Haftora for Shabbat Parashat Para

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

Parshat HaShavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion


 

PARASHAT TZAV

 

Haftora for Shabbat Parashat Para (Yechezkel 36:16-38)

"And I shall sprinkle over you purifying water, and you shall be pure"

By Rav Elchanan Samet

 

a. "On the third Shabbat (of the four special parashot, we read the parasha of) Para Aduma, and the haftara is "and I shall sprinkle over you..."

 

Just as the Torah readings for the special "four parashiot" were established by the Tanaim (Mishna Megilla chapter 4, 44), so were their haftarot, as we learn from the beraita in Massekhet Megilla 30a: "On the third (Shabbat we read) Para Aduma (Bamidbar 19), and the haftara is "And I shall sprinkle over you..." (Yechezkel 36:25)."

 

It is obvious that the beraita is not indicating the beginning of the haftara, for the verse quoted from the haftara is found in the middle of the reading. According to all customs the haftara begins at the beginning of this prophecy (36:16): "And God's word came to me, saying...." The beraita intends rather to emphasize the verse where the parallel between the parasha and the haftara is located, the verse that provides the reason for the choice of this prophecy as the haftara for this Shabbat: the sprinkling of the purification waters in the haftara is a metaphor taken from the laws given in the parasha of the Para Aduma (red heifer) for the purification of someone who has become ritually impure through contact with a corpse. The "waters of purification" are the living waters that are mixed with the ashes of the burned red heifer, and these are referred to in the parasha as the "waters of impurity" (mei nidda - 19:13 and other verses there). The sprinkling of these waters on the third and seventh days after the individual has become ritually impure is a precondition for his purification. Twice in parashat Para the Torah uses the root "z-r-k" (throw) with reference to this water: (19:13) "Whoever touches a dead body... and does not purify himself, he defiles the sanctuary of God... for THE WATERS OF IMPURITY WERE NOT SPRINKLED (ZARAK) OVER HIM," and again in verse 20.

 

The choice of the image of sprinkling "waters of purification" (or "waters of impurity") as a metaphor for God's purification of His nation that has been redeemed "from all your impurities and from all your idolatry," is most surprising: this action is associated exclusively with the situation of someone who "touches a dead body of a human being who has died" (19:13). Why is it specifically the purification of someone who has become ritually impure through contact with a corpse that is chosen as the metaphor for the spiritual purification of the sinful nation of Israel? In this very prophecy the impurity of Israel's sin is illustrated by another, seemingly more appropriate image:

 

(36:17) "The house of Israel dwelled in their land and defiled it by their ways and by their actions; their way was before Me like the impurity of a nidda."

 

The Abarbanel proposes the following explanation for the change in the metaphor for impurity between the beginning of the prophecy and its continuation:

 

"'And I shall sprinkle purifying waters over you' – for just as a woman who is nidda will, in order to be able to resume intimacy with her husband, immerse herself in living waters in order to become purified from her impurity, so Israel will remove their sins from upon themselves, in order that they may be pure and cleansed of them. God compares teshuva (repentance) to this when He says, "and I shall sprinkle over you..." – for teshuva cannot be complete without Divine assistance influencing the sinner to return to Him, as it is written (Eikha 5:21), "Return us, God, to You, and we shall return."

 

Apparently, the possibility of transition from one metaphor (the impurity of nidda) to another (the impurity of one who has had contact with the dead) arises from the fact that ultimately the impurity being discussed in the prophecy is only a metaphor, and therefore there is freedom to choose the details of the metaphor in accordance with the requirements of the prophecy – its referent. There is no need to stick to one single halakhic issue of impurity and purification.

 

Perhaps we can suggest another significance for the metaphor of purification through the sprinkling of purifying waters over Israel as they return to their land. The purification is indeed "from all your impurities and from all your idolatry," but attention should be paid to the verses that immediately follow:

 

(26-27) "And I shall give you a new heart, and a new spirit shall I place within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I shall place My spirit within you and shall ensure that you will walk in My statutes...."

 

The purification of Israel from the impurity of their sins involves something like the resuscitation of a body that had no living, beating heart in it. This description is similar to the next one, in the following prophecy (chapter 37), concerning the dry bones:

 

(37:12-14) "Behold, I shall open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O My nation, and I will bring you to the land of Israel. And I will place My spirit within you and you will live, and I will place you in your land...."

 

The return of Israel from exile to their own land is like the revival of the dead; it is the revival of a nation that was "dead" in exile. In chapter 37 it is the physical aspect of this symbolic revival that is emphasized, while in our prophecy the focus is on the spiritual aspect – the spiritual, moral and religious revival.

 

We may now explain the transition from the metaphor of the impurity of the nidda for Bnei Yisrael who dwell in their land and defile it, to the metaphor of purification from the impurity of contact with death for Bnei Yisrael who return to their land. This transition hints at the idea that the return to the land will involve not only a "return" of repentance for the sins of the past, but also a renewal and revival, both spiritual and moral, of a nation that was lifeless and without a heart in exile, and therefore requires purification from the impurity of death.

 

b. "Four Expressions of Redemption"

 

An analysis of the crux of this prophecy of Yechezkel, read as the haftara on Shabbat Para, reveals that it is based on God's declaration at the beginning of parashat Va'era (Shmot 6:2-8). Let us review a list of the parallels between them:

 

Shmot 6:

(6) "Therefore say to Bnei YISRAEL, I AM GOD

And I will bring you out from under the suffering of Egypt

And I will deliver you from their enslavement

And I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments

(7) d. And I will take you

TO ME FOR A NATION, AND I WILL BE TO YOU A GOD, AND YOU WILL KNOW THAT I AM GOD."

 

Yechezkel 36:

(22) "Therefore say to the house of YISRAEL... and the nations will know that I AM GOD

And I will take you from among the nations

And I will gather you up from all the lands

And I will bring you to your land

(25) d. And I will sprinkle over you waters of purification, and you will be purified

(26) And I will give you a new heart

(27) And I will place My spirit within you

(28) And you will dwell in the land that I have to your forefathers

AND YOU WILL BE TO ME A NATION AND I WILL BE FOR YOU A GOD

(38) AND THEY WILL KNOW THAT I AM GOD."

 

Aside from the discrete linguistic parallels, the use of "four expressions of redemption" is obvious in both places. These four expressions are set out in a pattern of "three and four"; i.e., the first three are almost repetitions of one another with little progress from one to the next, while the fourth represents a climax in relation to the preceding three, in terms of both length and content. The first three expressions in each case are very short – which emphasizes the repetition – while the fourth expression occupies the whole of verse 7 in Shmot and several verses in Yechezkel. In terms of content, the first three expressions in each instance describe the process Israel's physical , while the fourth expresses the spiritual climax of the process of redemption, represented by the mutual closeness between the nation and their God.

 

c. Redemption from Egypt vs. the Final Redemption

 

Let us begin with a clarification of the second question, regarding the differences between the prophecy and the declaration in the Torah, limiting our discussion to a comparison between the "four expressions of redemption" in the two places. The first expression in Yechezkel, "And I will take you," opens with the same words as does the fourth expression in Shmot. But they do not refer to the same "taking": in Yechezkel the taking is "from among the nations" – i.e., taking Israel out from among the gentile nations in whose midst they live. In Egypt Bnei Yisrael were enslaved by one nation that kept them by force; therefore all of the first three expressions in Shmot are devoted to overcoming this situation. In the exile of which Yechezkel speaks, Bnei Yisrael are not enslaved by one specific nation; rather, God has punished them with dispersion: (19) "And I will disperse you among the nations and you will be scattered in the lands." The first two expressions of redemption therefore come to reverse this state of affairs: "And I will take you from among the nations, and I will gather you up from all the lands."

 

The third expression in Yechezkel completes this process with "And I will bring you to your land." In Shmot we find a similar stage in the redemption of Israel, described with similar wording: "And I will bring you to the land," only there this stage is outside the framework of the "four expressions"; it occupies its own independent and important place.

 

The fourth stage in the process of Israel's redemption in Sefer Shmot is "And I will take you to Me for a nation and I will be to you for a God" – a clear reference to the Sinaitic experience, the ultimate purpose of the Exodus from Egypt that took place in the desert prior to their entry into the land. The plans for the redemption in Yechezkel do not follow this pattern. The fourth expression is not "And I will take you to Me for a nation" because Israel, even in exile, is still God's nation and has been such, ever since He "took" them "to Himself" at Sinai. The exile was a result of their sins, by which they defiled their land and themselves. In order to correct their situation, it is not sufficient that they be gathered up from the different lands and be brought back to their own land; they need to be purified from the impurity of their sins that caused the exile. Therefore, the climax of the correction is to be found in the fourth expression - "And I will sprinkle over you waters of purification, and you will be purified from all your sins, and I will cause you to walk in My statutes." The renewal of the covenant between the nation and God in the wake of the purification from their sins will not take place in the "wilderness of the nations" (see Yechezkel 20:35-38), but rather in the land of their forefathers from which they were exiled and to which they have been returned: "And you will return to the land that I gave to your forefathers, and you will be to Me for a nation and I will be to you for a God."

 

Thus, although the same literary pattern serves in both places to describe the process of Israel's redemption, the unique character of each redemption dictates the way in which that literary pattern is used. (This literary phenomenon of "four expressions of redemption" built on a pattern of "three and four" is found in other places in Sefer Yechezkel in the context of a description of the process of redemption. See, for example, 11:17-20 where the similarity to the prophecy in chapter 36 is particularly striking.)

 

d. "It is not for your sakes that I do this, O house of Israel, but for the sake of My holy name" (verse 32)

 

Our other question now becomes even more pressing: Since the future redemption described in Yechezkel does not follow the same stages as the redemption from Egypt, why does Yechezkel's prophecy need the prototype of the redemption from Egypt as described at the beginning of parashat Va'era?

 

The answer to this lies in the common principle expressed both in the declaration in Shmot and the prophecy under discussion in Yechezkel.

 

God's notification to Moshe regarding Israel's redemption from Egypt was explained not as a reward for Israel's righteousness and good deeds, nor was it God's response to their suffering that cried out to the heavens (unlike God's speech at the burning bush – Shmot 3 – "I have surely seen the suffering of My nation, and I know their pain"). There is only one explanation provided in this speech: the need to fulfill the covenant that God made with the forefathers with regard to the inheritance of the land (and it is only on the strength of this covenant and its remembrance that "I have heard the sighing of Bnei Yisrael"). This reason is expressed three times with the phrase "I am God." It is as though God's name would not be complete, as it were, if He does not fulfill His covenant and redeem Israel from Egypt.

 

A similar reason, in principle, for God's plan to redeem Israel from Egypt is to be found in Yechezkel's prophecy: it is not Israel's righteousness that will bring about the redemption, for they are told "be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O Israel" (verse 32). Even the suffering of exile is not the cause, for it is not mentioned at all in the prophecy. Only one reason is provided: the very presence of Israel in exile causes a "chillul God" (desecration of God's name), "for they say of them, These are the nation of God, and they have gone out of His land." The literal explanation for this is according to the Abarbanel, "It was not that Bnei Yisrael actually profaned God's name (i.e., through their deeds in exile), but rather by the fact of their exile and their troubles, being God's nation – this was what profaned His name among the nations." This being so, the motive for redeeming Israel is (21) "And I was concerned for My holy name." In our prophecy, too, this idea is condensed into the expression "I am God." Unlike Sefer Shmot, however, where we are told "And YOU WILL KNOW that I am God," Yechezkel says "AND THE NATIONS WILL KNOW that I am God when I am sanctified through you before their eyes." Only at the conclusion of the prophecy, when the description of the process of Israel's redemption is complete and they dwell once again in their land, cleansed of all sin and numerous as a flock – "like the sheep for sacrifices, like the flock of Jerusalem at her appointed times" – only then "they will know" – everyone – "that I am God."

 

(Translated by Kaeren Fish)

 


 

 

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