Haftarah Parshat Shemini
March 26, 2011
20 AdarII 5771
This Shabbat marks the third of four special Shabbatot where we read both a special additional Torah reading and a special haftarah. Parshat Parah was meant as a reminder to the people of Israel that they should make sure that they are in a state of ritual purity for the upcoming Passover festive offering. The special Torah reading speaks of physical ritual impurity; the haftarah, on the other hand, speaks of spiritual and moral impurity. The prophet Ezekiel chastised the people for their moral impropriety and for their betrayal of God. He alerted them that the consequence of their actions would be exile. Exile, however, was not just a punishment for the sinful nation, it was also a profound embarrassment to God: “I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries: I punished them in accordance with their ways and their deeds. But when they came to those nations, they caused My name to be profaned in that it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, yet they had to leave His land.’” (verses 19-20)
What was the source of God’s disgrace? The main source of God’s “embarrassment”, according to Rashi and Rabbi David Kimchi, was the very fact of their exile. People would say that God is incapable of removing them from exile and restoring them to their land, unaware that their exile was justifiable as punishment for their behavior.
The following Talmudic passage answered this question differently, focusing not on the fact of the people’s exile but on the behavior of a particular element of society: “One who reads Scripture, studies Mishnah and serves sages, but his business practices are corrupt, and he does not speak kindly with others, what do people say about him? [They say: ‘Woe to so and so who studies Torah, woe to his father who taught him Torah, woe to his teacher who taught him Torah. So and so who studied Torah, see how corrupt his deeds are and how loathsome are his ways. About him, Scripture says: ‘These are the people of the Lord, yet they had to leave His land’” (adapted from Yoma 86a)
Those who purport to serve God, have a serious responsibility. They represent not only themselves and their own reputations; they are also held up to be standard-bearers for God and God’s ways in the world, causing God either honor or embarrassment. This is a weighty responsibility that all of us should consider carefully.