Parah

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On four Shabbatot beginning in Adar, additional Torah readings (the “Four Parashiyot”) are read after the weekly Parashah, reflecting seasonal themes relating to Purim and Passover. Their associated Haftarot also relate to these themes. The third of the Four Parashiyot, “Parah” (Num. 25:17-19), records the commandment to burn a red heifer. A priest sprinkles its ashes, mixed with water, on people and objects defiled by contact with a corpse to purify them. Pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem for Passover to partake in the Korban Pesach festivities and meal typically require such purification in advance of the holiday. We read about this purification as we prepare for Passover’s arrival a few weeks from now.

Ezekiel 36:16-38

Speaking to his fellow exiles in Babylon, Ezekiel offers hope and rebuke. In this prophecy, God tells His people why He exiled them: they defiled themselves and His Land with murder, adultery, and idolatry. They have not repented in exile, further profaning God’s name. Not in their merit but rather to sanctify His name, God will return them to the Land and initiate a mass repentance movement. Reflecting the Red Heifer purification process described above, God will purify them by sprinkling them with water. The Land and His repentant, renewed people will be restored, further sanctifying His name among the nations.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 16-19: God exiled Israel for defiling His Land.

Ezekiel 36:18

So I poured my fury upon them for the blood that they had shed upon the land, and for their idols with which they had defiled it.

וָאֶשְׁפֹּ֤ךְ חֲמָתִי֙ עֲלֵיהֶ֔ם עַל־הַדָּ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־שָׁפְכ֣וּ עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וּבְגִלּוּלֵיהֶ֖ם טִמְּאֽוּהָ׃

Verses 20: Israel’s presence in exile also defiles His name.

Ezekiel 36:20

And when they came to the nations into which they came, they profaned My holy name, in that [the nations] said of them, “These are the Lord’s people, and they are gone out of His land.”

וַיָּב֗וֹא אֶל־הַגּוֹיִם֙ אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֣אוּ שָׁ֔ם וַֽיְחַלְּל֖וּ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֑י בֶּאֱמֹ֤ר לָהֶם֙ עַם־ה' אֵ֔לֶּה וּמֵאַרְצ֖וֹ יָצָֽאוּ׃

Verses 21-24: In order to restore His name among the nations, God will return His people from exile to His land.

Ezekiel 36:22

Therefore say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations, to which you came.’”

לָכֵ֞ן אֱמֹ֣ר לְבֵֽית־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ אֲדֹ-נָ֣י ה' לֹ֧א לְמַעַנְכֶ֛ם אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶׂ֖ה בֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּ֤י אִם־לְשֵׁם־קָדְשִׁי֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חִלַּלְתֶּ֔ם בַּגּוֹיִ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥אתֶם שָֽׁם׃

Verses 25-27: God will purify and soften the peoples’ hearts and spirits, returning them to His service.

Ezekiel 36:25

I [God] will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you shall be purified from all your impurities, and from all your idols will I purify you.

וְזָרַקְתִּ֧י עֲלֵיכֶ֛ם מַ֥יִם טְהוֹרִ֖ים וּטְהַרְתֶּ֑ם מִכֹּ֧ל טֻמְאוֹתֵיכֶ֛ם וּמִכָּל־גִּלּ֥וּלֵיכֶ֖ם אֲטַהֵ֥ר אֶתְכֶֽם׃

Verses 28-33: God will restore the Land’s fruitfulness for His name’s sake, reminding the people of their past sins and humbling them.

Ezekiel 36:29

I [God] will save you from all your impurities. I will summon the grain and make it abundant, and lay no famine upon you.

וְהוֹשַׁעְתִּ֣י אֶתְכֶ֔ם מִכֹּ֖ל טֻמְאֽוֹתֵיכֶ֑ם וְקָרָ֤אתִי אֶל־הַדָּגָן֙ וְהִרְבֵּיתִ֣י אֹת֔וֹ וְלֹא־אֶתֵּ֥ן עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם רָעָֽב׃

Verses 34-36: God’s restoration of the Land will restore His reputation, astonishing neighboring nations.

Ezekiel 36:36

The nations that are left round about you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places, and have replanted that which was blighted. I, the Lord, have spoken it, and I will do it.

וְיָדְע֣וּ הַגּוֹיִ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִֽשָּׁאֲרוּ֮ סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י ׀ אֲנִ֣י ה' בָּנִ֙יתִי֙ הַנֶּ֣הֱרָס֔וֹת נָטַ֖עְתִּי הַנְּשַׁמָּ֑ה אֲנִ֥י ה' דִּבַּ֥רְתִּי וְעָשִֽׂיתִי׃ (ס)

Verses 37-38: God will make His people as abundant as sheep.

Ezekiel 36:38

Like the flock of sacrifices, like the flock of Jerusalem during its holidays, so shall the destroyed cities be filled with flocks of men: they shall know that I am the Lord.

כְּצֹ֣אן קָֽדָשִׁ֗ים כְּצֹ֤אן יְרוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ בְּמ֣וֹעֲדֶ֔יהָ כֵּ֤ן תִּהְיֶ֙ינָה֙ הֶעָרִ֣ים הֶחֳרֵב֔וֹת מְלֵא֖וֹת צֹ֣אן אָדָ֑ם וְיָדְע֖וּ כִּֽי־אֲנִ֥י ה'׃ (ס)

Connections

Maimonides provides a definition of Tumah (defilement) and an ethical lesson from the Haftarah.

Mishneh Torah, Immersion Pools 11:12

...Defilement is not mud or filth to be removed with water but is a biblical decree: it depends on the heart's intent. Accordingly, the sages have declared: “If one immersed without a definite purpose, it is as if one did not immerse.” Nevertheless, [immersion] contains a hint: just as one who intends to purify [oneself] becomes pure after immersion even though nothing new is produced in one’s body, so too one who intends to purify oneself from the spiritual defilements (e.g., wrongful thoughts and evil traits) - once one decided to abstain from those notions and brought one’s soul into the waters of reason, one is pure. Indeed, Scripture declares: "I [God] will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you shall be purified from all your impurities and from all your idols will I purify you." (Ezekiel 36:25)  אֵין הַטֻּמְאָה טִיט אוֹ צוֹאָה שֶׁתַּעֲבֹר בְּמַיִם אֶלָּא גְּזֵרַת הַכָּתוּב הִיא וְהַדָּבָר תָּלוּי בְּכַוָּנַת הַלֵּב. וּלְפִיכָךְ אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים טָבַל וְלֹא הֻחְזַק כְּאִלּוּ לֹא טָבַל. וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵן רֶמֶז יֵשׁ בַּדָּבָר כְּשֵׁם שֶׁהַמְכַוֵּן לִבּוֹ לְטַהֵר כֵּיוָן שֶׁטָּבַל טָהוֹר וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁלֹּא נִתְחַדֵּשׁ בְּגוּפוֹ דָּבָר כָּךְ הַמְכַוֵּן לִבּוֹ לְטַהֵר נַפְשׁוֹ מִטֻּמְאוֹת הַנְּפָשׁוֹת שֶׁהֵן מַחְשְׁבוֹת הָאָוֶן וְדֵעוֹת הָרָעוֹת. כֵּיוָן שֶׁהִסְכִּים בְּלִבּוֹ לִפְרשׁ מֵאוֹתָן הָעֵצוֹת וְהֵבִיא נַפְשׁוֹ בְּמֵי הַדַּעַת טָהוֹר. הֲרֵי הוּא אוֹמֵר (יחזקאל לו כה) "וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וּטְהַרְתֶּם מִכּל טֻמְאוֹתֵיכֶם וּמִכָּל גִּלּוּלֵיכֶם אֲטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם".

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email zbeer570@gmail.com.