Impurity in the Relationship
This week’s Haftarah begins, “Again the word of God came to me: ‘Son of man, the house of Israel are living in their own land, they defile it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was as the impurity of a menstruous woman in my sight’ (Ezekiel 36:16-17).” The Radak explains: The impurity of a menstruous woman is temporary; it lasts until her period ends and she goes to the Mikvah, hinting that the impurity of the House of Israel is temporary, and can be purified. The metaphor hints that God will eventually restore His relationship with the House of Israel just as a husband returns to his wife when she is purified.
This is one of those times when I read a verse and can recite the morning blessing, “Who did not make me a woman,” with extra intention! What a horrible message to send to women! Is a woman to feel that her period with its separation is similar to Israel in exile because of their sins?
A woman doesn’t have a choice whether to menstruate. The impurity happens to her. Is God implying to Ezekiel that the House of Israel is the victim of its impurity? The metaphor hints that the conduct of the House of Israel happened to them as a period happens to a woman!
The tense also implies that this impurity is endemic to whenever the House of Israel dwells in their own land; Ezekiel is addressing the exiles who are living in Babylon, outside of Israel, and yet he says, “The House of Israel are living in their own land, they defile it,” in the present tense.
I suggest that the “impurity” is not that of the actual period, and that the “menstruating woman” is not a woman who is having her period, but a woman who is still in the stage of life when she has a regular period:
Imagine a couple who are having the most intense physical and emotional intimacy of their lives for two weeks. They are experiencing the deepest connection to each other and feel unified as never before. They both know that, as wonderful as these two weeks are, the woman will soon have her period, and the physical intimacy will be temporarily suspended. They want the emotional intimacy to continue, but they wonder whether it will last despite their physical separation. The “period” with its distance is present in their minds even as they are so connected. The question, “Will it last?” is a constant, even when all is well. There is a hint of “impurity,” or separation, even in their deep connection.
Is our relationship with God any different? Do we not wonder “Will it last?” even in our moments of deepest connection with God? Is there not a constant hint of separation even when we are attached to God?
Even when the “the house of Israel are living in their own land,” we know that we can lose our land, and question the consistency of our relationship with God. The question introduces a hint of separation into our, “conduct and their actions.” That is the impurity God is describing to Ezekiel.
[Consider the Golden Calf, for which the Red Heifer is brought as an atonement, and how the Children of Israel needed physical intimacy with God.]
[Consider the metaphor of why an impure person may not enter the Tabernacle grounds: someone who lives with the question, “How long will it last?” may not enter the place of deepest physical intimacy with God.]
There is a challenge in this metaphor of rebuke: “You are in exile. You are separated from God’s House and land. If you experience the distance as damaging the relationship; that without physical intimacy you cannot have emotional connection, you are not ready to return to the land! You may return, but you will still relate to Me with that seed of “impurity” and separation, wondering how long all this will last.”
“However, if you connect with Me despite the physical separation, you will learn to experience physical intimacy with Me, living in My land, coming to My house, without doubt, insecurity, a seed of impurity.”
This is the only way that Ezekiel can introduce his revolutionary approach in this, the Haftarah of Parah…
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