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Shabbat HaGadol & Parshat Metzora by Karen Knie-Cahana

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat HaGadol, which always falls on the Shabbat before Pesach. This is when the rabbis traditionally would give their longest sermons to help the ba’al habatim prepare for the festival of Pesach. The haftarah from Melachi ends with the pronouncement: "Behold! I send you Eliyahu the prophet before the great and awesome day of Hashem." (Melachi 3:23) Yes! That ubiquitous ghost-guest invited to all of our seders, will come before Yom H’ HaGadol, The Great Day. This Yom Gadol will be the Day of Redemption, when all will be reconciled, as it says “when the elders will re-engage with their children; when children will re-engage with their elders” (Melachi 3:24). Redemption, we are told, will come when we are willing to create opportunities for intergenerational conversations. Isn’t this the essence of the Pesach Seder, which clearly has a core theme of redemption?

This explains why we read this haftarah before Pesach, but what does “redemption” have to do with Parashat Metzorah, which deals with all the priestly rituals and sacrifices to cure a skin condition referred to as Tzara’at, which afflicts humans and dwelling places, as well as impurities from bodily discharges.

Our parasha deals with cleansing that which is impure. The rabbis discuss that this disease, often translated as leprosy, was more likely a spiritual disease, caused by lashon hara or harmful speech. Whether physical or spiritual, the Kohen, the priest, accompanies the one who needs healing in spiritual rituals, sacrifices and mikveh immersions to render the impure back to a state of purity (14:1-32). The text also describes a home with tzara’at, (14:33-57) where the possessions must be removed and a section of the home is rebuilt.

While we may not be trying to get rid of Tzara’at before Pesach and are not actually rebuilding our homes, we do turn them upside down at this time of year to get rid of the chametz, which the rabbis say represents our arrogance, our puffed-up-ness. In preparing for and spending a week re-enacting our freedom from slavery, we go through an exercise of cleansing and even sacrifice designed to bring us back to our purest selves.

May your final cleaning bring full cleansing and closer to the Day of Redemption!

Shabbat Shalom!

Karen Knie-Cahana

Sat, 20 April 2024 12 Nisan 5784