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'You will be profaned in the sight of the nations, and you will know that I am G-d' (Ezekiel 22:16)
The prophet Ezekiel himself was a kohen - a priest who spent his earlier life in the Holy Land. His period of recorded prophecy, however, took place after his enforced exile to Babylon - during the period before and after the Destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. His Divine communications were addressed to both those Jews already exiled in Babylonia, and to the people of Jerusalem.
The Book of Ezekiel begins in drama, and climaxes to crescendo. It is a long message with powerful, vivid, and ultra-brilliant images. It starts with the excitement of storms, lightening and fire - the heavens open, and Ezekiel dramatically experiences G-d's words and power. The Almighty calls on him to be a prophet to carry His message to the people through communications emanating from the celestial mobile angelic composition of His throne. The prophecy continues to warn the Jews in the darkest terms of His judgment on them, as a consequence of their having abandoned Torah teachings and basic morality, preferring false prophets, and an idolatrous and grossly self-indulgent lifestyle - the subject of this Haftara. [Indeed, in one verse alone (22:9) Ezekiel accuses them of committing the three cardinal sins - murder, idolatry, and forbidden sexual relationships.] It then leaves the Israelites, removing its focus to the doom of the various nations that misled them. By the time the prophecies of Ezekiel return to the Jews, they become warmer and more kindly. Words of threat are replaced with words of comfort and hope: promising a brighter future for the Israelites and their revival and unification within the Holy Land, with, after the defeat of the nation of Gog, a fully restored Temple and Nation.
The Haftara lists outrageous conduct, taking the form of a negative mirror image of many of the laws commanded in Parashat Kedoshim, and the one before it. G-d orders Ezekiel to proclaim that the Holy City has been defiled by the behavior of the Jewish People. Murder (including that incited through gossip), forbidden sexual relationships, and idolatry are committed openly. The teachings of the Torah in social justice including honoring parents, fair business dealings, and compassion to the stranger, orphan, and widow have all been spurned. The fate of the Jewish People is that they will be scattered among the nations, who will despise them for rejecting the teachings of their holy and exalted traditions.
However the verses following the Haftara do give a perspective. The purpose of the suffering of the Exile is not to destroy the people, but to purify them. As neglected and tarnished silver may be refined in fire to turn it into pure metal, so may the suffering of the Israelites in foreign lands put them in a state of mind to appreciate the Holy Land when G-d deems them worthy of returning.
The final words of the Parasha: 'You will be profaned' is the opposite of the opening words of the Parasha 'You shall be holy' (Lev. 19:2). How do they go together?
Look at Parashat Kedoshim and note how it divides neatly into two parts. The first lists a large section of the 613 Mitzvot, including the commandment to 'love your neighbor as yourself'. It opens with the masthead 'You shall be holy'. The Ramban understands that phrase as presenting the very spirit of all Torah life - to live in such a way that appropriate moral behavior permeates everything one does. A person who only observes the letter of the law may become a 'naval birshut ha-Torah' - a degenerate, debased person without actually breaking the Torah. Examples of characteristic behavior would include gross overeating of roast duck with the best, most 'glatt' hechsher, and a stamp collector offering a higher price for a very rare stamp when the other already agreed to sell it to someone else who had set his heart on it.
The second part of the Parasha does not, on first sight, match up with the first. It demands fearsome penalties for serious breaches of the law which appear to be in a very different category to those under 'You shall be holy'. It includes child sacrifices to the idol Molech, and the sexual offences of incest, adultery, and bestiality. These are not mere breaches of 'you shall be holy' - the spirit of the law, but as serious breaches of Torah law as can be. The Torah does not, as one might expect, recount and add penalties to the offences from the first half of the Parasha - such as those concerning inappropriate ways of relating to others socially and in business.
However, if one looks at the implications of 'being holy', the two parts of the Parasha do fit neatly. For Rashi at the end of the Parasha brings another explanation of the expression 'to be holy'.
One should not say 'I will refrain from… eating pork because it is unhealthy… but because that is what G-d decrees' (Rashi to 20:26).
That idea supplements the view of the Ramban. The Mitzvot should be performed in the most positive spirit. However, there comes a situation where one may take this argument too far. That involves taking the spirit of the Law to the extent that it involves wrongly breaking the letter of the Law. For example, a person might be tempted to break Shabbat by keeping his shop open, arguing that one should be a 'good person' and 'support ones' family, and even 'G-d can defend Himself, but my children can't'.
And the Torah bears witness to human nature, by placing the two sections of the Parasha together. The message is: once a person 'plays G-d' with the Law, he can come to break the Mitzvot in a most grievous manner - such as Molech worship, or incest. Indeed, this point is hinted at with an incestuous relationship with a half-sister. It describes it as 'Chesed' (20:17) which translated literally is 'kindness'. In extremis, a scenario could occur when such a situation seems to be just that. Nevertheless, it is condemned by the Torah with the words 'they shall be cut off from their people… he shall bear his iniquity' (20:17). In such a case, one must take the other side of 'You shall be holy to Me' - namely 'keep the Mitzvot because that is what G-d decrees.'
Indeed, the final stage comes here, in this Haftara - once a person, or for that matter a nation, 'plays G-d', one comes - indeed the people of Judea came - to forget Him: 'You forgot me, says G-d' (Ez. 22:12). And Ezekiel recounts the consequences of forgetting Him: the city of Jerusalem has become a 'city which sheds blood… making idols… where people despise their parents… extort the orphan and the widow… gossip leading to murder… bribery' (Ez. 22:2-12).
The destiny - the precise opposite of 'being holy'. 'You will be profaned in the sight of the nations, and you will know that I am G-d' (Ez. 22:16).
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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