The Husband's Longing
Shabbat Parah, Ezekiel 36:16-38
David Wein, Tikvat Israel, Richmond, VA
The longest I’ve been away from my wife since we were married about four years ago is a couple of days. This year for a weekend in February she went away with two other married women. I missed her, for sure. I tried to spend some time with my guy friends, and that helped. I got regular updates of their exploits, and that was enjoyable. But you can’t hug a picture on your phone. I mean, you can, but it’s not the same.
The husband-wife dynamic is so unique and intimate that it is a frequent analogy in the Scriptures. This week’s haftarah portion opens with just such a striking analogy. The uncleanness of Israel in the land is like the uncleanness of the niddah, a woman during her time of “uncleanness.” But why this particular analogy? Whom does this status affect but her husband? This underscores that the “husband” of Israel is away from his bride, longs for her, misses her during this time. The medieval commentator Rashi affirms: “Scripture likened them to a woman in the period of her separation, whose husband looks forward to when she will become clean, and longs to return to her.”
The word used here for profane or defile, chalal, shows up in Leviticus, of course:
Then Adonai said to Moses, “Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: A kohen is not to allow himself to become unclean for the dead among his people, except for his relatives that are nearest to him—his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, or his virgin sister who is near to him, who has had no husband. For her he may allow himself to become unclean. But he is not to defile himself—a husband among his people—and so profane himself. (Lev 21:1–4 TLV, emphasis added)
I like this translation because here the kohen (priest) is also a husband among his people. The husband/priest longs for his bride to be purified because he longs for intimacy with her. And what is it that defiles, that gets in the way? The exiting of life, otherwise known as death. In Ezekiel’s time, Israel is spiritually dead by her idolatry and injustice. And worse, not only has she profaned herself, but . . . well, let’s pick it up in the haftarah portion at Ezekiel 36:16–21.
The word of Adonai came to me saying: “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their way and by their deeds. Their way before Me was like the uncleanness of a woman in her niddah. So I poured out My fury on them for the blood which they had shed upon the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I scattered them among the nations, so they were dispersed through the countries. According to their way and their deeds I judged them. Wherever they went among the nations, they profaned My holy Name, since it was said about them, ‘These are the people of Adonai, yet they had to leave His land.’ But I had concern for My holy Name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went.”
Here the husband is Hashem, and his name, or reputation, is profaned among the nations where Israel was scattered. The message being communicated was this: “The God of Israel couldn’t save these people from being scattered all over the earth.” Therefore, even when Israel is in exile, far from home because of her uncleanness, she has the same calling and purpose to reflect the God of Israel. It is still her job to sanctify the Name. In exilic shock? You’re not off the clock.
But in the tradition of Leviticus, Ezekiel offers a solution: there is an opportunity for cleansing, renewal, and intimacy once again.
For I will take you from the nations, gather you out of all the countries and bring you back to your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean from all your uncleanness and from all your idols. Moreover I will give you a new heart. I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the stony heart from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Ruach within you. Then I will cause you to walk in My laws, so you will keep My rulings and do them. Then you will live in the land that I gave to your fathers. You will be My people and I will be your God. (Ezek 36:24–28 TLV)
The uncleanness of Israel runs deep, for she has a heart problem—indeed, the same heart problem as all sons and daughters of Adam. She needs a new heart, a new ruach (spirit) and a cleansing of living water (atonement), so that she can actually follow the Torah (instruction) of God, and be a faithful bride. With the Ruach of God within us, there is nothing separating us from his presence.
In 1979, the UMJC was formed. Also of note in 1979, Peaches and Herb reminded us:
Reunited, and it feels so good
Reunited ‘cause we understood
There’s one perfect fit
And, sugar, this one is it
We both are so excited ‘cause we’re reunited, hey, hey.
The good news (both literally and figuratively) is that Yeshua has reunited Israel with her “husband/priest,” has given her a new heart to follow Torah, a new Spirit to be in his presence, and a cleansing with the water of life. May we be rooted in his longing for us and in restorative atonement, that we also would long for him. This will propel us toward the restoration and redemption of the earth.
A new narrative is being written here, to restore the name of God:
The land that was desolate will be tilled instead of being a wasteland in the sight of all that passed by. They will say, “This land that was a wasteland has become like the garden of Eden.” (Ezek 36:34–35a TLV)
As we cling to our husband and priest, Yeshua, let us be gardeners, cultivators, and guardians of what he has given us, for our avodah (service) restores not only the name of God, but the garden of Eden on earth.