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 Haftarot also connect 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 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.
Comforting and challenging Israel’s exiles in Babylon and beyond after the Temple’s destruction, Ezekiel’s invocation of this purification, at the center of the Haftarah, is a unique image among the prophets. He expands on the Torah’s command to purify defilement by sprinkling, transforming into a symbolic, moral, spiritual, and redemptive cleansing of Israel.
The Haftarah begins by stating that God exiled the people for defiling themselves and His Land with murder, adultery, and idolatry. Their presence outside of the Land further profanes God- another idea unique to this Haftarah- by making the Creator appear weak in humanity’s eyes. Despite their lack of merit, God will therefore, for His own sake, return them to the Land, purify them, and renew their hearts to His service. Godwill restore desolate Judah into an Eden-like state, making the land fruitful and its people numerous as the sacrificial flocks of Jerusalem at holiday time- another reminder of the forthcoming Passover holiday. These transformations will astound other nations, restoring God’s reputation among humanity as the all-powerful Creator who fulfills His promises.
Verses 36:16-19: God angrily exiled Israel for defiling His Land with murder, adultery, and idolatry.
So I [God] 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׃
Verse 36:20: Israel’s presence in exile further defiles God’s reputation as their absence from His land causes other nations to consider God powerless to return them there.
When they came to the nations where they arrived, they profaned My holy name, [for 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 36:21-24: In order to restore His name among the nations, and not for Israel’s sake, God will gather Israel from their lands of exile and return them to His land.
Therefore say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘I do not act 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 36:25-27: God will metaphorically sprinkle water upon His people to purify them from their sins and will replace their stony hearts with human ones in order to return them to His service.
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 36:28-32: After Israel returns to the covenant, God will restore the Land’s bounty for His name’s sake. Israel will never again starve as they did in exile. They will recall their past sins and be humbled.
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 36:33-36: Once Israel is purified, God will rebuild the Land and its cities, make it fruitful, and repopulate it. The Land’s restoration to this Eden-like state will astound and restore His reputation among neighboring nations.
The nations that will remain around 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 Israel as numerous as the sanctified flocks of animals in Jerusalem at holiday seasons.
Like a flock of sacrifices, like Jerusalem’s flock 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)
Maimonides provides a definition of Tumah (defilement) and an ethical lesson from the Haftarah.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mikvehs 11:12
...Defilement is not mud or filth that can be removed with water but is a biblical decree that 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] is purified after immersion even though nothing new is produced in one’s body, so too one who intends to purify oneself from the spiritual defilements- i.e., wrongful thoughts and evil traits- once one decided to abstain from those and brought one’s soul into the waters of the intellect, one is pure. Indeed, (Ezek. 36:25) says, "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."
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".