Haftoras Parshas Para
Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg
This Shabbos, we read Parshas Parah, where the focus is on the para adumah, the red heifer used to purify those who have come in contact with the dead. Subsequently, the haftorah deals with the prophecy of Yechezkel, where, as many commentators point out, there is reference made to God purifying the Jewish people with water at the time of redemption. While the verse itself (as we will soon see) seems quite poetic, it is difficult to understand when taken out of the context of the prophecy. We will take a general look at the prophecy, which will help us understand what is taking place here, and how this verse is a pivotal part of the overall process of redemption.
The prophecy begins with a recounting of the sins committed by Bnei Yisrael, culminating with the following statement by God (Yechezkel 32:20):
“And when they came unto the nations, whither they came, they profaned My holy name; in that men said of them: These are the people of the LORD, and are gone forth out of His land.”
After this, another prophecy emerges, where God speaks of the coming redemption. It begins with God making what would seem to be a provocative declaration (ibid:22-23):
“Therefore say unto the house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord GOD: I do not this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name, which ye have profaned among the nations, whither ye came. 23 And I will sanctify My great name, which hath been profaned among the nations, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.”
God then moves into the specifics about how His being profaned will be rectified (ibid 24-27):
“For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.”
God then speaks of other changes and different brachos that will emerge in the Land of Israel (due to a lack of space, these other verses will not be). He concludes this prophecy much like it started (ibid 32):
“Not for your sake do I this, saith the Lord GOD, be it known unto you; be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.”
One overall theme throughout this prophecy concerns the resolution through geula (as this clearly is referring to the time of the geula) of the chillul Hashem that emerged via the Jews living among the other nations. However, what is fascinating is the language God uses in His “drive” to redeem the Jews – essentially, it has nothing to do with Bnei Yisrael, and everything to do with God’s Name. How do we understand this overall objective?
There is another troubling tendency throughout this prophecy, one that seems to undermine a basic tenet of the future geula. Throughout this prophecy, God is directing all the action--“I will take you…,” “I will sprinkle…”--and so on. The implication from this is that the Jewish people play no active role in the coming geula. It is almost if we just sit back and wait for it all to happen. At the same time, as the Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuva 7:5), the Jewish people are only redeemed through teshuva. In other words, there has to be some active effort by Bnei Yisrael to merit this result. How do we resolve this contradiction?
Finally, there is the specific verse about God’s sprinkling of water on us. Clearly, this is not to be taken literally – so how do we understand this description? As we will soon see, the Redak offers an enlightening explanation that helps resolve this problem.
Before introducing an explanation, it is critical to approach this area in a very careful manner. There is a temptation that can emerge when analyzing the geula that leads to a focus on the specifics of how events will unfold. We are warned by many talmideichachamim not to dwell on the particulars, but instead just understand and internalize the reality of the guela. However, at the same time, there are important prophecies that are, in essence, public knowledge. Therefore, one could conclude that the benefit of analyzing the geula comes from understanding how it compares to our present state, and how it reveals more about God’s hashgacha, His unique relationship to Bnei Yisrael. In other words, if we gain more in our knowledge of God, then this study becomes very constructive.
Let’s establish first the nature of the chillul Hashem being discussed in Yechezkel’s prophecy (this general idea was discussed in the articles on kaddish, as I am sure everyone remembers). The destruction of the Bais Hamikdash and subsequent galus was a punishment inflicted on the Jewish people, a clear manifestation of schar v’onesh. However, the direct consequence of this state is the inability of the Jewish people to sanctify the Name of God on a truly global scale. Furthermore, it is clear evidence of our straying from God. We are scattered throughout the world, lacking a Bais Hamikdash, and therefore we carry the stains of our sins, our inability to adhere to God’s way, every second we exist in galus. The world may view the Jews as survivors, but we are not viewed as ohr lagoyim, the light onto the other nations. Therefore, the chillul Hashem is a constant, and will continue until the redemption.
With this in mind, we can answer the above contradiction. No doubt, Bnei Yisrael must engage in repentance prior to the redemption. This return to God lay solely in the hands of the Jewish people. We have bechira, free will, and our exercise of it is what can bring about the geula. While this will help remedy our own relationship with God, it will not be enough to correct the defect of the chillul Hashem that exists. For that to occur, God must intervene. This could be why the entire prophecy is set up from the perspective of God. He will intervene to aid in correcting the chullul, as we cannot do this independently. However, the initial process to merit such an intervention requires us to complete teshuva.
According to the prophecy, we are to return to Eretz Yisrael first, and then the water is sprinkled on us. The significance of being in Eretz Yisrael is important for many obvious reasons. In this prophecy, the importance is on the united nation that will now exist, a cohesion that cannot exist when we are in exile. Throughout this specific prophecy, God refers to Bnei Yisrael as Beis Yisrael, a singular type reference. Once we return, we are looked upon as a nation, a unified group, rather than scattered individuals belonging to a specific religion. This perception will seem to have a profound effect on the nations of the world, as the correction of the chillul Hashem now begins. Once unified, we see the idea of the water being sprinkled onto the Jewish people. What does this refer to? The Redak presents a non-literal explanation for this description. Much like the waters of the mikvehare metaher – “purify” – those who are tameh, so too we will receive a complete kapara, or forgiveness, from God for our past sins. It will be a complete change. In the context of the united nation, this explanation is quite beneficial. As individuals, we have the ability to do teshuva and achieve kapara. However, there are sins that the nation as a whole is responsible for. For example, when we see the sin of the golden calf, we see God treat the nation as an entity, rather than isolated individuals. Beyond the overall culpability of the nation in this sin, we see an idea that the nation is now identified with this tragic event. It was the error of the nation, rather than of the individuals. These defects of the nation can only truly be completely repaired once we are together and functioning as a nation. And with our relationship with God repaired, we are now able to re-engage in our roles as sanctifying the Name of God.