular weekly reading, and ordinarily require a separate Torah scroll, or at least a strong person to roll the scroll to the extra reading and a patient congregation to wait while he does it! The additional reading is read after the regular weekly reading, and is referred to as the maftir portion. These four Shabbatot are the only ones (other than holidays and Rosh Chodesh) that have an extra Torah portion.

Special Shabbatot are fixed Jewish Shabbat days, which precede or coincide with certain Jewish holidays during the year. Each one has a special name.

Shabbat Shuvah ("Sabbath [of] Return" שבת שובה) refers to the Shabbat that occurs during the Ten Days of Repentance, but is between (i.e. not including): the two consecutive Days of Rosh Hashanah; and the Day of Yom Kippur.

Shabbat Shirah ("Sabbath [of] song" שבת שירה) is the name given to the Shabbat that includes Parsha Beshalach. The Torah reading of the week contains the Song of the sea (Ex. 15:1-18).

Shabbat Shekalim ("Sabbath [of] shekels" שבת שקלים) read in preparation for Purim, requests each adult male Jew contribute half of a Biblical shekel for the upkeep of the Tent of Meeting.

Shabbat Zachor ("Sabbath [of] remembrance שבת זכור) is the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 (at the end of Parasha Ki Teizei), describing the attack by Amalek, is recounted.

Shabbat Parah ("Sabbath [of the] red heifer" שבת פרה) takes place on the Shabbat following Purim, in preparation for Passover.

Shabbat HaChodesh ("Sabbath [of the] month" שבת החודש) precedes the first of the Hebrew month of Nisan during which Passover is celebrated.

Shabbat HaGadol ("Great Shabbat" שבת הגדול) is the Shabbat immediately before Passover.

This shabbat is one of those special shabbatot, Shabbat Parah ("Sabbath [of the] red heifer" שבת פרה) takes place on the Shabbat before Shabbat HaChodesh, in preparation for Passover. Bamidbar / Numbers 19:1-22 describes the parah adumah ("red heifer") in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple in Jerusalem) as part of the manner in which the kohanim (priest) and the Jewish people purified themselves so that they would be ready ("pure") to sacrifice the korban Pesach (Passover Sacrifice).

Specifically, the ritual purifies people from the ritual impurity that comes from contact with the dead. At the end of the ritual, the people are purified, but the person who performed the ritual becomes temporarily impure.

The passage is chosen for this time because of the need to purify oneself for Pesach, in preparation for pilgrimage to the Beit HaMikdash. The corresponding haftarah portion is Yechezkel / Ezekiel 36:16-38, which also talks about purification.

According to Jewish tradition (Chazal) Mashiach will offer the tenth red cow. Thus, the existence of a red heifer is a possible, but not definite, sign of the eminent revelation of Melech HaMashiach. If Mashiach were coming, there would be a red heifer, but there could be a red heifer without Mashiach coming.

Messiah taught an internalization of the Torah’s purity laws when He praised the “pure in heart.” He taught that the sins which proceed from within a person defile a man. The emissaries taught that G-d cleanses the heart through faith, and they frequently contrasted the spiritual defilement caused by sin with the cleansing purification brought by Messiah.

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