Haftarah Parashat Vayakhel & Pekudei
Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh
March 10, 2018 | 23 Adar 5778
This Shabbat, our maftir Torah reading is Parshat Parah which describes the rite of the Red Heifer – the only means to purify individuals who became ritually impure through contact with the dead. The reading’s placement, shortly before Pesach, served as a reminder that one had to be ritually pure to partake of the Korban Pesach (the traditional Passover sacrifice we no longer perform).
In the haftarah for this special Shabbat, the prophet Ezekiel offers a complementary vision, in which the problematic “impurity” is a result of immoral behavior and social ills. He asserts that it was, in fact, THIS impurity that caused the Babylonian Exile and destruction of the First Temple. But just like we need God’s help to be rid of ritual impurity, we need God’s help as well to overcome our base natures and be rid of our moral impurity.. This idea is exemplified by a famous verse in Ezekiel’s message: “And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh, and I will put My spirit into you.” (36:26-27)
But how does God do this? It seems likely that Ezekiel understood this to be some kind of supernatural act in which God imposes His will upon human beings, causing a radical change in their natures. But as the following midrash indicates, the Sages saw it differently:
Rabbi Levi in the name of Rabbi Hama bar Hanina said: ‘God’s laws are called hukkim because they are engraved (hakukim) as a safeguard against the Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination).’ Rabbi Levi elaborated: ‘This can be compared to an outpost threatened by brigands. What did the king do? He sent a guard to protect it. So, too, the Holy One Blessed be He said: The Torah is a rock and the Evil Inclination is a rock. The Torah (a harder rock) will defend against the Evil Inclination (a less hard rock) – ”I will remove the heart of stone from your body.”
-adapted from Vayikra Rabbah 35:5 Margoliot ed. pp. 822-3
For the Sages, God revealed the Torah as a means for human beings to exercise self-control, refrain from self-destructive and world-destructive activities, and master the Evil Inclination. In essence, the process of change, of purifying ourselves as individuals and as a society, is in our hands. God gives us Torah as a tool and leaves the work for us.
For Discussion: How has Torah made you, and your community, better? Do you believe that individuals and societies can truly overcome the darker and more problematic aspects of human nature? Why or why not?
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
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