April 7, 2021

Shekalim 10

The Mishna (Shekalim 4:2) found in today’s daf (Shekalim 10b) begins by listing three items that were purchased מתרומת הלשכה – with money from the treasury chamber, namely: פרה – the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) used to purify those who had become טמא (spiritually impure through contact with the dead), שעיר המשתלח – the he-goat that was sent to the wilderness as part of the Yom Kippur Temple service, and the לשון של זהורית – the thread of crimson wool which was tied to the horns of the שעיר המשתלח (see Mishna Yoma 6:6), and which was also used to hold together the bundle of cedar wood and hyssop that was burnt with the פרה (see Mishna Parah 3:10-11).

By grouping these together, and by virtue of the fact that the לשון של זהורית was used for both the פרה and the שעיר המשתלח, it would seem that these two offerings are somehow connected. But how?

To answer, I would like to share a profound idea that I learnt many years ago from the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Bernstein zt’l (see ‘Gevurot Yitzchak: Bereishit’ pp. 61-62) which itself is based on the insights of the Meshech Chochmah (on Vayikra 16:30), Rabbi Nachum of Grodno, and is explored further by Rabbi Bernstein, and to which I would like to add one or two insights of my own.

As the Meshech Chochmah explains, there are two aveirot in our history which continue to haunt us through the ages: The Egel HaZahav (Golden Calf), and the sale of Yosef. And as he explains, there is great symbolism on Yom Kippur concerning both these events. In terms of the Egel HaZahav, the very date of Yom Kippur commemorates the atonement of the people after having built the Egel HaZahav. At the same time, aside from the שעיר המשתלח itself carrying a symbol of a brother who is cast aside in the wilderness, Rabbi Nachum of Grodno points out that there is a connection between Yosef’s special coat that was the source of conflict between him and his brothers, and the wool used on the שעיר המשתלח, since both the coloured wool in Yosef’s coat, and the wool used for the שעיר המשתלח weighed two selaim (see Shabbat 10b re: Yosef’s coat, and Yoma 42a re: the שעיר המשתלח).

Returning to our Mishna which begins with the פרה, it is noteworthy that we are taught elsewhere (see Rashi on Bemidbar 19:2) that the Parah Adumah served as an atonement for the Egel HaZahav, and as such, there are clearly numerous allusions to both the Egel HaZahav (Golden Calf) and the sale of Yosef in the opening words of this Mishna. And what ‘ties’ them together? The לשון של זהורית – which, through often translated as the ‘thread of crimson’, literally translates as ‘the tongue of crimson’. Ultimately, as explained by Rabbi Nachum of Grodno, it was the way in which Yosef spoke to his brothers, and the way they spoke about him, which led to his sale. And it was also the way in which the people spoke about Moshe’s absence and with each other that led them to build the Egel.

And how does this connect to the פרה where we also find the use of a לשון של זהורית? I believe that while the פרה functioned to transform those who were טמא to becoming טהור, it also represents the transformation undergone by someone who had contact with death with an association with life.

As we know, the לשון – the tongue – can be used to promote death (as we see in the story of Yosef) or it can bring about events that led to the death of people (as we see in the story of the Egel). But it can also be used – in so many ways – to foster, enable and protect life. And I believe that it is this ability to turn words of hate into words of love which is the inherent message of the לשון של זהורית. 
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