Haftarah Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei Shabbat Parah
March 14, 2015 / 23 Adar 5775
This Shabbat is Shabbat Parah, the third of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. The special maftir Torah reading for the day recounts the rite of the Red Heifer whose ashes were mixed with water and then sprinkled on those who had become ritually impure from contact with the dead. Ezekiel’s message in the haftarah uses this imagery as a metaphor for how God will purify His people from the impurity of their sins in order to redeem them. We include these readings in our liturgy at this time of the year to remind us that the Pesah offering had to be offered in a state of ritual purity. The haftarah ends with a prophecy anticipating the return of the people of Israel from their exile after God’s providential purification: “(37) Thus said the Lord God: Moreover, in this I will respond to the House of Israel and act for their sake: (38) I will multiply their people like sheep. As Israel is filled with sacrificial sheep during their festivals, so shall the ruined cites be filled with flocks of people. And they shall know that I am the Lord.” (36:37-38)
The Targum Yonathan translation of verse 38 looks like anything but a translation: “Like a holy people, like a people who have been purified and have come to Jerusalem for Pesah, so that the cities of Israel which were destroyed will be filled with the people of the house of Israel and know that I am the Lord.” What prompted this “translation” to link this verse with Pesah when it is not mentioned there? Probably the multiple references to “sheep” inspired the association since Pesah is associated with a preponderance of sacrificial sheep.
This linkage, however, runs deeper than that. Ezekiel’s yearning for redemption is Utopian. He envisions God setting the stage to the ultimate redemption and the festival of Pesah conjures up this vision like no other holiday. God will set the stage by conditioning His people for the ultimate homecoming by purifying them of the social and religious ills which, to his prophetic mindset, sealed the fate of the previous kingdom. Once this has taken place, the nation will rebuild, restore and repopulate its destroyed homeland. Targum Yonathan, inspired by the vision of pilgrims bringing their sheep for sacrifice, imagined that the most appropriate time for this to happen was on Pesah, making homecoming to Israel, in his eyes, the culmination of true redemption.