Haftarah Parshat Ki Tissa
March 2, 2013
20 AdarI 5773
Ezekiel was a revolutionary and visionary prophet. His prophetic message, in this third of the four special haftarot which precede Pesah, opens with message common to other prophets, namely that the nation’s sinful behavior was the primary causes its exile from its homeland. The innovative spirit in Ezekiel’s message is contained in what comes next. The exile may serve as divine punishment for God’s subjects, concludes Ezekiel, but it also reflects badly on God, since God is seen by the nations of the world as weak and incapable of protecting the interests of His people. As a result, exile was no longer considered an effective means for stemming the nation’s sins and redemption was no longer thought of as reward for good behavior since human beings, on their own, would never be deserving of redemption.
This pessimistic view of human nature required a new paradigm. God would redeem His people from exile not because He forgave their sins or because they reformed their ways; rather, their redemption was necessary in order to restore God’s reputation. Redemption and repentance were required to reestablish God’s kingdom on earth but could only be realized through Divine assistance.
Ezekiel chose his metaphor for this process carefully. He seemingly likened the sinner to someone who had become ritually impure through contact with the dead. Someone who came into contact with the dead required the sprinkling of water mixed with the ashes of the Red Heifer in order to be purified, as noted in this week’s Maftir Torah reading: “Whoever touches a corpse, the body of a person who has died, and does not clean himself, defiles the Lord’s Tabernacle; that person shall be cut off from Israel. Since the water of purification was not dashed on him, he remains unclean; his uncleanness is still upon him.” (Numbers 19:13) Symbolically, Ezekiel maintained, the sinner required the same treatment at the hand of God: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean.” (Ezekiel 36:25 – See Rashi) This imagery is especially appropriate for Ezekiel since he was of priestly stock (Kohen). (R. Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L’Yisrael, pp. 703-4) This process would create a “new” human being with a “heart of flesh” instead of a “heart of stone” (See 36:26) – people who would be open to God’s message.
Ezekiel may have been cynical about the human ability to change. He thinks we need help. Fortunately, God is there for us for His own good as well as ours.
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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