Parshat Ki Tissa
March 6, 2010
20 Adar 5770
Ezekiel\’s prophecy, in this week\’s haftarah, may be one of comfort, but this does not mean that it affirms God\’s love for His people. Instead, it expresses God\’s profound disappointment with them. Their sins caused them to be exiled and their exile caused God profound embarrassment among the nations. In order to restore God\’s lost dignity, their exile had to end but there is no sense in Ezekiel\’s message in this prophecy that the people had the ability to transform themselves so that they might be worthy of being returned from exile. For this to happen, God would have to initiate the change: \”And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules.\” (verses 26-7)
This radical human transformation is symbolically represented as a \”change of heart\”. A \”heart of stone\” is a symbol of human obstinacy while a \”heart of flesh\” signifies a person\’s willingness to follow in God\’s ways. Still, Ezekiel denied the human ability to alter his obstinate nature. If change would occur, God would be its agent. (see R. Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L\’Yisrael, p. 704)
Ezekiel viewed this transformation as a national one. The author of the ethical midrash, Eliahu Rabbah (~ 9th century CE) turns Ezekiel\’s message inward, seeing in it the God-given means by which each person struggles to overcome the forces within him which might lead him astray: \”\’And I will give you a new heart\’ – this refers to the inclination to do good. \’and put a new spirit into you\’ – these are good deeds. \’I will remove the heart of stone from your body\’ – this refers to the inclination to do evil. \’And I will give you a heart of flesh\’ – to perform the words of Torah. (Seder Eliahu Rabbah ch. 4, Ish Shalom ed. p. 19)
The sages envisioned a struggle which exists in each of us between two forces: the yetzer ha tov – the inclination to do good and the yetzer hara – the inclination to do evil. Since it is not difficult for the yetzer hara to get the upper hand and \”enslave us\”, each of us needs God\’s assistance, at times, to overcome it and free us from its chains.
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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