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Shabbat Parah 5772

Haftarah Parshat Vayakhel-Pekude
Shabbat Parah
(Ezekiel 36:16-38)
March 17, 2012
23 Adar 5772

Shabbat Parah is the third of four special Shabbatot which precede Pesah. The special maftir Torah reading for this Shabbat relates the rite of the Red Heifer which was burnt so that its ashes could be gathered, mixed with water and sprinkled on those who became impure through contact with a dead body. This rite was necessary for Pesah so that people could participate in eating the Korban Pesah (the Passover sacrifice) which required ritual purity. Ezekiel borrowed the imagery of ritual impurity and applied it to the nation’s wrongdoings. The nation’s sins led to exile, distancing them both from God and their homeland.

The onus of carrying the people’s sins was not easy on God (as it were) since the people were not always ripe for change and when He punished the nation with exile, He ultimately looked bad in the eyes of the nation because it made Him look incapable. The following midrash accentuates this religiously traumatic situation: “It would have been better for Me (God), if I hadn’t gotten involved in a dispute with that people (the Jewish people). You find that at the time when Israel was exiled among the nations, the Holy One Blessed be He went from door to door among the nations (the enemies of the Jews), where the children of Israel were exiled, to hear what they (the nations) were saying. What were they saying? The God of these people (the Jews) punished Pharaoh, Sisera, Sennacherib and others like them. [The implication is that He will also punish them, namely, the enemies of the Jews.] However, they [the nations] continue: Is it possible for Him [namely, God] to remain young forever [and be able to avenge His people]? [The answer to this question is found in a verse from our haftarah.] As it is written: ‘But when they come (but written: vayavo, in the singular) to those nations, they cause My holy name to be profaned.’ (Ezekiel 36:20) This verse should have said “Vayavo’u (plural) – and when they came”; instead it says: “Vayavo (singular) – and when he came”. We should understand this to mean that, as it were, God Himself came [along with them]. And what did [the nations say]: If ‘these are God’s people’, why ‘did they have to leave the land’? (Eicha Rabbah Peticha 15; Buber ed. p. 13)

This painful message was a message intended for internal consumption. It was meant to point out to the nation that their exile did not mean that they were abandoned. Indeed, God was with them in their exile. They were not alone, but, still, they were in exile. Why? – Because their own behavior put them there. This fate was an embarrassment not only to them but to God as well. The intent of this midrash is a warning not just to Jews but to all people to manage their affairs wisely, for God’s sake.

About This Commentary

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. The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp. Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .  Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:

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