|Some general background on the "Haftarot"
(Much of the following is based on material in "Chazon HaMikra," by Rav Yissachar Yaakovson, published by Sinai; Tel Aviv)
The selection for this week's Haftarah is taken from the chapters of consolation of Yechezkel HaNavi, the Prophet who was with the Jewish People in their exile in Babylonia, after the destruction of the First Temple.
The specific Chapter and Verses are Yechezkel 36:16-38.
Outline of the Haftarah
1. The "Chilul Hashem," the desecration of G-d's Name, caused by the Exile; Yechezkel 36:16-21
There are various aspects of this desecration:
The very fact of the Exile, how the Chosen People of G-d, favored in every way, could reject His Law to the extent that they had to be expelled from the Land of Israel
"This is the People Chosen by Hashem, and they have been expelled from His Land (Yechezkel 36:20)"
Another aspect, mentioned by RADAK, Rabbi David Kimchi, is the length of the "Galut," the Exile, measured in centuries and millenia, suggesting that Hashem doesn't have the ability (G-d forbid) to end it
2. The Sanctification of the name of Hashem, by the In-Gathering of the exiles, independent of the actions or merit of the Jewish People (ibid, 22-24)
"It is not for your sake that I do this, O House of Israel, but rather for the sake of My Holy Name (ibid, 22)"
"And the nations will know that I am G-d " (ibid, 23)
" And I will take you from all the nations, and gather you from all the lands" (ibid, 24)"
3. Spiritual Redemption (ibid, 25-28)
"And I will cause pure waters to be sprinkled upon you and you will become pure, from all your spiritual uncleannesses and all your worshipping of idols " (ibid, 25)
"And I will give you a new heart, and place within you a new spirit, and I will remove from you your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh" (ibid, 26)
"And you will dwell in the Land that I gave your Fathers, and you will be for Me a People, and I will be for you a G-d" (ibid, 28)
4. Physical Redemption (ibid, 29-32)
" And I will call unto the corn " (ibid, 29)
"And I will increase the fruit of the trees and the produce of the fields " (ibid, 30)
5. Your Return to the Land of Israel will sanctify G-d's Name (ibid, 33-36)
"And they will say, 'This Land that was desolate is now like the Garden of Eden, and the ruined, destroyed and desolate cities are again fortified, and settled.' " (ibid, 35)
6. The vast increase in the population of Israel at the Time of Redemption will contribute to the sanctification of G-d's Name (ibid, 37-38)
"as the sheep of Jerusalem during her holidays, so will the ruined cities be filled, as it were, with a "flock of men," and they will know that I am G-d (ibid, 38)"
Discussion of the Haftarah and its Connection with Parshat "Parah"
Parshat "Parah" is one of the four special Parshiyot that lead up to Pesach. It is the one, taken from the beginning of Parshat Chukat in the Book of Bamidbar, that describes the procedures involving the "Parah Adumah," the Red Heifer (young cow). The following are just some of those procedures: the burning of a totally red heifer, with the addition of cedar wood, hyssop and a thread of scarlet to the burning.
The ashes are combined with river or spring water and are sprinkled upon a person or upon vessels on the third and the seventh day after that person or vessel became contaminated by direct or indirect contact with a human corpse. Afterwards, the person or vessel is immersed in a "Mikveh," a ritual pool of water, to complete the purification process.
The above procedures, not completely susceptible to human understanding, are considered part of the "Chok," or Divine Decree component of the Torah, which we are required to accept, with or without understanding (and probably were included in the declaration by the People of Israel "We will obey before we will understand") regarding the Torah.
Incidentally, there is an organization in Israel, called "Ateret Kohanim," "Crown of the Priests," who have identified several "parot adumot," red heifers," and also re-created several Temple sacrificial vessels and musical instruments for use when our prayers will be answered, and the Third Temple will be built.
In the Haftarah, Yechezkel deals with two types of uncleanness - the ritual uncleanness imparted, for example, by contact with a corpse, that requires purification by means of the Parah Adumah, and spiritual uncleanness imparted by sin. In literary terms, corpse-related contact, "tumah" in the ordinary sense, is the "nimshal," the object of the "mashal," or metaphor. Sin, spiritual "tumah," is the "mashal," or metaphor.
But even though we are commanded to observe the decrees of Hashem, whether or not we understand them, we are also obligated to use our G-d - given minds as best we can to understand them. We understand that contact with a corpse is not in general a pleasant experience, but how can we understand its effect of creating "tumah," ritual uncleanness?
Rabbi Samson Rephael Hirsch comes to our aid here. He explains that there is nothing as spiritually depressing, nothing so running counter to the religious feeling of freedom - freedom of will, freedom of action - than the contact with death. In death, all freedom "appears" to be gone, to have been taken suddenly from the being that was moments before full of the energy of life. This unavoidable feeling of loss of freedom, of confinement, is "tumah," ritual uncleanness.
To escape this awful feeling of confinement, of impotence, we need Divine Aid. We need the sprinkling of "Mayim Chayim," "Living Waters," and immersion in a Mikveh.
Sin is also a deadening process. Once we were so close to Hashem - and now, using language similar to the RAMBAM's in Hilchot Teshuvah, the Laws of Repentance, we are rejected, pushed away from, out of touch with Hashem. Again we need Divine Aid. We need the sprinkling of "Living Waters" as described in Yechezkel 36:25 "And I will sprinkle upon you pure waters, and you will become purified; from all your uncleanness and from all your worship of idols, I will purify you."
We need to make ourselves, as it were, into different people. We need a "heart transplant" from the Master surgeon, Hashem. "And I will give them a new heart and a new spirit will I instill within them; and I will remove the dead heart of stone from your bodies, and I will replace it with a living, pulsing heart." (ibid, 26)
One of the difficult aspects to understand about the Parah Adumah is the following paradox: Individuals who are unclean are made clean by being sprinkled with its ashes. Yet, those who are engaged in preparing the ashes, become contaminated!
In the Haftarah, there is a paradox as well. At the beginning, Hashem seems to be angry with the Jewish People, and says that He is redeeming them even though they don't deserve it. Yet by the end of the Haftarah, it seems that Hashem has become satisfied, even happy, with the People of Israel again. He promises one blessing after another, spiritual and physical?!
We can understand this only if we say that the process of Repentance, "Teshuvah," actually re-creates a person, and it is as if that person has left the scene, to be replaced by another one, with the same physical DNA perhaps, but with different spiritual DNA.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU