PARASHIYYOT, THE FOUR:
Besides the weekly lesson or parashah that is read from the scroll of the Law every Sabbath, there is sometimes read after it an additional portion appropriate to the particular day. Among such occasional Sabbaths are the two preceding and the two following the Feast of Purim, the four additional portions or parashiyyot for which are called respectively "Parashat Sheḳalim," "Parashat Zakor," "Parashat Parah," and "Parashat ha-Ḥodesh." The Sabbaths on which these four parashiyyot are read are consequently called "Shabbat Sheḳalim," "Shabbat Zakor," etc.Parashat Sheḳalim.
Parashat Sheḳalim, comprising Ex. xxx. 11-16, which contains the commandment of the half-shekel offering, is read on the Sabbath immediately preceding the 1st of Adar or, if that day falls on Saturday, on the 1st of Adar itself. The reason for reading this particular portion on the Sabbath in question is that from the 1st of Adar messengers sent by the bet din formerly admonished the Jews to bring or to send their half-shekel offerings (comp. Sheḳ. i. 1). On Shabbat Sheḳalim two scrolls of the Law are required: one for the weekly lesson, which is divided among seven readers; and one for the Mafṭir who reads the parashah for Sheḳalim. When that Sabbath falls on the 1st of Adar, three scrolls must be used: one for the weekly lesson divided among six readers; one for the portion (Num. xxviii. 9-15) read on Rosh Ḥodesh Sabbath; and the third for the mafṭir who reads the parashah for Sheḳalim. The Hafṭarah is invariably II Kings xii. 1-17 (of the Sephardim, ib. xi. 17-xii. 1-17). It is fully understood that in a leap-year Adar Sheni is meant.Parashat Zakor and Parashat Parah.
The Sabbath immediately preceding the Purim feast is called "Shabbat Zakor" because on that day the mafṭir reads the portion beginning with "Zakor," which comprises Deut. xxv. 17-19. This portion contains the command to blot out the remembranceof Amalek; and it is allotted to the Sabbath preceding Purim because that feast commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from Haman the Amalekite. On Shabbat Zakor also two scrolls are necessary: one for the weekly lesson, and one for the Zakor parashah. The Hafṭarah is I Sam. xv. 2-34 (of the Sephardim, ib. 1-34), containing the narrative of the extermination of the Amalekites by Saul at the command of Samuel.
Parashat Parah (= "section of the Red Heifer"), which comprises the whole of Num. xix., is read on the last Sabbath but one of Adar or on the last Sabbath if the 1st of Nisan falls on Saturday. This is done in order to commemorate the purification of the unclean by sprinkling them with the "water of separation" so that they may be able to bring the Passover sacrifice. On this Sabbath, as on those cited above, two scrolls are necessary: one for the weekly lesson, and one for the mafṭir. The Hafṭarah is Ezek. xxxvi. 16-38 (of the Sephardim, ib. 16-36), verse 25 being an allusion to the "water of separation."Parashat ha-Ḥodesh.
Parashat ha-Ḥodesh—that is, the section beginning with "Ha-Ḥodesh" (Ex. xii. 2-20), which passage contains the command to celebrate the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread—is read on the 1st of Nisan if it falls on Saturday, or on the Saturday immediately preceding if it falls on a week-day. In the latter case two scrolls are used: one for the weekly lesson, and one for the mafṭir, who reads the above-cited portion. When this Sabbath falls on the 1st of Nisan, three scrolls are necessary, and the procedure is the same as on Shabbat Sheḳalim when that Sabbath falls on the 1st of Adar. The Hafṭarah is Ezek. xlv. 16-xlvi. 18 (of the Sephardim, ib. xlv. 18-xlvi. 15), which treats particularly of the Passover feast (Meg. l.c.; ib. Gemara 29b-30b; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 685, 1-5).Reading of Parashat Zakor Obligatory.
Of the Four Parashiyyot, the reading of Parashat Zakor, and, according to some rabbis, that of Parashat Parah also, is considered as a Biblical commandment, so those Jews who live in villages where there is no Minyan must on Shabbat Zakor and Shabbat Parah repair to a place where there is a minyan in order to hear the reading of the parashiyyot (Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 685, 7; comp. Be'er Heṭeb ad loc.).
It will be seen that the four Sabbaths never follow each other uninterruptedly. In most cases there is an interruption ("hafsaḳah") between the Sabbath of Sheḳalim and that of Zakor, while the other three Sabbaths follow closely upon each other. When the 1st of Adar falls on Saturday, which is very rarely the case, the hafsaḳah immediately follows the Purim feast, that is, between the Sabbaths of Zakor and Parah. But when the 1st of Adar falls on Friday, there are two hafsaḳot: one on the 2d of Adar, that is, between Sheḳalim and Zakor; and one on the 16th of Adar, that is, between Zakor and Parah.
The morning service for the Sabbaths of the Four Parashiyyot has special piyyuṭim commonly called "yoẓerot." On Shabbat Sheḳalim and Shabbat ha-Ḥodesh some of these are recited in the Musaf also.