Haftarah – Parshat Parah: The True Kiddush Hashem of the 1935 Aliyah Olympics
This Dvar Torah is in honor of the upcoming marriage of Shira Stavsky and Shimmy Karasick – Mazal Tov!
This Dvar Torah is in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of Avika Weichholz, son of Devori and Dani Weichholz of Ramat Shilo – Mazal Tov!
In 1935, hundreds of Jewish athletes from 28 different countries traveled to Tel Aviv to participate in the Second Maccabiah games. Jewish pride swelled around the world as first-rate competitors showcased their talent. The British Mandatory government put up strong opposition to these games, for fear of illegal Jewish immigration in contravention of the White Paper. In truth, their fears were well-founded, as many athletes from Germany and Poland, as well as the entire 350-strong Bulgarian delegation – who sent home just their equipment – remained in Israel. As a result, the Second Maccabiah games were dubbed the “Aliyah Olympics.”
As outlined in the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 295-296), we often think about the concepts of “Kiddush Hashem” and “Chilul Hashem” as they relate to individual actions as a reflection of God’s presence in the world. We proudly declare a “Kiddush Hashem” when a Jewish athlete wins a big game, and we shake our heads bemoaning the “Chillul Hashem” when reading about a Jewish criminal in the newspaper. The haftara for Parshat Parah (Yechezkel 36:16-38), however, provides a very different understanding of Kiddush and Chillul Hashem, particularly as it relates to the larger Jewish community.
Yechezkel lived in exile following the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash. Hashem appeared to the prophet grieving over the sad state of the Jewish People, dispersed to the four corners of the earth, “I scattered them among the nations…but when they came to those nations, they caused My holy name to be profaned (vayechalelu et shem kodshi), in that it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, yet they had to leave His land’ (36:20).”
The Navi repeats the phrase “Chillul Hashem” twice more in the subsequent two verses before offering the definition of “Kiddush Hashem”: “I will sanctify My great name (vikedashti et shmi hagadol) …I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land” (v. 24). Yechezkel teaches that on a communal level, there can be no greater desecration of God’s name than to witness the Jewish people in exile, dispossessed of their promised land. On the other hand, the ultimate sanctification of God’s name is the Jewish people’s settlement of the Land of Israel, in fulfillment of the covenant with our forefathers. Indeed, Rashi (v. 20) quotes a Midrash that, “Hashem accompanies the Jews in exile and overhears the nations saying that these are God’s people yet even He can’t save them” and bring them back to their homeland.
The lesson of this Midrash is confirmed by history. Christianity’s early Church fathers came to this exact conclusion when they saw the lowly state of the Jew and determined that they had superseded us, following the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash. God had, chas v’shalom, rejected the “Old Israel” for the “New Israel” and replaced the “Old Testament” with the “New Testament.” This doctrine, known as “Replacement Theology,” is the ultimate Chillul Hashem and has led directly to centuries of Christian anti-Semitism and the loss of countless Jewish lives.
The founding of the State of Israel and the return of the Jewish people from exile forced many Christian theologians to rethink, and ultimately reject, Replacement Theology. It became clear to not only Jews, but non-Jews as well, that God had kept His promise to the Jewish people as promised by our passage in Yechezkel as well as many other places throughout Tanakh.
The haftara continues with the pasuk connecting it to Parshat Parah, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean…Then you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people and I will be your God” (v. 28). As we read Parshat Parah we are not only recalling the ancient ritual of the red heifer in preparation of the upcoming holiday of Pesach. Nowadays especially, we can have in mind the purity necessary for the final Beit Hamikdash and the great Kiddush Hashem occurring with the return of the Jewish people from all over the world back to Israel.
Surely, we should all be proud when Jewish sports stars impress the world with their athletic feats. The Second Maccabiah “Aliyah Olympics,” however, were a true “Kiddush Hashem” through the fulfilment of the verse in our haftara, “I will sanctify My great name… I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land” (v. 24).
Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365 and editor of “The Israel Bible,” and Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a psychologist and a new Oleh to Israel, as well as a rebbe in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah. Please send comments to Haftarah@TheIsraelBible.com