April 2, 2005
There is something in Ezekiel\’s message which is irksome. Although his message, in this third of the four special haftarot before Pesach, has as its theme Israel\’s redemption from exile, still, the circumstances of this redemption are a bit dispiriting. Like many other prophets, Ezekiel maintains that Israel\’s exile was caused by their sinful behavior. His message, however, stresses that their suffering in exile will not be ameliorated by their repentance or by their good deeds. Rather, God will save them from exile solely because their sojourn in exile is a \”hillul Hashem – a profanation of His name. In other words, Israel\’s exile is embarrassing to God: \”And when they came unto the other nations, where they had come, they profaned my Holy name, in that it was said about them: There are the people of the Lord, who from His land they have gone out.\” (36:20) God responded: \”I had pity for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations, where they had gone.\” (Verse 21)
Ezekiel\’s theology is pessimistic about the ability of people to change their ways on their own. Redemption on a personal and on a national level will be achieved only with God\’s help. God will first restore the people nationally and then He will create them anew so that they will be capable of relating to Him: \”A new heart I will give you and a new spirit will I put in you. I will take away the stony heart from out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh. (Verse 26)
At least one later sage tried to temper this idea. People may need God\’s assistance in enacting change in their lives but it seemed unimaginable that God could possibly harbor love for His people if they were incapable of any worthy acts. This idea is expressed in the following midrash found in the 14th century Yeminite midrashic collection known as Midrash Hagadol: \”Scripture tells us that once the people learned that God had forgiven them for the sin of the golden calf and that the Holy One Blessed Be He, had asked them to construct the tabernacle so that He might cause the Shechina (God\’s indwelling prescence) to dwell amongst them, they greatly rejoiced and all went out with great alacrity (enthusiasm) to bring all of their money… And because they contributed with all of their hearts and with all of their spirits, God destined to plant in them a new heart and spirit. This is why it is written: \”A new heart also I will give you and a new spirit will I put within you.\” (Midrash Hagadol to Exodus 35:20, Margulies ed. p. 743)
This Midrash goes to great lengths to assert that God is repaying Israel for the good things that they had done in a previous generation. It seems to assume that sometimes human beings will be exceedingly good on their own while at other times they will come up short. It is at these times that God will \”save His Name\” and assist us to sanctify His Name and profane it.