17 Mar 2017

Haftara for Parah (Ki Tisa) 5777: Control Freaks

Haftara for Parah (Ki Tisa) 5777: Control Freaks

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“Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.” 

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

Ezekiel 36:16-36


This haftara is read in conjunction with the special reading this week called ‘Parah’ which discusses the process using the ashes of the Parah Aduma (Red Heifer) to purify those who have come into contact with a dead body. The theme of purifying waters connects the parasha to the haftara. Yehezkel speaks of the fact that Israel’s idolatrous behaviour caused them to be exiled from the Land among the nations. But God declares that He will act for ‘His own sake’ and His ‘holy name’ (36:22) and gather the people back to their homeland. However, he will not just gather them, but replace and purify their hearts and souls. He promises to give the people hearts of flesh rather than the selfish and insensitive ‘hearts of stone’ that they possess. He will fill them with His spirit and enliven them. They will be caused to keep his Torah and mature into a straight and righteous people. Ruins shall be rebuilt and the people will be as plentiful as the sheep that fill Jerusalem ‘during her festivals’ (ibid:38)


There are times when we forget that we are not the masters of the universe. While we are quite a fragile species, feelings of supremacy and invincibility are part of our make-up, propelling us to exploit situations and people. This manipulation inevitably ends up destroying something in the process, mainly because we don’t allow room for anything else to exist in the interaction other than ourselves and our will. We take things in life that are precious and beautiful and defile and destroy them by attempting to make them ours, thereby suffocating reality. In doing so we push God out and attempt to take His place — a position which we neither deserve nor can handle.

The need to control comes from a fundamental lack of trust and faithfulness about life. The controlling individual sees life and its diverse expressions as threatening and unsafe, as needing to be tamed. The controlling person cannot afford to be vulnerable, or ever engage in real relationships, because they are not open to sharing with someone else. Only people that can be controlled are ‘safe’ and even they will inevitably disappoint.

The deepest source of the problem with a controlling person is that he has never matured.

Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980), a Swiss clinical psychologist known for his pioneering work in child development, studied the process of human development from infancy to adolescence and identified that a major aspect of childhood and immaturity is the tendency to see the world as an extension of oneself rather than as something external that one can relate to and experience. He called this ‘egocentrism’ not in the sense of selfishness per se, but rather that they have not yet developed a complete understanding that other people may have different perspectives on the world.

‘During the earliest stages the child perceives things like a solipsist who is unaware of himself as subject and is familiar only with his own actions.’[1]

Selfishness and control are aspects of immaturity. Children are not known to be generous with their toys. Relationship, sharing, interaction and cooperation are all cardinal attributes of the mature individual.

Some people, however, never mature — they only age. And while their bodies may develop and grow, we often mistake physical maturity as a sign that their minds have followed suit. When we see individuals vying for control and acting selfishly it is a display of infantile thinking. They can mimic true adults much of the time but their selfishness and manipulative character betrays their true infantilism.

It is important to know that such people are dangerous. When childish behaviour manifests in adult form it is given greater freedom and power to affect others. Lives, loves, cares and dreams can be utterly destroyed by adult-children who are inevitably selfish and ego-centric people. Others only matter in as much as they can be used for the benefit of the self, and they will protect themselves at all costs. Such people live by a different golden rule: ‘Do unto others before they do unto you’.

One of the uglier manifestations of such individuals is that they fail in any real way to respect the higher beauties of life. They will not honour, share and serve the great disciplines like art, music, science, Torah, religion, statesmanship, sportsmanship, literature and education for the sake of the endeavours themselves. They are not able to respect the unique values and divine expression in such things. They will, instead, adulterate the purity of these endeavours with their own selfishness and manipulation. In the loss of their own purity of heart they act with a menacing destruction.

In contrast, the truly great figures of each of these disciplines see themselves as servants in the service of great ideas and virtues. They allow for themselves to be disciplined in the respective disciplines. Childish control-freaks do not allow themselves such discipline and therefore, cannot ever truly master them.

There is only one discipline in which such people engage for its own sake: politics. That is in any group or organisation, not just government.

politics – ˈpɒlɪtɪks/ – the relationships within a group or organisation that allow particular people to have power over others.

Where there are people there is politics. Immature, self-protecting people will reduce all of the aforementioned disciplines to power-plays. This comes from an ingrained belief that sharing is a loss and respect is a weakness.

So what instead, do truly mature people do? They serve and they share. They do so because they grow to know that meaning comes from investing, not taking, in a world filled with diverse and wondrous creation.

The interaction and intimacy with something or someone becomes more valuable than the possession of the object. Sharing replaces possessing. True maturity allows for the development of humility and connection to our essence, which in turn builds self-confidence and empathy in understanding and sensitivity to others. These ideals become central above and beyond the plays for power and control, because one comes to know that the most precious aspects of life are shared.

I can have intimacy with various people and things without it being personal. The major difference between the intimate and the personal is that the personal resents alternatives while the intimate is grateful for alternatives. The personal is possessive while the intimate shares. For example, if I am a scientist and I am studying something that I take personally, any alternative explanations or possibilities will be seen by me as threatening. I will perceive it as attempting to take away what is mine. If, however, I have an intimacy with what I am studying — I know it well and spend a great deal of time trying to understand it further — but I do not see it as definitively mine, alternative suggestions only enhance and enliven my experience of it.

If I am a singer and I have a way of singing a particular song, if it becomes personal, any attempt of another singer to sing the song in his own way will be threatening to me. But if it is intimate, I will respect other versions that are sung.

The only alternatives that I will not tolerate are false ones. Those attempts that cannot truly be considered as other possibilities. So an explanation that does not follow the scientific method or a rendering of a song that is not on key or sensitive to the music, is not acceptable because it violates the respect and truth of the item that I care for.

When true sharing can occur and individuals can genuinely lend themselves to collaboration, mutual respect and love – a beauty beyond words shines through. It is the presence of God in the unification of Creation’s diversity.

These unique situations require a purity of heart and a maturity of mind. When we allow ourselves to live and interact this way we respect the world for its diversity rather than feel threatened by what is not ‘us’. We look to experience the wondrous aspects of God’s expressions and delight in His many creations. We become more alive in such sharing and we grow spiritually from the experience.

God speaks of this to the prophet Yehezkel in our haftara. It is a special haftara read for the reading of Perashat Parah in which we read of the purification ritual of the Red Heifer. It is almost always read in conjunction with Perashat Ki Tisa which tells of the sin of the Golden Calf.

The Golden Calf was a childish failure. The people sought to enshrine young, immature beauty in gold. It was a creation of the people made into a deity around which they bowed and danced, in essence, worshipping the production of their own minds, like children.

The Red Heifer is seen by our Hakhamim as the ‘adult’ aspect of the Golden Calf that ‘comes to clean the mess of her child’. (Midrash Agadah, Buber, Hukat 19:2)[2]

In the haftara God speaks to Yehezkel about purification of the people’s hearts, which connects it to the theme of the purification involved with the Red Heifer in the special Torah reading. But the predominant theme of the haftara is that of God redeeming the people of Israel for His own sake rather than theirs.

Say to the House of Israel: Thus said the Lord, God: Not for your sake will I act, Oh House of Israel, but for my holy name…I will sprinkle pure water upon you and you will be purified: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanliness and from all your idolatry. And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you. (36:22,25-27)

Their purification will be one of the heart. They will receive new hearts — ones that are capable of loving and sharing. God will not do this for them — for theirs has been a selfish, immature agenda, but for His own sake — which has always been to share His creations and express the majesty of His diverse expressions. He will redeem the people and give them the mature hearts necessary to share and love the beauty of the world with Him.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Piaget, Jean. ‘The Construction of Reality in the Child’, 1955.

[2] ומה צוה הקב”ה להביא פרה אדומה, לכפר על מעשה העגל, משל לולד שטינף לחצר המלך אמר המלך תבוא אם זה הולד ותקנח צואת בנה, כך אמר הקב”ה תבוא פרה ותכפר על מעשה העגל:


Parasha Perspectives

IX         Ki Tisa 

48        The half Shekel, machatzit haShekel  (30:11-16)

49        The copper washbasin, kiyor  (30:17-21)

50a      Salve of holiness, mishchat kodesh (30:22-33)

50b      The incense, ketoret  (30:34-38)

50c           Bezalel and Aholiav, as aide, are appointed to supervise Mishkan’s construction (31:1-11)

51a      Keeping Shabbat (31:12-17)

51b           Making and worshipping a molten calf, eigel masecha (31:18-32:6)

52 God is angry but Moshe persuades God not to destroy the People (32:7-14)

53a           Moshe returns to the camp, smashes tablets, and the People are punished (32:15-35)

53b           God separates from the People so Moshe relocates outside the camp (33:1-11)

54        Moshe asks to know God’s Way (33:12-16)

55        Moshe asks to see God’s Glory (33:17-23)

56 Moshe brings a new set of hewn tablets up the mountain. He learned of the 13 attributes;

a renewed covenant; a rejection of all others; Shabbat; Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot (34:1-26)

57 Moshe, face glowing, returns after forty days from the mountain (34:27-35)

67  Para aduma: laws of purification  (Numbers, 19:1-22)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS