Haftaras Parah

The special haftarah for Shabbos Parashas Parah begins with the following passage (Yechezkel 36:16-21):
The word of Hashem came to me, saying: “Son of man, the House of Yisrael has been dwelling on their land, and they have they defiled it with their way and with their acts. Their way before Me has become like the ritual impurity of a menstruating woman. So I poured out My fury upon them, because of the blood they had shed upon the land, and because they had defiled it with their idols. And I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed among the lands – according to their way and according to their acts I judged them. They came into the nations, into which they came, and they desecrated My holy Name, when it was said of them: ‘These are the people of Hashem, but they left His land.’ And I had pity upon My holy Name, which the House of Israel had desecrated among the nations into which they came.”
Kochav MiYaakov presents an explanation of this passage that builds on the observation that Hashem first speaks of “their way and their acts,” afterward speaks only of “their way,” and then speaks again of “their way and their acts.” The starting point is an analysis of the terms “their way” and “their acts” (עלילותם). We find that the term “way” can be used to refer to a patter on thought. Thus, Koheles 11:9 speaks of a person following the ways of his heart, and Yeshayah 57:17 speaks of a person going “waywardly according to the way of his heart.” A person’s thoughts and the musings of his heart set the foundation for his actions. But a person’s thoughts are hidden from other people and are known only to Hashem. Thus, when someone thinks an evil thought, Hashem is aware of it but other people are not. A person’s acts, on the other hand, are out in the open and can be seen by all. This fact is reflected in the word עלילות, which is related to the phrase בעליל לארץ, meaning clear to the world, in Tehillim 12:7.
Thus, there are two categories of sins: evil thoughts and evil acts. Yechezkel 14:5 describes Hashem saying that He will seize idolatrous Jews for what is in their hearts. The Gemara in Kiddushin 39b infers from this statement that a person can be punished for idolatrous thoughts. This category of sin includes not believing that Hashem watches over and runs the world, believing that the world was created or is run by multiple deities acting in partnership, disbelieving the words of the prophets, believing that the Torah can be changed, and other heretical thoughts. These sins all involve matters between a person and Hashem. In parallel with such offenses are sins involving matters between a person and his fellow man, such as theft, murder, evil speech, gossip, and so on. The sins in this second category all involve overt action and thus they are called עלילות.
In the passage from our haftarah, Hashem initially speaks of both categories of sins, referring to them with the terms “way” and “acts.” The term “way” refers to sins in matters between a person and Hashem that a person commits through thought, while the term “acts” refers to sins in matters between a person and his fellow man that a person commits through overt action. Hashem says that the Jewish People defiled Eretz Yisrael with both types of sin. Afterward, Hashem focuses on the sins consisting of evil thoughts. He likens these sins to the ritual impurity of a menstruating woman. Just as a menstruating woman’s state is known only to her husband, so, too, sins consisting of evil thoughts are known only to Hashem. To emphasize this point, Hashem describes these sins as being “before Me,” meaning that they are detectably present before Him alone and not before any mortal man. Hashem then continues by saying that He has poured out His fury upon the people, because of the blood they had shed upon the land and because of their having defiled it with their idols. Hashem mentions the bloodshed first and the idolatry afterwards. The message here is along the lines of a teaching in Menachos 41a: Although Hashem usually does not punish people for evading positive commandments, in a time of wrath He does. The outpour of Divine fury described in our passage was initially triggered by the overt sins involving evil acts that people committed against others. Had the people been guilty only of sins of thought, involving matters between each Jew and Hashem, an outpour of fury would not have resulted. But once the evil acts against others had triggered Hashem’s fury, in the process Hashem also exacted retribution for the sins of thought.
Hashem thus continues and says: “And I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed among the lands; according to their way and according to their acts I judged them.” Here, in mentioning both “way” and “acts,” Hashem is indicated that He is punishing the people both for evil thoughts and for evil actions. Hashem’s statement that He “scattered them among the nations” relates to sins consisting of heretical thoughts. Because the peoples’ faith in Hashem was faulty, involving distorted views of Hashem’s relationship with the world, Hashem scattered them among the nations and reduced His level of watchfulness over them, thus diluting His relationship with them. In parallel, His statement that the people were “dispersed among the nations” relates to sins involving evil acts against others. The Hebrew word for dispersed, נזורו, resembles the Hebrew word זר, meaning stranger. Because the people despised each other and treated each other like strangers, Hashem dispersed them among the nations and put them in the position of being strangers. Following His usual practice, Hashem tailored the punishments according to the sins, measure for measure.
Hashem then says further: “They came into the nations, into which they came, and they desecrated My holy Name, when it was said of them: ‘These are the people of Hashem, but they left His land.’” Although Hashem was forced, so to speak, to act toward the people the way He did because of their sins, the exile of the people produced a desecration of His Name. As Rashi explains in his commentary on our passage, the nations of the world thought that, far be it, Hashem did not have the power to save the Jewish People and their land from the calamity that came upon them. And so Hashem concludes by saying: “And I had pity upon My holy Name, which the House of Israel had desecrated among the nations where they came.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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