July 18, 2024
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Parshat Ki Tisa

Shabbat Parah

The opening of this week’s haftarah selection from Sefer Yechezkel is somewhat puzzling for the student of Tanach. The 36th perek, from which we read, precedes the well-known vision of the valley of the dry bones, found in the very next chapter. That vision is one of hope and promise. In it, Yechezkel is told that the “dry bones” of Israel, they who believe all hope is lost, will rise to life again and return to their land. Yet, as we begin this week’s haftarah, we read the harsh words of Hashem directed at the nation. The Holy people, God exclaims, have defiled the Holy Land with their corrupt and immoral behavior—which is why they were removed from the land and exiled among the nations. Yet, here too, they failed to live up to their charge to be a “mamlechet kohanim,” a nation of God’s servants, and have instead behaved in such a way as to defile Hashem’s Holy Name amongst the nations wherein they now lived.

Striking the theme of defilement vs. purity is certainly a proper subject with which to connect us to the special maftir reading, the purification process of the “mayim chayim,” the purifying waters made up from ashes of the parah adumah, the red heifer and specially drawn water. However, given that the upcoming chag of Pesach, for which we are preparing, celebrates both the past redemption from Egypt and the future redemption of messianic time, the condemnation of Israel would seem somewhat out of place. And we wonder if perhaps Chazal could not have found a better selection that fits the mood of the season.

And then we reach the latter part of Yechezkel’s vision. In it, Hashem uses this very sin, this “defilement” of His name, as the reason why He will redeem us and bring us back to the land. And so, a prophecy that began as a condemnation of the people now becomes a prophecy of hope, a promise of redemption. “Lo l’ma’anchem ani oseh,” God tells us that He will not redeem us for our sake, “ki im l’shem kodshi asher chilaltem,” but for the sake of My holy name that you have defiled. This simple, and certainly embarrassing, explanation expresses a revolutionary thought that speaks to us powerfully.

True, we certainly are shamed not to have learned from our past mistakes and to have repeated our sins even after being punished for them. And yes, we certainly are embarrassed to know that we don’t deserve a glorious redemption and we are undoubtedly disappointed to know that the geula would take longer than we had hoped. But, God has just promised that despite the fact that He finds us lacking and undeserving of leaving galut, and despite the fact that we had not yet learned the lessons taught to us repeatedly by our nevi’im, nonetheless, the redemption will come!!!!

Clearly, we should strive to deserve Hashem’s mercies, and certainly we should endeavor to become a purified nation that would sanctify God’s name. But Hashem assures us that, even if the generation is undeserving, even if it repeats the sins of the past, even if it is not yet pure…God will bring us back and restore us to our land. How could we know? That, the prophet told us in the pesukim that precede this haftarah, in this very same chapter:

“V’atem harei Yisrael…” “And you, mountains of Israel, will give forth your branch and bear your fruit for My people Israel, for they will soon come.”

The pasuk of which Chazal say (Sanhedrin 98b) is the proof of the geula, i.e., when the land, once dry and barren, will blossom forth and produce such fruits that they will export them around the world, that is the verse that introduces our haftarah. A haftarah of condemnation that promises redemption.

What a glorious nevuah that prepares us for the Chag Hageulah.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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