This is yet another of those Shabbats when things are out of sync. We’re already in a period when Israel and the Diaspora are out of sync with Torah readings, and will remain so for a few more weeks until we both begin the book of Bamidar/Numbers together. This week is one of those weeks when Ashkenazim and Sephardim read different haftarot for parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. To further confuse things, although officially the Reform movement is following Ashkenazi tradition this week, some Reform congregations will read the Sephardi haftarah based on some choices that Rabbi Gunther Plaut made when assembling his Haftarah Commentary some years back.
So here’s the thing. All the differences and confusion aside, these two haftarah selections pretty much have the same theme – they just take very different approaches to it. Both provide a rebuke and a caution to the people of Israel, as well as a hint of redemption/forgiveness.
Ezekiel gets really hung up on G”d forgiving/redeeming Israel more for G”d’s own vanity (though I suspect Ezekiel wouldn’t put it that way or even agree with me.) G”d forgives Israel its transgressions so that G”d won’t appear a fool before all the other nations. The short reading from Amos is focused on redemption despite Israel’s history of transgressions.
In the haftarah from Ezekiel, G”d accuses the Israelites of failing to heed G”d’s instruction to not bring along the fetishes and other trappings they had acquired in Egypt. The people did not obey, and G”d was apparently ready to pour out G:d’s wrath on the Israelites right there in Egypt. Then, a change of mind:
וָאַ֙עַשׂ֙ לְמַ֣עַן שְׁמִ֔י לְבִלְתִּ֥י הֵחֵ֛ל לְעֵינֵ֥י הַגּוֹיִ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־הֵ֣מָּה בְתוֹכָ֑ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר נוֹדַ֤עְתִּי אֲלֵיהֶם֙ לְעֵ֣ינֵיהֶ֔ם לְהוֹצִיאָ֖ם מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
But I acted for the sake of My name, that it might not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they were. For it was before their eyes that I had made Myself known to Israel to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
I don’t know bout you, but I struggle with this idea of a vainglorious, face-saving G”d. At least, in the sens of some sort of omniscient G”d. doesn’t make a lot of sense. If, however, we embrace a G”d than can be limited, or that can limit itself, then seeing a G”d with human-like emotions isn’t as much of a leap. Perhaps our very failing all along has been to imagine that G”d is beyond such things, and we are simply too limited to fathom this ineffable G”d. Maybe. embracing G”d’s humanity will…ah, but there’s a catch here. I’m not ready to accept the idea of G”d embodied in a human. That’s for other folks. So how to imagine a G”d with human qualities and emotions but still keep G”d a separate entity, non-corporeal? One hope I would have is that a G”d that is subject to human frailties would thus be more forgiving of human beings and their frailties. On the other hand, one of our less-than-stellar human qualities is to sometimes not be as forgiving as we should. Maybe not being able to understand G”d is a good thing after all? But no, I can’t go there, at least not yet. I have to keep trying to understand G”d and my relationship to G”d and G”d’s relationship to Jews, to all humans.
Amos paints a different picture of G”d. The haftarah from Amos starts with a really interesting verse:
הֲל֣וֹא כִבְנֵי֩ כֻשִׁיִּ֨ים אַתֶּ֥ם לִ֛י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נְאֻם־יְהוָ֑ה הֲל֣וֹא אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל הֶעֱלֵ֙יתִי֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם וּפְלִשְׁתִּיִּ֥ים מִכַּפְתּ֖וֹר וַאֲרָ֥ם מִקִּֽיר׃
To Me, O Israelites, you are Just like the Ethiopians —declares the LORD. True, I brought Israel up From the land of Egypt, But also the Philistines from Caphtor And the Arameans from Kir.
הִנֵּ֞ה עֵינֵ֣י ׀ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֗ה בַּמַּמְלָכָה֙ הַֽחַטָּאָ֔ה וְהִשְׁמַדְתִּ֣י אֹתָ֔הּ מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֣י הָאֲדָמָ֑ה אֶ֗פֶס כִּ֠י לֹ֣א הַשְׁמֵ֥יד אַשְׁמִ֛יד אֶת־בֵּ֥ית יַעֲקֹ֖ב נְאֻם־יְהוָֽה׃
Behold, the Lord GOD has His eye Upon the sinful kingdom: I will wipe it off The face of the earth! But, I will not wholly wipe out The House of Jacob —declares the LORD.
The remainder continues in that manner – offering rebuke, describing punishment, but ultimately ending with:
וּנְטַעְתִּ֖ים עַל־אַדְמָתָ֑ם וְלֹ֨א יִנָּתְשׁ֜וּ ע֗וֹד מֵעַ֤ל אַדְמָתָם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נָתַ֣תִּי לָהֶ֔ם אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃
And I will plant them upon their soil, Nevermore to be uprooted From the soil I have given them —said the LORD your God.
Now there’s a verse that can support chosenness, and also be parlayed into lots of fuel to add to the fire surrounding the modern state of Israel. Of course, if we’re measuring closer to it’s own time, then this prophecy of Amos wasn’t on target at all, for there were subsequent times of uprooting.
Amos’ G”d is the G”d of “I promised this, I will keep it. Even if I have to rebuke you and cause you pain, I will ultimately insure My promise is kept. Ezekiel’s G”d is a G”d who worries what it will look like to other people when G”d doesn’t keep promises made to the Israelites.
When I started, I wondered if there was a way to reconcile these different views of G”d and G”d’s relationship to and treatment of the Jewish people. I can certainly see how both the views above might be considered as portraying G”d as somewhat human in nature (or vice versa – B’tzelem anashim, as I have often remarked.) So there is some connection. At the same time, one of the joys of Judaism is to be able to hold that both Ezekiel and Amos provide equally valid and useful descriptions of G”d. Same yet different. Judaism is full of so much of this. Instead of finding it difficult, we should embrace it. Some people can’t handle holding things in tension like that, but it seems to me that to be Jewish requires it.
For those who need it simple, Mssrs. Gilbert and Sullivan poke fun at the British society of their own time by putting these word on the lips of the characters in The Mikado:
And I am right,
And you are right,
And all is right as right can be!
In that world, it’s rule number 1 – “The Mikado is always right” and rule number 2, “when The Mikado is wrong, see rule number 1.” Within Judaism, there are people, even great sages, who assert that this is Judaism’s truth as well. When G”d is wrong, see rule number 1. (A great deal of energy has been spent over the millennia on manufacturing the apologetics necessary to defend this view.)
That’s not the Judaism of my understanding. Here’s mine:
Townsperson: Why should I break my head about the outside world? Let the outside world break its own head….Tevye: He is right…Perchik: Nonsense. You can’t close your eyes to what’s happening in the world.Tevye: He’s right.Rabbi’s pupil: He’s right, and he’s right. They can’t both be right!Tevye: (Pause). You know, you are also right.
Let’s all go out and be right. Let’s all go out and be the same yet different.
(c)2018 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this Parasha: