(March 1-2 is the National Shabbat of Unplugging. Read why I am not unplugging, from a musing I wrote last year http://www.durlester.com/musings/yitro5772.htm )
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 Bamidbar (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, next comes around!
This special Torah reading teaches about purification of those who have become impure. The linked reading from the prophets for Shabbat Parah is from Ezekiel 36:16-38. This haftarah speaks of a purification (of sorts) of the entire people of Israel.
For 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 disregard for 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? Can G”d make a cake that G”d can’t eat, too? Not as profound a question as, perhaps whether G”d can make a rock to heavy for G”d to lift, but interesting to ponder nonetheless.)
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.
לֹ֧א לְמַעַנְכֶ֛ם אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶׂ֖ה בֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּ֤י אִם־לְשֵׁם־קָדְשִׁי֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חִלַּלְתֶּ֔ם בַּגּוֹיִ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥אתֶם שָֽׁם׃
“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. No disrespect to medinat Yisrael, but it has some shortcomings when it comes to living up to fulfillment of messianic promises. There are certainly barriers put up by the religious establishment in Israel that either preclude or make difficult any sort of full ingathering, as the liberal streams of Judaism are largely excluded.)
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. I might be so bold as to suggest that what is missing is the thing to which the Bard refers in this sonnet and so many others. A great love. Ahava Rabbah.
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.
וְנָתַתִּ֤י לָכֶם֙ לֵ֣ב חָדָ֔שׁ וְר֥וּחַ חֲדָשָׁ֖ה אֶתֵּ֣ן בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֑ם וַהֲסִ֨רֹתִ֜י אֶת־לֵ֤ב הָאֶ֙בֶן֙ מִבְּשַׂרְכֶ֔ם וְנָתַתִּ֥י לָכֶ֖ם לֵ֥ב בָּשָֽׂר׃
וְאֶת־רוּחִ֖י אֶתֵּ֣ן בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֑ם וְעָשִׂ֗יתִי אֵ֤ת אֲשֶׁר־בְּחֻקַּי֙ תֵּלֵ֔כוּ וּמִשְׁפָּטַ֥י תִּשְׁמְר֖וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶֽם׃
וִישַׁבְתֶּ֣ם בָּאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֖תִּי לַאֲבֹֽתֵיכֶ֑ם וִהְיִ֤יתֶם לִי֙ לְעָ֔ם וְאָ֣נֹכִ֔י אֶהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם לֵאלֹהִֽים׃
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; 27 and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules. 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. Our hearts are often, despite our improved circumstances, weak and weary. Perhaps we, too, need G”d to give us new hearts. I know that this is something I pray for when my heart is broken or weary and I struggle to find my faith, struggle to even live my life with meaning and purpose. G”d, give me a new heart. Give us new hearts.
Sometimes, I am rewarded, and feel as if G”d has given me a new heart. Then life wends its weary way, and once again my heart has turned to stone. The same happens to our people as a whole. Moments of triumph, followed by moments of despair. Brief episodes in the light, until the creeping dark re-appears.
Then it seems as if the heart transplant did not go well. Our new hearts of flesh have again become hearts of stone.
Shakespeare understood this when he wrote:
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state.
For a moment, at least, we are uplifted by a new heart, by love. Then we are once again reminded of our reality, one in which that love eludes us (or which we exclude when we allow our hearts to turn to stone.) In the world, our people may have moments of light and love, yet there are still moments of fear and despair. Our enemies still taunt us. We live with the sad knowledge that we are but one knock on the door away…
And 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 may not yet fully blaze 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 continually fail to 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 that applies to only the Jews) despite our continual failures. There must be some spark of something good left in us. We must find the way to open ourselves to G”d, to allow G”d to renew our hearts, to replace the stone with flesh. We cannot do this when we are a fractured, divided community. We cannot be open to G”d’s love, and be prepared for new hearts, when women of piety are prevented from praying at the Kotel, when the religious establishment in Israel denies those who disagree with their interpretations and understandings of tradition the rights to practice as they believe. The longer this goes on, the more the hearts on all sides are turned to stone.
I move now from the collective to the individual. 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?
It is hard to do the work of putting new hearts of flesh into Jewish people when my own heart feels like stone. I must find ways to allow G”d to continually renew my own heart. To do this, I must let G”d in. This is not easy for me. Though I am neither atheist nor agnostic, I struggle every moment with my understanding of G”d. Can G”d, if G”d exists, truly turn my heart of stone back into a heart of flesh? Am I willing to live with a heart of flesh when I know the pain that goes along with that? Having a heart of stone can be a lot easier on the ego.
So I sink to the depths of despair, and think upon my state. As my despair overwhelms me, I surrender. Then, and only then, do I open enough to let G”d in. Only then do I truly feel G”d’s love.
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
©2013, parts ©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Ki Tisa 5772 – Other G”d?
Ki Tisa 5771 – Still Waiting for the Fire
Ki Tisa 5770 – A Fickle Pickle
Ki Tisa 5768-Not So Easy? Not So Hard!
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5767-New Hearts and New Spirits
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5766-Fortune and Men’s Eyes
Ki Tisa 5765-Re-Souling Ourselves
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