A census, Haman, a rare bovine, the month of Nisan. What do these items have in common? And what meaning do they have for us today? Now that we have reached the “quiet Shabbat” with no additional reading it’s time to look back on the four special Shabbatot that always proceed Passover. We start each year’s cycle with Shabbat Shekalim followed in turn by Shabbat Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh. Shekalim speaks about the census that was taken and how each person paid a half shekel which could then be counted to know how many Israelites there were. Zachor, always read on the Shabbat before Purim, reminds us about Amalek and how we need to recall what Amalek did to us while in the dessert. The command to wipe out the name and memory of Amalek is the basis for our use of groggers to blot out the name of Haman who is considered a descendant of Amalek. Parah, perhaps the strangest of the readings, speaks of the parah adumah, the unblemished red heifer which was used in a ritual to make sure everyone was ritually pure to celebrate Passover. HaChodesh, “The month” refers to Nisan and this reading occurs on the Shabbat before the start of the month in which Passover falls. Since all of these readings come from the Torah and describe ancient events we need to find their meaning for us today. To me, Shekalim reminds us of the meaning of each individual and the half shekel represents our equality as beings created in God’s image. Zachor speaks of memory and reminds us of our historical background especially as we prepare to retell the Passover story. Parah, a ritual that we certainly do not perform today reminds us of holiness and purity. HaChodesh reminds us of time and the start of the month of Nisan can be one last “reality check” that Passover is just around the corner. As all of us get ready to observe Pesach recalling these four special readings can help put us in the right frame of mind. Anita and I wish all of you a Chag Sameach!