Parshat Ki Tissa
March 18, 2006
Ezekiel was very pessimistic about the human condition. He regarded exile as the just desert for the sins of the nation but equally he regarded redemption as humanly unattainable. God was the sole agent of redemption and His rationale for redeeming His people was not because they deserved it but rather because the honor and sanctity of His name was at stake. God could not be seen as being incapable of saving His people from exile so He would first redeem them physically from their exile and then when they were again in their homeland, He would redeem them spiritually and morally as well.
This summarizes Ezekiel\’s evaluation of the dichotomy between Kiddush Hashem (The sanctification of God\’s name) and Hillul Hashem (the Profanation of God\’s name). Since human beings were incapable of reaching the heights of every being able to sanctify God\’s name, how the world perceived God would be determined solely by God\’s ability to shepherd the fate of His people. This message obviously represented a message of hope for a generation which did not see itself as fit for redemption. Knowing that God would nevertheless redeem them for His own sake meant for them that it was realistic that it would happen. This left little room for human initiative and self imposed responsibility.
In the following passage, Abaye records a teaching from the period of the Mishnah which seeks to shifts the responsibility for the protection of God\’s dignity from God\’s hands to His agents in the world: Abaye said: As it was taught:\’ And you shall love the Lord your God\’ – [learn from this] that the name of Heaven shall be loved because of you. If someone studies Torah, learns Mishnah, attends the sages, and his business dealings are honest, what do people say? \’Happy is the father who taught him Torah. Happy is the teacher who taught him Torah. So and So who learned Torah, look at how pleasant are his ways, how correct his deeds are. About such a person, it is written: \’And He said to me: You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. (Isaiah 49:3) But if someone studied Torah, leaned Mishnah, attends to sages, but is dishonest in business and treats people poorly,, what do people say of such a person? Woe you the one who taught him Torah; woe to the father who taught him Torah; woe to the rabbi who taught him Torah. So and so is learned in Torah, look at how awful are his deeds and loathsome his ways. Scripture says of him: \”And when they came unto the nations, that they came there, they profaned My name; in that people said of them: These are the people of the Lord, who have gone forth from their land. (Ezekiel 36:20) (adapted from Yoma 86a)
This passage uses a verse from our haftarah differently from the way intended by Ezekiel\’s original message. For the sages, it is not the exile that is the \”hillul Hashem\”; rather it is the poor behavior of those who were supposed to represent God which profaned His name. This is a message which all of us should take with the utmost seriousness.
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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