Haftarah- Ezekiel 22: 11 – 19
The Torah reading this week deals with strict rules for religious and moral behaviour. One of the abhorrent practices mentioned is performing child sacrifice to the god Molech. Different aspects of blood are discussed- blood that the cohanim sprinkle during the sacrifice ceremony, blood that is shed during forbidden sacrificial rites, and the prohibition of eating blood. “You will not eat the blood of any flesh for the life of all flesh is its blood.” (Leviticus 17:14) It is a fierce section of the Torah.
The haftarah is equally fierce. The prophet Ezekiel starts off condemning the children of Israel. Ezekiel communicates that God spoke to him and said, “…will you judge the bloody city? Then cause her to know all her abhorrent deeds…You stand guilty in the blood you have shed…” (Ezekiel 22: 2, 4)
The illustration is based on a painting called “Allegory 2” by the great American social realist Ben Shahn. Shahn was eight years old when his family immigrated from Lithuania to the United States. He apprenticed as a lithographer and studied biology and art. He was a social realist , very concerned with human rights, discrimination, poverty and social justice. Throughout his career he did number of works integrating Jewish text and liturgy. Among other projects he illustrated a haggadah, wrote out and illustrated the Book of Ecclesiastes, and wrote “The Alphabet of Creation”.
“Allegory 2” shows a man huddled in fear, trying to escape God’s accusing hand. Painted in 1953, during the McCarthy era, the American “Establishment” was petrified of Communism. High profile individuals, many of them artists, actors, writers, film makers, and Jews were professionally destroyed after being accused of having communist affiliations. Shahn did not agree with this flagrant abuse of power which branded creativity and human rights as evil communism. Some think that Shahn’s use of red in this painting was his criticism of America coming down against the “Red Commies”. In this illustration God is berating those in power (like McCarthy and his cronies) for abusing power.
The haftarah “Acharei Mot” is frightening in its list of punishments and it is rarely read. Usually the week this reading appears it is paired with another section which is chanted instead.
It is spring- a time of blossoms, new growth, beauty and beginnings. Let’s take advantage and do good things in the world around us!