Haftarah Parah: Holiness and Purity
In a prophecy the takes us from the Garden in Eden to Babylon and back to when Israel was still living in Jerusalem with the Temple, Ezekiel addresses the strength of the connection between God and Israel. God’s Presence in the world is affected by the actions and experiences of Israel.
The formula of this prophetic selection is straightforward. Israel sullied the Land of Israel with their terrible sins of murder, adultery and idol-worship. They made themselves and the Holy land impure. That which is holy repels the impure and Israel was exiled to Babylon. When God’s nation suffered its terrible defeat it brought shame to God’s Name. Rather than sanctifying God’s Presence, Israel created a vacuum, an empty space or “Chilul” of God’s Name. The impurity – Tumah – created a vacuum – Chilul.
Israel was devastated. They knew that they had created distance between God and them. God’s Temple was in ruins as was their relationship with the Master of the Universe.
God’s people, land and Name had become impure and empty – Tumah and Chilul.
Their impurity and the ensuing Chilul crippled the people. The chasm between God and Israel formed a black hole that devoured any seeds of repentance and repair.
How would they lift themselves out of this pit of despair? Was the first step to search for Taharah – Purity – or Kedusha – Sanctity? Did Israel have to take the first step? Should they wait for God?
The crisis intensified as Israel continued to desecrate God’s Name as they lived in exile in their impure state.
How can a nation living in Babylon achieve Taharah? How could these people, so disconnected from God and the Land, sanctify His Name? The prophet, called “Ben Adam”, the Son of Adam, by God, understood that Adam too had brought Tumah to the holy Garden. Rather than sanctifying God’s Name, this great being, the apex of God’s creation, created a hole, a place where God’s Name was not present. He was Mechalel – Disgraced – God’s Name. He too was exiled. Who better than the Ben Adam – the Son of Adam – to explain to Israel what they needed to do?
A bride and groom go to the Mikvah and achieve Taharah before their wedding, or Kiddushin – the sanctification of their relationship. Our practice demands that we achieve purity before holiness – Taharah precedes Kedusha.
“Therefore say to the House of Israel: ‘Thus says My Master, the Lord, not for your sake do I act, but for My holy Name that you have desecrated among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify My great Name that was desecrated among the nations that you desecrated among them. Then the nations shall know that I am God – when I become sanctified through you in their sight. I shall sprinkle pure water upon you, that you be cleansed.” (22-24)
God will sanctify His Name by bringing us back to Israel and purifying us. Ezekiel teaches us that purification is not a step before sanctification. Taharah is the beginning of Kedusha. When we can achieve a higher level of purity in our lives we will sanctify God’s Name. The two are intertwined. We cannot seek purity without focusing on sanctifying God’s Name as well. We will not achieve purity by hiding from the world and claiming that we have achieved purity. We will not achieve our own sanctity until we understand that our first job is to sanctify God’s Name .
How can we achieve higher purity? With our commitment to sanctify God’s Name. By living with awareness that our lives and reputations reflect on God’s Name and Presence. We can only achieve true Taharah when we live with great respect for God’s Name that is intertwined with ours.
Then they shall say, “This very land that was desolate has become a Garden of Eden.” (35) God will say, “I will make Myself accessible to the House of Israel to act for them.” (37)