Our haftarah is a segment of the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel lived through one of the most trying times for the Jewish people—the destruction of the First Temple and the Jews’ exile to Babylon. He was part of the first wave of captives that had been taken to Babylon from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army, eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of Jewish sovereignty and independence.

The destruction of Jerusalem is a major turning point in the Book of Ezekiel, as it is in Jewish history. The Jews were shattered and demoralized. It is at this time that Ezekiel consoles the people and prophesies of the bright future ahead them—his words to be fully realized in the days of Moshiach. Our haftarah is taken from these chapters of consolation and hope.

The misdeeds of the Jewish people had ultimately compelled G‑d to exile them and disperse them among the nations. Adding insult to injury, the exile had caused the profanation of G‑d’s name among the nations. Ultimately, even though the Jewish people are undeserving, G‑d will restore them to their land and they will prosper in it. The land will be rebuilt and blossom, and the nations will recognize and know G‑d.

This haftarah is read in connection with Parshat Parah—the laws of the red heifer. We read this portion in the Torah in the days leading up to the month of Nissan. In Temple times, every Jew would need to partake in eating the Pesach (paschal) offering on the Seder night. In order to do so, they could not be tamei (ritually impure). One who came into contact with a corpse was rendered tamei, and their purification process involved being sprinkled with water mixed with the ashes of the burned red heifer. We thus read this section of the Torah shortly before Passover, to remind anyone who is tamei to arrange for this purification.

Appropriately, the haftarah speaks of the time when G‑d will spiritually elevate and cleanse the Jewish people. He will give them a changed heart that will be sensitive to Torah and its commandments. The prophet states that G‑d will metaphorically “sprinkle you with pure waters,” just like the waters of the red heifer would spiritually rid one of tum’ah.

A Niddah?

“…Like the uncleanness of a woman in the period of her separation was their way before Me.” (36:17)

The prophet likens the actions of Israel to the state of a niddah, a woman whose husband must distance himself from her during the period of menstruation. Now, this seems very strange. The Jews were being reprimanded here for the severest of sins—idol worship, murder and the like. Niddah is a natural occurrence that has nothing to with good or evil, and is part of life even for the most righteous of women. How could the sinners be compared to the niddah?

Rashi explains that the comparison is not to the cause of the respective situations, but rather to their result. The separation of husband and wife during the niddah period is due only to an external circumstance. Both husband and wife yearn for the time when this condition will be lifted, so they can be fully reunited. In a similar vein, G‑d and the Jewish people are likened to husband and wife. The actions of the people had brought about a situation which compelled G‑d to separate Himself from them. But G‑d, like a husband, longs for the time He can fully return to His people.

We may add that, at least deep down, so do the Jewish people long for the time they can be fully reunited with G‑d.

G‑d and His self-image

“Therefore, say to the house of Israel: So says the L‑rd G‑d: Not for your sake do I do this, O house of Israel, but for My Holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations to which they have come.”

On the surface, this verse—and the other verses similar to it—seems very strange indeed. Is G‑d actually concerned about what some backward, primitive nations think of Him?! The verses seem to suggest that G‑d will go as far as redeeming His people though they do not deserve it, just to save face among the nations!

The key to this lies in first understanding the notion of chillul Hashem—the profanation and desecration of G‑d’s name. Central to the theme of this haftarah is that exiling the Jews had caused a chillul Hashem among the gentile nations, and this was something to which G‑d was not ready to concede.

To better understand this, we must be able to enter somewhat the mindset of ancient peoples. To them, the universe was controlled by many gods. Success or failure was dependent on the gods and attributed to them. If a particular nation was successful in its endeavors and wars, it meant that their god was supreme. In contrast, the god of a downtrodden or defeated nation was evidently powerless and therefore meaningless.

The exile of the Jews was iconic. More than the exile of the Jewish people, it meant the exile of the Jewish ideal. Life in the ancient world was not pretty by any standard—socially, morally and spiritually. The very idea that human beings are created equally by one G‑d was totally unheard of. The Torah had been given as the paradigm of protest against the values and lifestyles of the time. But all this came from the G‑d of the Jews, and He had now been crushed and defeated. “Of what value is He?” they would mock. “Our gods have been victorious over him.” What would become of the world now?

G‑d is obviously not speaking here in anguish for Himself, but in anguish for the world. Chillul Hashem is the opposite of everything good and moral. G‑d therefore promises that this situation will ultimately come to an end. He will return the Jewish exiles, rebuild the land and elevate His people, “and the nations around you shall know…” The Jewish G‑d will come through, and He—and all that He is about—will now have to be taken seriously.

Many centuries, nay millennia, have passed since these words were originally uttered, and unfortunately a similar state of affairs still continues. The perceived victory of false gods—the false gods of then and the false gods of now—still leaves the world in a state of chillul Hashem. On the other hand, the Jewish people have come a long way. Centuries of self-sacrifice for Torah have surely made our people collectively more than deserving of our redemption.

Living in our time, the description of in our haftarah of the rebirth of Israel as a nation and a land is something that resonates with us in a truly breathtaking way. But we are not quite there yet. The idols of our time are still strong and rampant, and the struggle with the challenge of standing up to them is still very real. Today, the situation of chillul Hashem caused by the spiritual state of exile merely takes on a different language and expression, whether aggressive or subtle.

But G‑d is not waiting too much longer. In our very own time, we have seen the world change for the better with unimaginable speed. The world is now preparing for the moment that will bring it from the place it is to the place it ought to be.