Haftarat Parashat Parah: The Sanctification of Hashem's Great Name

[Ashkenazim: Yechezkel 36:16-33

Yemenite Jews/Sefardim: Yechezkel 36:16-36]


"And I will sanctify My great name that was desecrated among the nations, that you desecrated among them.  Then the nations will know that I am Hashem" (Yechezkel 36:23).


Our Haftarah is a special one, and is related to the additional Torah reading called "Parah."  This portion deals with the "Parah Adumah" - the Red Heifer that is designated to rid us of all impurity incurred by contact with the dead.  Its theme of purification explains why we read this portion in the weeks leading up to Pesach: after all, the holiday itself, and its requirement to visit the Temple, obligate us to purify ourselves. The purification described in this Haftarah, however, does not pertain to the individual, but rather to the entire Nation, at the conclusion of the Exile, when it truly needs it.


"And the word of Hashem came to me, saying: Son of man, the House of Israel, as long as they lived on their own Land, they defiled it by their way and by their misdeeds; like the uncleanness of a woman in the period of her separation was their way before Me" (ibid. 16-17).  As is known, the Nation of Israel was mired in the most severe sins: idol worship, illicit sexual relations, and murder – sins that require a radical transformation, i.e. exile.  "I poured out My wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the Land and because they had defiled it with their idols.  And I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the lands.  According to their way and their misdeeds did I judge them" (ibid. v. 18-19).  Since we were unable to act as a Holy Nation, we were cast out among the nations of the world.  But a severe problem, no less hideous than the one which caused the destruction, arose while we were in exile.


"And they entered the nations where they came, and they desecrated My Holy Name" (ibid. v. 20).  What type of desecration of Hashem's Name are we discussing?  Didn't the Nation of Israel reach the ultimate of desecrating Hashem's Name while performing those horrible sins?  This desecration was something else, which the verse specifies: "It was said of them: These are the Nation of Hashem, and they have come out of His Land" (ibid.).


Humanity well knows that the Nation of Israel is the Chosen Nation and that the Land of Israel belongs to them.  But things have gone awry: instead of being master of its Land, the Nation of Israel became a wandering and outcast Nation.  It is an unbearable national failure.  "But I had pity on My Holy Name, which the House of Israel had desecrated among the nations to which they had come" (ibid. v. 21).  The entire purpose of Creation is sanctifying Hashem, who brought down his Divine Presence from the supreme worlds to the lower worlds in order to reside in them and illuminate them through the Nation of Israel.  And yet this eternal plan directed the Nation of Israel to be temporarily located outside of its Land.


"So says Hashem G-d: Not for your sake do I do this, House of Israel, but for My Holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations to which they have come" (ibid. v. 22).  Hashem acts in this way not for Israel's sake but in order to sanctify His Great Name: "And I will sanctify My Great Name, which was profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst, and the nations will know that I am Hashem, so says Hashem G-d, when I will be sanctified through you before their eyes" (ibid. v. 23).  It was (and is) incumbent upon us to sanctify Hashem's name, but we betrayed our mission. So Hashem took the mission upon Himself.  But did He repair this terrible affront to His Holy Name?  "For I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your Land" (ibid. v. 24).  The ingathering of the exiles, the revival of the Nation of Israel in its Land and returning to nationhood is the great sanctification of Hashem’s name.  In this way, everything returns to its proper order, according to the Divine plan.  But it is not a redemption that occurs because the Nation of Israel merits it.


"And I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you will be purified from all your impurities; and from all your abominations, I will purify you" (ibid. v. 25).  A Jew who makes aliyah is not necessarily pure, but he will become pure.  This idea is contrary to the view of some Rabbis that the purification of the Nation of Israel must precede their return to Eretz Yisrael.  The prophet Yechezkel teaches us, in the Name of Hashem, the exact opposite.  The Exile is a desecration of Hashem's Name and not a place for purification.  Purification can only occur in Eretz Yisrael.


"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh" (ibid. v. 26).  Even some Jews who make aliyah will have a heart of stone, but they will receive a heart of flesh when they root themselves in the Land.  The spiritual revival of the Nation will follow the national revival, according to the Divine blueprint.  "And I will put My spirit within you and bring it about that you will walk in My statutes and you will keep My ordinances and do [them]" (ibid. v. 27).  The performance of the Mitzvot comes at a much later stage in the purification of the Nation of Israel. It is caused by the purifying waters and the heart of flesh.


And in order to make it completely clear that our Redemption is not dependent upon our merits and repentance, Yechezkel emphasized: "And you shall remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own eyes on account of your sins and on account of your abominations.  Not for your sake do I do it, says Hashem G-d, may it be known to you, be embarrassed and ashamed for your ways, House of Israel" (ibid. v. 31-32).


Yechezkel transmitted to us a precise plan for the Redemption and the revival of the Nation of Israel.  According to this Divine blueprint, the Nation of Israel will first return to its Land, and only then experience, little by little, an ethical, spiritual, and religious purification.  The Master of the Universe guides the purification of the Nation of Israel, first removing us from the impurity of Exile, and next renewing our body, heart and spirit.  Only then are we ready to fulfill the Torah's mitzvot.


Just as the first part of Yechezkel's prophecy is coming true before our eyes, i.e. the return of the Nation of Israel to its Land, so too is a new idealistic, ethical, and spiritual spirit manifesting itself in our time.  We must not despair that the process is a slow one. It will be perfected in later stages of our Salvation, and it will lead us to complete and supreme unity with Hashem and His Torah.