It's not only Shabbat Ki Tisa, it's also Shabbat Parah. One of the four special Shabbatot preceding Pesach. (Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah and Shabbat HaChodesh.)
On Shabbat Parah we add a short Torah reading from Bemidbar (Numbers) 19:1-22, which speaks of how the ashes of an unblemished red heifer are used to create a special water of lustration for purification. (We'll save that whole discussion for when the parashah, Chukkat, comes around!)
The linked reading from the prophets for Shabbat Parah is from Ezekiel 36:16-38. The Torah reading teaches about purification of those who have become impure. This haftarah speaks of a purification (of sorts) of the entire people of Israel.
For our failures of faith and action (and for doing things which G"d had commanded us not to do) the Israelites found themselves in exile. Here, Ezekiel offers some consolation and some hope for the future, for a return to the land. First, G"d explains through Ezekiel that their evils ways and disregarding of the mitzvot made the people impure in G"d's sight. Therefore, G"d scattered and dispersed them among other nations.
Once again, G"d's vanity shows, as G"d complains that the very presence of of the Israelites in exile is an embarrassment to G"d, an issue as it were, of "marat ayin," of how it looks to others. I guess without Moshe around, there was no one to temper G"d's vain streak by playing to it, as Moshe did, on numerous occasions. For here G"d wishes to have G"d's cake and to eat it it, too! (Although perhaps G"d can truly do that?) G"d sends the Israelites into exile for their wicked ways, then complains because their presence in the lands to where they were exiled is an embarrassment to G"d. Can't have it both ways, big kahuna.
"Not for your sake will I act" says G"d to the Israelites, "but for My Holy Name, which you have caused to be profaned among the nations to which you have come."
And how can G"d fix this and eliminate embarrassment? Why, simply by returning the people to the land. However, we have a catch-22 here. G"d can't really return them to the land until the people have been made pure again, and recognize the error of their transgressions.
And when will this happen? When will the people be returned to the land? We aren't told. Of course we know that conquest (Persia over Babylon) and political shrewdness (Persia's more enlightened approach to empire-building) allowed the people to return. And I;m not so sure how far along in G"d's purification process we were, because we wound up getting exiled again, a few centuries later, and this time for a very long time. (And, to be frank, while we have medinat Yisrael (the state of Israel) reborn in our time, we haven't exactly had a full ingathering of the exiles, have we? We can't even be sure that this Israel is the one of messianic promise.)
It's tough being on the down side for so long. We can understand what The Bard of Stratford-on-Avon meant when he wrote:
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state, And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries, And look upon myself, and curse my fate, Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd, Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope, With what I most enjoy contented least:
And that last line gives me pause. In many ways, life for the Jewish people has improved in the last two centuries. In America, Canada, Australia and elsewhere we flourish. Even in Europe, the shattered remains that survived the Nazis is once again rebuilding (though sadly, also rebuilding at the same time is anti-Semitism, bigotry, hatred and dehumanization that were the tools of the Nazis.)
And we strove, and strove, with our new found emancipation,. We wanted what everyone else had and we went for it, big time. Yet, like the lovelorn William, we somehow remain not content with what we have acquired. Something is missing.
Let's see. Where was I before I digressed? Ah yes...beating up on G"d and the Jewish people and modern Israel. Enough of that (for now.) What really attracted me to this special haftarah is the wonderful imagery found in verses 26-28.
36: 26"And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you; I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; 36:27 and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules. 36:28 Then you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your ancestors, and you shall be My people and I shall be your G"d.
It's beautiful and poetic imagery. These words uplift me every time I hear them. Then, as in the Shakespearean sonnet, "haply I think on thee, and then my state." For it seems as if the heart transplant did not go well. Our new hearts of flesh have again become hearts of stone.
Yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel (or, to continue using Shakespeare's imagery "like to the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth sings hymns at heaven's gate." ) While we may not all have been returned to Zion, and from there the word of the L"rd blazes forth to the whole world, we are still here. There is something about us, about this covenanted people that continues to fail to live up to its end of the agreement, that enables us to survive to continue to try and demonstrate, through living example, what it is that G"d wishes us to do in order that all humanity may thrive.
Perhaps this is it-the missing element that we need to help us get back on track - G"d's love.
Unfortunately, the Christian community seems to believe it owns the copyright on "G"d's eternal love" and so it always feels a little odd, as a Jew, to speak of G"d's love for us, for the Jewish people. And yet here it is. We have not been abandoned quite yet. Agreed the Shoah (Holocaust) raises many questions. Yet we survived even that. G"d make be taking a less active role in this partnership, but who can blame G"d when we continue to really live up to our end of the bargain?
Still, as grounded and pragmatic as I am, there's always inside me that little spark that believes that we Jews are still here because G"d loves us and cares for us (though not for a second would I ever believe only us) despite our continual failures. There must be some spark of something good left in us.
For me, G"d's love is one place from which I derive the passion that drives me to be actively Jewish, to be a Jewish educator, to use Jewish music to lift spirits. I am partnering with G"d to help put hearts of flesh back into the Jewish people. What greater task could there be?
And when I think of G"d's love...well, let me allow Shakespeare to finish the thought:
For Thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings'.
©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
Ki Tisa 5765-Re-Souling
Ki Tisa 5764-A Musing on Power Vacuums
Ki Tisa 5763-Shabbat is a Verb
Ki Tisa 5762-Your Turn
Ki Tisa 5760-Anger Management
Ki Tisa 5761-The Lesson Plan
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