Haftarah Parshat Ki Tisa – Shabbat Parah (Ezekiel 36:16-37)
March 18, 2017 / 20 Adar 5777
Shabbat Parah is the third of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. Its was intended as a reminder for people to purify themselves before Pesah so that they would be ritually pure in order to partake of the Pesah offering. The accompanying haftarah from the prophet Ezekiel takes the theme of purity and transforms it conceptually from being a physical condition into a spiritual condition. Sin and disloyalty to God make the people impure and worthy of exile. For Ezekiel, this explains the exile of the children of Israel following the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians.
With all said, though, this exile was an insult to God. What, God’s people are in exile? Was He unable to rescue them? As we have discussed frequently in the past, the sages were taken by unusual expressions in the biblical text. One particular verse in the haftarah cued the rabbinic impetus to answer this question: “When they came (vayavo!) to the nations, they caused My name to be profaned, in that it was said of them: ‘These are the people of the Lord, yet they had to leave the land.’” (verse 20) This verse, of course, refers to the exile of the children of Israel. What is unusual is that the verb used is in the singular, literally “he came”. This may be accounted for by the fact that prophecy addresses the nation as the “House of Israel”.
One midrash takes advantage of this unusual expression to read the verse: “When God came to the nations”, resulting the following midrash: “You find that when Israel went into exile among the nations of the world, the Holy One Blessed be He went around to the doors of the people (where Israel has been exiled) to hear what they were saying. And what were they saying? ‘The God of this people punished Pharaoh, Sisera, Sennacherib, among others like them. They went on to say: ‘He can’t be young forever’ (meaning – We guess He is too old to save His people.), as it is written: ‘When God came to the nations’. The text should have read ‘they came’ but it reads ‘he came’. The intent must be that ‘And God came to the nations’ And what were they saying: ‘If these are the people of the Lord, why are they gone forth out of the land?” (Eicha Rabbah Petihot 15, Buber edition p. 13)
There is a paradox here. The people’s sins brought about the need to exile them from their land. Yet, their exile appears to the world as an indication of God’s weakness or inability. This dilemma was already realized by Ezekiel who determined that God would have no choice but to make His people of sufficiently pure heart that they would be worthy of redemption. This task is an ongoing one. Our worthiness for redemption is also a means for God’s (as it were) recognition and redemption.
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.
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