This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Ezekiel's prophetic ministry commenced a few years prior to the destruction of the First Temple and spanned a period of over twenty years. Ezekiel received Torah from the prophet Jeremiah, and there is a tradition that he was actually his son and was called "the son of Buzi" because people despised (BUZ) Jeremiah (RaDaK on Ezekiel 1:3 in the name of Targum Yerushalmi). The opening prophesy in the book of Ezekiel, which came to him in Babylon, is dated to five years after the exile there of King Yeho-yachin (v 2). This took place eleven years before the destruction of the Temple. Ezekiel went into exile with Yeho-yachin together with sages and prophets like Daniel, Hananya, Mishael, Azariah and Mordechai. It is surmised that Ezekiel began to prophesy prior to leaving the Land of Israel, in accordance with the principle that the Shechinah does not rest upon a prophet outside the Land unless it first rested upon him in Israel (Moe'ed Katan 25a). Some hold that Ezekiel's first prophecy is contained in chapter 2, while others hold that it is in chapter 17 (Rashi on Ezekiel 1:3). "And it was in the thirtieth year…" (verse 1). Our commentators prove that Ezekiel is dating his prophesy to the thirtieth year since the previous YOVEL (Jubilee year), which was the year in which Hilkiyahu the High Priest found the Torah scroll in the Temple in the eighteenth year of the reign of King Josiah (see II Kings 22:8ff and II Chronicles 34:14ff; Rashi on Ezekiel 1:2 and RaDaK on Ezekiel 1:1). Although this led to a spiritual revival for a time, it also marked the sealing of the decree of destruction and exile. Thus Ezekiel tells us that when he received this prophecy of the departure of the Shechinah from the Temple, he was already in exile. Much of his prophetic mission was to rebuke the wicked people of his generation for the sins that were to lead to the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile of the rest of the people. He also prophesied against the nations and about the war of Gog and Magog. However the climax of his ministry came "in the twenty fifth year after our exile" (Ezekiel 40:1). This was in the next Jubilee year (see Rashi ad loc.), when he had a vision of being taken back to Jerusalem, where he saw every detail of the Future Temple, prophesying the final restoration of Israel at the end of days and the order in which Melech HaMashiach, the Cohanim, Levites and the Twelve Tribes will dwell in the Land forever. "…by the River Kvar…" (v 1) – "If the Shechinah does rest on the prophets outside of the Land of Israel, it speaks with them only in a place of purity, over the water" (Mechilta Bo, cf. Daniel 8:2 & 10:4). Some identify the River Kvar with the Euphrates. The Hebrew word KVAR means "already", implying that what Ezekiel saw in his vision existed long before. The letters of KVAR are the same as the word REKHEV, a "vehicle", root of the word MERKAVAH ("chariot") – for in his vision Ezekiel saw the divine "Chariot". "…and there the HAND of HaShem was upon him" (v 3) – "Every time the word 'hand' is used in this work or anywhere else in connection with prophecy, it is an expression indicating FORCE: prophecy overwhelms the prophet despite himself, similarly to the way in which madness takes over a madman" (Rashi ad loc.).
"And I looked, and behold a storm wind…" (v 4). It is proper to approach the study of Ezekiel's vision with deep awe and trepidation because he unveils some of the profoundest secrets of God's providence over creation through the divine "Chariot". Ezekiel had his vision of the heavenly order through which God governs the world on the very threshold of the destruction of the Temple. What he saw was "the chariot of the throne of glory of the Shechinah – and because it was coming with fury to destroy Israel, it appeared in the form of a storm wind and a cloud" (Rashi on v 4). Ezekiel saw it "coming from the north" because it was coming from the land of the Chaldees, which is in the north (Jeremiah 1:14). "And why did it go there? In order to bring the entire world under the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, so that no-one would be able to say that He delivered His nation, Israel, into the hands of a lowly people" (Hagigah 13:2). Ezekiel was to see further details of the divine "chariot" in later visions (Ezekiel 8:1ff, 10:1ff). He would then see the Divine Presence withdrawing stage by stage from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem prior to its destruction. However, the main focus of the vision in our present chapter is not upon the extraneous "fury" that was to bring this about but rather upon the inner workings of the heavenly order of "angels" – the CHAYOS, "beasts", lit. "vital beings", and OPHANIM, "wheels" – through which God governs the creation. Thus it was "from OUT OF THE MIDST" of the storm wind, the cloud and fire that Ezekiel saw the Chayos, i.e. he caught a glimpse of the interiority that lay beneath the external "storm wind". These Chayos – the "beasts" that "draw" the divine "chariot" – are described in vv 5-12. From Rashi's careful textual analysis, it appears that there are four overall Chayos, each of which has four "faces" (that of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle), and each of its four faces in turn consists of all four faces. Thus each Chayah has 16 faces, and since each face has four wings, each Chayah has sixty-four wings (Rashi on v 6). This suggests that God's providence may be seen as a hologram in which each part contains the whole, and each aspect includes all the different aspects. "The lion is the king of the wild beasts; the ox is the king of the animals; the eagle is the king of the birds, and man stands proudly above them all. And the Holy One blessed be He rules proudly over all of them and over the entire universe... Why does it say here 'the face of an ox on the left' but later on it says 'the face of one was the face of a cherub' (Ez. 10:14) and does not count the ox? The reason is because Ezekiel begged for mercy and it was changed into a cherub. He said: Master of the World, how can the accuser (the golden calf, which was an idolatrous representation of the ox, which Israel saw at Sinai) be turned into the defender (the ox of the Merkavah)? But is not the face of a cherub the same as the face of a man? The difference is that one is a big face (man) and one is a small face (cherub)" (Chagigah 13b). [The face of the cherub is "small" because it is on the left=TZIMTZUM.] "And their feet were straight feet" (v 7). They did not have joints since unlike material animals they had no need to bend their legs to sit or lie down (Rashi ad loc.). From this verse we learn that when praying the Amidah prayer we should position our feet straight together like angels (Berachos 10b). Verses 12ff portray the Chayos in movement and their relationship with the Ophanim beneath them. The Chayos move because of the RUACH – the will of God – that is clothed within them (v 12). The Chayos can move in any direction without turning because they have faces in all directions (ibid.). They are described as "running and returning" (v 14). The metaphor is one of the flame of a furnace or a bolt of lightning which shoots out and virtually simultaneously flashes back from
where it came. "Similarly when the Chayos move their heads out from under the firmament that is stretched above them, they become filled with fear because of the Shechinah which is above the firmament, and they hurriedly bring their heads back under" (Rashi ad loc.). The Chayos are spiritual forces yearning for God and seeking to transcend their boundaries, but they can do so only for a moment before fear and trepidation force them to retreat. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that the mode of "running and returning" characterizes all spiritual life and endeavor. We must constantly strive to go beyond our boundaries, yet we are constrained to remain within them and our task is to actualize the vision we attain at moments of transcendence within the limitations that God has set for our lives (Likutey Moharan I, 6 & 22 etc.). Just as when animals draw an earthly chariot they cause its wheels to turn, so the celestial Chayos cause the OPHAN ("wheel") of the divine "chariot to move. The Ophan is "an angel that stands on the earth and his head reaches the Chayos, and his name is Sandalphon" (Chagigah 13b). This Talmudic comment alludes to the way that the lower levels of God's governmental order are like a "shoe" (sandal) that garbs the lowest of the upper levels (the "feet") and through which those higher levels operate in order to bring about specific effects on earth. The Hebrew word translated as "angel" is MALACH, which essentially means a messenger or agent through which another higher force operates. Metzudas David (on v 15) states that each Chayah had only one Ophan rather than a separate Ophan for each of its four faces. Each Ophan was like "a wheel within a wheel", effectively turning it into a kind of ball that could roll in any directions without ever needing to turn (v 17). The Ophanim had eyes all over them so that they could see in all directions since they never turned (v 18 and Rashi ad loc.). Verse 18 expresses the "chain of command" whereby the RU'ACH ("spirit"), which is the "the will of HaKadosh Baruch Hu" clothed in the Chayah (Rashi) caused the Chayah to "move" (=act), and this in turn automatically caused the Ophan to move (act), since "the spirit of the Chayah was in the Ophanim". "And I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty…" (v 24). The voice that Ezekiel heard was like the voice of God as He spoke at Mt Sinai (Metzudas David, RaDaK ad loc.). "And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne…. And upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of ADAM…" (v 26). Riding the Chariot is ADAM – the Holy One blessed be He: the gematria of the MILUI (expansion) of the letters of the Tetragrammaton with alephs, expressing the absolute unity of God on all levels, is 45=ADaM. The prophet saw only a "likeness like the appearance" – it is forbidden to confuse the MASHAL (metaphor) with the NIMSHAL (the subject of the comparison) and to imagine for a moment that the prophet saw a human form. The human form as we know it is but the faintest reflection of a reflection of the divine reality of which Ezekiel caught a glimpse. "And I saw something like the color of electrum (CHASHMAL)…" (v 27). Rashi comments: "We are not permitted to seek to understand the meaning of this verse" (cf. Chagigah 13a). "There was a certain boy who wanted to understand the meaning of the Chashmal and a fire came forth and consumed him – because he had not reached the proper age. But let Hananiyah son of Hizkiah be remembered for good, because if not for him the sages would have taken the book of Ezekiel out of the Biblical canon on account of the passages that apparently contradict the Torah. What did he do? They brought him three hundred barrels of oil (to light his
lamp) and he sat in an attic and darshened Ezekiel to resolve the contradictions" (Chagigah ibid.). "As the appearance of the rainbow…" (v 28). Contrary to the philosophy of the rainbow generation, the Talmud teaches that it is improper to gaze for long upon the rainbow (though glancing momentarily is permitted) since it alludes to the glory of God. "Whoever sees the rainbow in the cloud ought to fall upon his face, as it says, 'Like the appearance of the rainbow… and I fell on my face'" (Berachos 59a). * * * Ezekiel 1:1-28 & 3:12 are read as the Haftarah on the first day of the festival of Shavuos commemorating the Giving of the Torah. * * *
Having risen prophetically from level to level – from seeing the storm wind and then the "angels" who execute God's will… until he heard His voice speaking to him – Ezekiel is now given his mission. "And He said to me, Son of man… (BEN ADAM)" (v 1 & 3 etc.). Unique among the prophets, God repeatedly addresses Ezekiel as the "son of man". "It seems to me," says Rashi, "that he only called him the 'son of man' in order that he should not become arrogant after having had a vision of the Chariot and of the supernal order" (Rashi on v 1). "The son of man… Son of pure people, son of righteous people, son of people who practiced kindness, son of people who demeaned themselves for the sake of My glory and the glory of Israel " (Tanna d'vei Eliyahu ch 6). "Whether they will hear or whether they will refuse to hear…" (v 5). The prophet has the obligation to deliver his message regardless of whether people heed it or not. "And they shall know that a prophet was among them" (ibid.) – "I want them to know when they are punished that there was a prophet in their midst who reproved them and they did not listen" (Rashi ad loc.). In his vision, Ezekiel was given a scroll of prophecy that he was to "eat" (v 8) – i.e. to learn it, remember it and internalize its message so that the words would be fluent on his mouth (Metzudas David ad loc.). "And in it was written lamentations and mourning and woe" (v 10 – a harsh message! Let us "eat" and internalize the teachings of our prophets and learn to be true BNEY ADAM!!!
We read at the end of the previous chapter how a hand spread forth a scroll before Ezekiel, "…and it was written inside and outside, and in it was written lamentations and mourning and woe" (Ez. 2:10). Targum (ad loc.) renders: "…And written in it was what happened from the beginning and what is destined to happen in the end, and in it was written that if the House of Israel transgress the Torah, the nations shall rule over them, but if they practice the Torah, lamentations, mourning and woe shall depart from them." Our present chapter opens with God's command to Ezekiel to "eat this scroll" – to imbibe and internalize its message of rebuke so as to ready himself for his mission to the House of Israel.
In vv 4-10 God fortifies Ezekiel in preparation for his mission, warning him that whereas any other people would heed God's rebukes, Israel are brazen and hardhearted – but reassuring him that God has made him even stronger than them, like the slender Shamir worm, which has the power to eat through stone (v 9). Following the vision of the Chariot with which Ezekiel opened (Ez. 1:1ff) and his appointment as prophet (2:1-3:10), God now tells him in verse 11 of our present chapter to return to the main body of exiles in Babylon from which he had become separated when he began to prophecy by the river Kvar. "Then a spirit took me up and I heard behind me a voice of great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of HaShem from His place" (v 12). In the words of Rashi (ad loc.), "After He completed giving His instructions, He commanded the wind to carry him to the place where the exiles were." Metzudas David (ad loc.) explains: "It is as if He was saying to the prophet, Do not think that now that the Shechinah is leaving its place in the Temple Holy of Holies the Glory of HaShem will not be blessed and praised as it was when it was in its place in the Holy of Holies. For even though it will have left its place, He is still blessed and praised" – i.e. His true glory transcends any possible earthly revelation of it, since nobody can know His place (cf. Chagigah 13b). The phrase "Blessed be the glory… from His place" is the second response in the KEDUSHAH (Sanctification) recited by the prayer leader and congregation as the high point of the communal repetition of the daily morning and afternoon AMIDAH and Shabbos and festival Mussaf prayers immediately following the joint response of "Holy! Holy! Holy!..." (Isaiah 6:3). The verse here in Ezekiel 3:12 is also recited in KEDUSHAH D'SIDRA (the prayer "Uva LeTziyon…") after the daily morning Amidah and at Minchah on Shabbos and festivals and on Saturday nights. Ezekiel could still hear the awesome sound of the wings of the Chayos and the noise of the Ophanim as the spirit carried him away from the "place" of his vision back to the exiles in Babylon (vv 13-14). "Then I came to the exiles in Tel Aviv…" (v 15). A TEL is a hill or mound, while AVIV refers to ripe barley, which in Israel is the sign of SPRING (Ex. 9:31 & 13:4 etc.). It is indeed after the name of the Jewish place of exile in Babylon mentioned in our present verse that the modern Israeli city of Tel Aviv was named when it was founded in 1909 to serve as a residential suburb of the ancient port city of Yafo ( Jaffa ). The name had been used by the author Nachum Sokolow as the title of his Hebrew translation of Theodore Herzel's " Old New Land " to symbolize the springlike rebirth of a new state on the mound remaining from a much earlier state. Ezekiel spent seven days in a state of total shock following his return from the exalted world of prophetic vision to the bustling center of the Babylonian exiles from Judah , until God spoke to him again with further teaching about the nature of his mission (vv 15-16). The prophet was obliged to address both the wicked and the righteous. He was to warn the wicked to turn from their evil ways, and he was to warn the righteous not to allow themselves to lapse. If the prophet failed to rebuke them he would bear responsibility for their evil deeds and lapses, but as long as he discharged his duty he would be "clean" and they alone would bear the consequences of their evil. "And when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, I will lay a stumbling block before him and he will die…" (v 20). "If the righteous man makes the mistake of thinking that on account of his having been righteous for a long time God will forgive him for the evil he now commits, I will prepare a stumbling block for him" (Metzudas David ad loc.). "The stumbling block will be that
he will succeed in all his affairs in this world, because he will eat in this world the fruits of the righteousness he was intended to eat in the world to come, 'and his righteousness that he did will not be remembered' i.e. in the world to come" (RaDaK ad loc.). "And He said to me, Arise, go out to the plain (BIK'AH)…" (v 22). "He instructed him to go out to the plain where He showed him the Glory as He had showed him by the River Kvar, for the plain was a place of greater purity than Tel Aviv, which was a human habitation. He sent him this vision time after time in order to deepen his understanding of God's providence and His way of governing the creation. Moreover that plain (BIK'AH) was the same plain in which the original Tower of Babylon had been built (Gen. 11:2), and He began showing him His providence over His creatures when he mixed up their language and thwarted their intention" (RaDaK on v 22). In the plain God gave Ezekiel further instructions and a series of prophecies that are contained in the coming chapters (chs 4-7). From now on the prophet was to shut himself up in his house as if imprisoned and not to speak to the people except when God opened his mouth in prophecy, for the people would not listen to him. The reason was – in the words of the repeated refrain (ch 2 vv 5, 6 & 7; ch 3 vv 26 & 27) – "FOR THEY ARE A REBELLIOUS HOUSE".
SIGNS AND SYMBOLS At various junctures, certain prophets were instructed to carry out symbolic actions as a way of vividly dramatizing their message. In the present chapter Ezekiel (still in the "plain" receiving the series of prophecies that began in v 23 of the previous chapter) is given three sets of instructions. 1: THE BRICK (vv 1-3) Ezekiel was to take a large building block and carve on it a representation of the city of Jerusalem, which he was to surround with siege towers, siege mounds, army camps and battering rams symbolizing the coming Babylonian assault. "And take for yourself an iron pan and set it as a wall of iron between you and the city" (v 3) – "From the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, a wall of iron stands between Israel and their Father in heaven, as it says, 'Take for yourself an iron pan…'" (Berachos 32b). 2: LYING ON HIS SIDE (vv 4-8) The "brick" would be positioned where the prophet could gaze upon it before him (see v 7) while lying immobilized on one side for extended periods. "Lying on one side for a long time without being able to turn onto the other side is extremely hard" (RaDaK on v 4). Rashi explains that Ezekiel was to endure this pain and suffering for a specific number of days corresponding to the number of years that Israel had vexed God with their defiance, "and you will atone for their sins since the punishments I have said I will bring upon them are harsh in your eyes. I have made it easier for you to bear the pain I have suffered for the total number of years they have sinned before Me by turning them into the corresponding number of days" (Rashi on vv 4-5). "Through this pain the sins of Israel would be atoned without their being utterly destroyed on account of their sins" (Metzudas David on v 4). "When a king of flesh and blood wants to punish a rebellious province, if he is
cruel he kills them all. If he is kind, he kills half of them. But if he is overflowing with kindness, he chastises their leaders. Similarly the Holy One blessed be He chastised Ezekiel in order to cleanse Israel of their sins" (Sanhedrin 39a). The prophet was to lie on his left side to atone for the sins of the House of Israel – the Ten Tribes – whose kingdom was centered to the "left" (=North) of Judah (see Ezekiel 16:46; Metzudas David on v 4). Rashi (on v 5) gives an exact account of how all the years in which Israel sinned from the period of the first Judges until the exile of the Ten Tribes by Sennacherib add up to a total of 390. Likewise in his comment on v 6, Rashi gives an account of the 40 years in which Judah sinned from the time of the exile of the Ten Tribes until the year of Ezekiel's present prophecy five years after the exile of King Yeho-yachin (see Ez. 1:2) i.e. in the fifth year of King Tzedekiah. "Behold, I will lay cords upon you" (v 8): "You shall feel the stringency of My decree of instructions as if you were bound by thick ropes so that you are incapable of turning from side to side" (Rashi ad loc.). 3: FAMINE RATIONS (vv 9-17) "And take for yourself wheat and barley etc." (v 9). During these extended periods of lying on one side, Ezekiel was to eat in the same way as people facing famine under siege. Barley is normally animal feed: people only make bread of wheat mixed with inferior grains when supplies are scarce, and they then permit themselves only minimal rations for fear of being left with nothing (vv 9-11). The most repulsive aspect of the prophet's diet was that the fuel for baking his crude loaves would be dried human excrement (v 12). This would symbolize how "the children of Israel will eat their bread unclean among the nations to which I shall drive them" (v 13). This decree so appalled Ezekiel – a priest who had eaten only kosher, ritually pure food from his youth – that he cried out bitterly in horror (v 14): "I have never eaten an animal that died of itself or was torn by beasts…" – "not even a dying animal that was slaughtered hurriedly to permit it consumption"; "…nor did loathsome meat ever enter my mouth" – "not even from an animal over which a sage had to issue a ruling because of a question over its fitness for consumption… not even an animal from which the priestly portions had not been duly separated" (Talmud Chullin 37b). Because of Ezekiel's plea for mercy, God softened the decree, permitting him to use animal droppings as fuel to bake his bread instead of human excrement. Even so, it was impossible to avert the coming famine in Jerusalem in which the people would waste away because of their sins (v 17).
In the previous chapter Ezekiel was commanded to carry out a series of symbolic actions alluding to the coming Babylonian siege against the city of Jerusalem, represented by a large builder's brick. Now God commands him to take "a sharp sword, a barber's razor" and shave the hair of his head and beard, which he is to weigh out carefully into three equal portions (v 1 of our present chapter). He is to burn a third on top of the "city" carved into the brick; he is to smite a third with a sword round about the "city", and he is to take the last third and scatter it to the winds (v 2). The meaning of these symbolic actions is specified later in the chapter in verse 12: a third of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were to die under siege through the burning
"fire" of plague and famine; a third would be cut down by the sword while trying to escape the Babylonians, while a third would be scattered in every direction in exile, and even there the sword would chase after them. The only consolation in all of this was God's instruction to Ezekiel in verse 3: "You shall also take from these a small number and bind them in the corners of your garment…" – "These are the few people who would go into exile to Babylon and live" (Rashi ad loc.). Yet even some of these would be burned in the fire that was to ravage the House of Israel (v 4). The saving of the remnant through being bound in the corners of Ezekiel's garments suggests that these were the people who "took hold of the Tzitzis" of the Tzaddik, i.e. followed his advice (see Likutey Moharan I, 7) and that they were saved in his merit. In verses 5-10 The prophet set's forth God's "case" against the sinners of Jerusalem, on account of which He was to unleash the terrible retribution alluded to in Ezekiel's signs. "Thus says the Lord God: This is Jerusalem, I have set her in the midst of the nations and countries are round about her" (v 5). "I put her inhabitants there for their own good, because she is the choicest of all lands, 'fairest of sites, the joy of all the earth' (Psalms 48:3). For she is in the center of the world, and therefore her air and climate are better than those of all other lands. Her inhabitants should have followed the straight path and carried out my good statutes. But instead they changed them, and did greater evil than all the nations around them" (RaDaK on v 5). "…nor have you done according to the practices of the nations around you" (v 7) – "For the nations never exchanged their gods even though they have no godly power, whereas you have exchanged My glory for that which is of no benefit. You have not followed the practices of those who are well ordered, but instead you have followed the practices of those who are corrupt" (Rashi ad loc.; Sanhedrin 39b). "Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold I, even I am against you…" (v 8) – "You have betrayed Me, so I too am against you" (Rashi). Verses 9ff specify the retribution that God was to send against Jerusalem. Only thus "shall my anger spend itself and I will relieve my fury" (v 13). In the Hebrew text, the word rendered "I will relieve" is VA-HANICHOSI. In a play on this word, the Talmud teaches that when Israel suffers at the hands of the nations, God HEAVES A DEEP SIGH (ANACHAH)!!!" (Berachos 59a). Because of her abuse of her privileged status, the desolate Jerusalem would become the reproach of all the surrounding nations (vv 14-15).
In continuation of the prophecy of the coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, Ezekiel – located in Babylon – is now commanded to turn his face in the direction of the hills of Israel and to prophecy against them. This was because the favored locations for the people's idolatrous altars and cult centers were on the tops of hills, which were not only places of outstanding natural beauty but also afforded spectacular skyscapes of all the planets, stars and constellations they worshiped. Later on in Ezekiel ch 8 we will be shown an intimate picture of how even the most respected dignitaries of the people perpetrated the most abominable forms of idolatry in the very Temple itself. In our present chapter we hear of the retribution God was to send against this idolatry, which was evidently rampant throughout Judah and practiced on all its hilltops: not only their altars and sun-images but their
very cities would be destroyed, and the bodies of the guilty would fall dead before their worthless idols (vv 3-7). "…and you shall know that I am HaShem" (v 7): the whole purpose of this retribution was to teach the people what they refused to learn the gentle way – that God has complete power and will not overlook the flouting of His will. Brokenhearted in exile, the remnant would understand the evil of their ways and repent (vv 7-10).
The prophecy in the present chapter is the last in the series of prophecies that began in chapter 3 verse 22, when God told Ezekiel to go out into the plain, giving him a series of instructions about symbolic actions he was to take in order to dramatize the coming destruction of Jerusalem (ch's 4 & 5). After that He then began to explain to him the reason for the decree. Thus in the previous chapter the prophet was instructed to prophesy to the hills of Israel about the coming destruction of the land on account of the rampant idolatry, while in the present chapter he prophesies about the imminence of the decree, again emphasizing that it is on account of the abominations practiced by the people of Judah. Then in the following chapters (ch 8ff), Ezekiel is taken in prophetic vision from Babylon to Jerusalem, where God shows him how leaders of the people were actually practicing their idolatrous abominations in the Holy Temple itself. "The end! The end is come upon the four corners of the land!" (v 2) – "This is the 'end' of which I spoke when I said, 'When you will have grown old (VENOSHANTEM) in the land and become corrupt… I bear witness against you today that you shall surely perish' (Deut. 4:25). The gematria of VENOSHANTEM is 852. From the time Israel entered the land until the Temple was built was a period of 440 years, and the First Temple stood for another 410 years, making a total of 850" (Rashi on v 2). Repeatedly the prophet emphasizes that the coming calamity would be in retribution for the people's abominations (vv 3, 4, 8, 9 & 20). "Violence (HAMAS) is risen up into a rod of wickedness – not because of them and not because of their multitude and not because of their roaring, and the lamentation is not because of them" (v 11). This rendering of verse 11 follows the explanation of Metzudas David (ad loc.), who states that "the 'violence' would be that of Nebuchadnezzar, a man of violence who arose to be the rod striking Israel wickedly and cruelly. But his success was 'not because of them' – i.e. not because of the merit of the Babylonians or because of their great multitude or because of their terrifying war cries but only because of the hand of God" (ibid.). Our commentators interpret Ezekiel's prophecies in these chapters as referring only to the destruction of the First Temple, and there is no suggestion whatever that they may refer to a future destruction. Nevertheless, all of the prophecies that were included in our Biblical canon contain teachings for all times. Since in our times one of the principal leaders of Arab violence and terror against Israel has been the socalled HAMAS movement, we should heed the prophet's teaching about HAMAS (v 11) – as explained by Metzudas David – and keep in mind that this movement has no intrinsic power of its own and is able to cause trouble for Israel ONLY because the hand of God chastises until we repent of our sins. "Let the buyer not rejoice nor the seller mourn…" (v 12). "The way of the world is that the buyer rejoices over his acquisition while the seller mourns that financial
pressures forced him to sell… but the prophet says that one who sells Israel has no need to mourn over it because even if he would not have would remain his only for a short time since he was soon to go into abandon it. Likewise the buyer had no reason to rejoice, because his would not remain his for long" (RaDaK ad loc.).
a field in sold it, it exile and purchase
"They have blown the trumpet and prepared everything, but no-one goes out to the war…" (v 14). "When the enemy comes against them, they will have prepared themselves for war, but no-one will go out to fight" (Rashi ad loc.). The military paralysis that was to take hold of Judah under attack from Nebuchadnezzar is reminiscent of the present-day military paralysis of the state of Israel even in the face of constant provocations, incessant daily rocket and missile attacks against innocent civilians, etc. Her leaders call it "restraint", but their inability to take any decisive military action against the people's enemies for most of the time since the 1967 Six Day War has seriously eroded the country's security. We must understand that this too is the "hand of God". Ezekiel prophesies that because of the sin of idolatry, the Holy Temple was to be given over to strangers to destroy (vv 20-22). Because of the blatant injustices perpetrated by the people, the very worst of the nations would come to take over their houses and the pride of their land (vv 23-24). Prophecy, Torah and wise counsel would depart, leaving spiritual devastation and confusion (vv 25ff) "…and they shall know that I am HaShem" (v 27).
"And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month…" (v 1). This was in the month of Elul in the sixth year after the exile of King Yeho-yachin. RaDaK (ad loc.) quotes from Midrash Seder Olam stating that the year in question had been a leap year, explaining that because of the extra month inserted into the leap year, over four hundred and thirty days had passed since the prophecies in the previous chapters. In chapter 4 vv 4-6 Ezekiel had been commanded to lie on his left side for 390 days to atone for the sins of Israel and a further 40 days to atone for those of Judah – a total of four hundred and thirty days. He would certainly have carried out these instructions immediately after the conclusion of the prophetic vision in which they were given. This means that the prophetic visions in our present chapter and those that follow came to him directly after these 430 days. Ezekiel was the spiritual leader and head of the Sanhedrin of the Judean exiles in Babylon, and thus the elders of the people came to sit before him daily. It was in their very presence that HaShem's "hand" of prophecy overwhelmed him, and in his vision he saw himself being taken by the locks of his head and carried by a RU'ACH, "wind" or "spirit", to the northern gate of the Temple in Jerusalem. This was "the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy" (vv 1-3). The "image of jealousy" was the idolatrous image originally made by King Menasheh. When Menasheh repented, he cast it out of Jerusalem but did not destroy it, and his son King Ammon restored it. Despite the Torah revival in the reign of Ammon's son King Josiah, it appears that the wicked kings who followed him again restored this image. It must be understood that such an image was not merely a fancy representation dreamed up by some artist, which people then proceeded to worship for no reason. King Menasheh was an outstanding Torah scholar (103b) and without doubt found the deepest rationalizations for the image he set up. (Rabbi Nachman teaches that God intentionally brought it about that the writings of the ancients justifying their idolatry should be lost since later generations, lacking the wisdom to refute them,
would otherwise be in dire peril of succumbing to their influence, Likutey Moharan II, 32.) Thus Midrash Rabbah Devarim states that Menasheh's image had four faces corresponding to the four Chayos of the divine "Chariot". It seems that Menasheh had deep knowledge of what Ezekiel was later to see in his vision (Ezekiel ch 1) but Menasheh turned the angels into gods, violating the Second Commandment by representing them with physical images. While Ezekiel physically sat in Babylon shortly before the destruction of the Temple, God sent the "wind" or "spirit" to carry him to Jerusalem in order to take him on a "virtual tour" of the Temple so he could see what the people were actually practicing within its holy precincts (vv 3ff). "And behold the God of Israel was there according to the vision that I saw in the plain" (v 4). In Ezekiel's vision in the plain (ch 3 vv 23ff) he had seen the same Glory that he had seen at the River Kvar (ch 1 vv 4ff). This is what he now saw in the Temple – for the Shechinah was still dwelling there, for it was only in his vision in Chapter 10 that Ezekiel was to see how the Glory departed from the Temple stage by stage. The presence of the Glory in the Temple during his vision in our present chapter is precisely what made the idolatry of the people there so offensive. Besides the "image of jealousy" (vv 5-6), God showed Ezekiel the many other representations of creeping things, abominable beasts and other idols which the people were worshiping in secret chambers. "And seventy men from among the elders of the House of Israel and Ya'azanyahu the son of Shafan in their midst…" (v 11). "He was an important figure and his generation learned from him, and this is why God was angry with him" (Rashi ad loc.). As we follow Ezekiel on his "virtual tour" of the abominations practiced by the most respectable people in the holiest of places, we can but imagine the kinds of abominations reportedly practiced by some of the most prominent public figures of our times in the secret chambers of places like the Vatican, Bohemian Grove in N. California and many others that the wider public knows nothing about. "For they say HaShem does not see us – HaShem has abandoned the earth" (v 12). The idolaters may have believed that God was the first cause of the creation, but "they said that He does not see what the creatures do because they believed that He had left the earth in the hands of the heavenly order of stars and planets and did not watch over it" (Metzudas David ad loc.). "And behold, there sat women making the Tammuz weep" (v 14) – "This was a certain metal statue that they used to heat up from within and its eyes were made of lead which began to melt because of the heat of the furnace. It looked as if the statue was weeping, and the women would say, He is asking for a sacrifice" (Rashi ad loc.). "And He brought me into the inner court…. And behold… about twenty-five men with their backs towards the Temple of HaShem and their faces towards the east, and they were prostrating themselves towards the sun…" (v 16, cf. Talmud Succah 51b). As if this in itself was not offensive enough, Rashi and Metzudas David commenting on the phrase rendered as "they put the branch (Z'MORAH) to the nose" (on v 17) write that the people were crudely breaking wind from behind, creating a kind of vibrating "song" (from the root ZEMER), and that the prophet is saying that the foul smell would simply come into their own nostrils – i.e. their shame would rebound in their own faces.
"And He cried in my ears with a loud voice saying…" (v 1). In the last verse of the previous chapter (from which the present verse follows with no section break in the Hebrew text), God had said that He would have no mercy on the people of Jerusalem because of their sins, "and though they CRY IN MY EARS WITH A LOUD VOICE, I will not hear them" (Ezekiel 8:18). The opening verse of the present chapter directly echoes this phrase, and now God "cries out with a loud voice" ordering "those that have charge of the city" to draw close with their weapons of destruction in their hands (v 1 of our present chapter). Ezekiel, who in his prophetic vision was standing in the Temple courtyard, now saw "six men coming by way of the Upper Gate" (v 2) together with a seventh wearing linen with a scribe's equipment at his side. RaDaK states that according to the plain meaning of the text, Ezekiel prophetically saw the ministers of Nebuchadnezzar who were to enter Jerusalem when the city walls were breached six years after this prophecy (Jeremiah 39:3, see RaDaK on v 2 of our present chapter). On the level of Drash, the sages of the Talmud stated that the first six men were destructive angels, KETZEF, AF, CHEIMAH, MASHKHEES, MESHABER and MEKHALEH – "Rage, Anger, Fury, Spoiler, Smasher and Destroyer" – while the King's "scribe" dressed in linen who later cast fire upon the city was the angel Gabriel (Shabbos 55a, Rashi & RaDaK ad loc.). The "brazen altar" by the side of which they stood to receive their orders was the name given to King Solomon's stone altar, which replaced the brazen altar for animal offerings that Moses had made for the Sanctuary in the wilderness. The stone altar stood in the AZARAH, the main Temple courtyard (as opposed to the golden incense altar, which stood inside the Temple sanctuary in between the Menorah and the Showbread Table). "And the glory of the God of Israel ascended from the cherub upon which it rested to the threshold of the House…" (v 3). Since the inauguration of the Temple by King Solomon, the Shechinah (the Divine Presence="the glory") had rested in the Temple Holy of Holies over the KAPORES, the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, in between the cherubs that stood upon it. This "point" was the interface between our material world and the spiritual world that governs it. Our present chapter and the next describe how, simultaneously with ordering the destruction of Jerusalem , the Divine Presence ascended from its place and stage by stage left first the Temple and finally the city. "We learn from our texts that the Shechinah made ten journeys … from the Altar cover (KAPORES) to the cherub, from one cherub to the other, from the cherub to the threshold, from the threshold to the courtyard, from the courtyard to the altar, from the altar to the roof, from the roof to the wall, from the wall to the city, from the city to the mountain and from the mountain to the wilderness, and from the wilderness she ascended and dwelled in her place, as it says, 'I shall go and return to My place'" (Hosea 5:15; Rosh Hashanah 31a; cf. the princess's journey in her carriage in Rabbi Nachman's story of The Lost Princess). As the glory ascended from the cherub, HaShem called to the "scribe" to place marks on the heads of all the remaining tzaddikim in Jerusalem – those who sighed over the abominations practiced in her midst. These were to be a sign for the angels of destruction to spare them when they came to slaughter the wicked. These marks were akin to the marks daubed with the blood of the paschal lamb on the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt to save them from the angels who came to destroy the Egyptians (RaDaK on v 4). However, the sages of the Talmud taught that even though there were indeed still some tzaddikim in Jerusalem who were pained by these abominations, the "scribe" could find nobody who was free of all guilt. "There was never an occasion when
goodness came forth from the mouth of the Holy One blessed be He and He afterwards relented so that it turned into bad except in this case. God told Gabriel to go and mark the foreheads of the tzaddikim with ink so that the destructive angels would have no power over them, while placing a mark of blood on the foreheads of the wicked so that the destructive angels would have power over them. But the Attribute of Justice said: Master of the World, what is the difference between these and those? He said: These are complete tzaddikim while those are completely wicked. Justice said: They had the power to protest but they did not. He said: It is revealed and known before Me that if they had protested, the wicked would not have listened. But Justice replied: 'Master of the World, to You it may have been revealed, but they did not know (and they ought to have protested)'… Thus the verse says, 'Slay the old, the young men and girls, the children and the women… but do not come near any man who has upon him the mark'. But immediately after this, the same verse continues, '…and BEGIN at My sanctuary (MIKDASHI)' and it goes on to say, 'and they BEGAN with the elders who were before the House' (v 6). Do not read the word as MIKDASHI but rather as MEKUDASHAI, 'My sanctified ones' – these are the men who kept the Torah from Aleph to Tav" (Shabbos 55a). We may learn from this that it is not sufficient to practice the Torah ourselves: we are also obliged to protest against the wicked who violate it. Verse 7 describes how God gave instructions to the destroyers to go into action. "And it came to pass as they were slaying them that I was left" (v 8) – Ezekiel realized that he alone was left, because the scribe did not inscribe the mark of life on the foreheads of anyone else since he could not find anyone who was a complete tzaddik owing to their failure to protest against the abominations (Metzudas David ad loc.). Ezekiel screams out begging for mercy, but God answers that the sin of Jerusalem was too great, because they had said that God had "abandoned" the earth – i.e. that there was no such thing as divine providence or judgment, and they were therefore free to do as they pleased – and now He would show them His providential hand of judgment (vv 8-9). "And behold the man clothed in linen… reported saying, I have done according to all that You commanded me" (v 11) – "For you only commanded me to make a mark on the foreheads of the righteous and not anyone else, and so have I done, because I did not mark the foreheads of anyone else since I did not find any tzaddikim" (Metzudas David ad loc.).
In the opening chapter of the book, Ezekiel described his first vision of the Divine Glory "riding" upon the "Chariot" – the apparatus of Chayos and Ophanim through which God providentially governs the world. In his vision in the present chapter, which directly continues the narrative in the previous chapter about how God commanded the agents of destruction to destroy Jerusalem, Ezekiel tells HOW the "apparatus" he had seen in the earlier vision now began to OPERATE, in this case in order to cast the fire of destruction upon the city as demanded by the divine Attribute of Justice. Whereas in chapter 1 Ezekiel called the "beasts" drawing the chariot CHAYOS, he now calls them KERUVIM, "cherubs", (for the reason discussed in the commentary on chapter 1; see also the comment on v 20 of the present chapter). Looking towards the "throne" or "seat" of the "chariot" over the firmament above the heads of these "cherubs", the prophet hears the divine voice commanding the "man dressed in linen" – the angel Gabriel – to go between the "wheels" below the cherubs and fill his hands with coals of fire to cast all over the city (v 2).
While Ezekiel, looking prophetically at the very roots of God's providence, saw everything happening almost simultaneously, the actual events took time to unfold in This World. Thus verse 2 states: "And He said (VAYOMER) to the man dressed in linen, and he said (VAYOMER)…" Rashi comments: "Wherever the text says VAYOMER… VAYOMER… this is only in order to darshen. The Holy One blessed be He spoke to Gabriel, and Gabriel in turn spoke to the cherub requesting that he GIVE him the coals (instead of Gabriel's filling his own hands with them directly) in order that the coals should be cooled so as to lighten the decree. Thus it says later, 'and he took it and gave it into the hands of the one dressed in linen' (v 7). …And even though the one dressed in linen received them, he did not throw them immediately but only six years after the time he received them, so that the coals should become dimmed in his hand all those six years. The proof is that this prophecy was given to Ezekiel in the sixth year of Tzedekiah's reign (see Ezekiel 8:1) while the city was destroyed in the eleventh year" (Rashi on v 2). "Then the Glory of HaShem went up from the cherub to the threshold of the House" (v 4). Rashi states that this ascent of the Shechinah is the same as described in the previous chapter (Ezekiel 9:3). The narrative in the present chapter complements that in the previous chapter. Perhaps in his vision the prophet saw everything in one simultaneous flash, but when it came to telling what he saw, he had to go back and forth to describe different aspects. "And the sound of the wings of the cherubs was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when He speaks" (v 5). The "outer court" is the rest of the Temple Mount outside of the inner courtyard. "Could it be that the voice only reached there because it was low? No – for the verse says that it was 'like the voice of God Almighty when He speaks' (i.e. the great voice in which He spoke at Mt Sinai, Deut. 5:19). But when it reached the outer courtyard, it stopped and went no further (see Rashi on v 5; see. Metzudas David ad loc.; cf. Rashi on Leviticus 1:1). A screen of TZIMTZUM (limitation, contraction) intervenes, preventing all who are unworthy from hearing the inner voice of God's providence. In vv 6-7 Ezekiel sees how the cherub puts coals into the hand of the one dressed in linen. IN vv 8ff the prophet gives further description of the cherubs – the chayos he saw in the vision in chapter 1 – and the ophanim, describing again how the ophanim, the omni-directional wheels of the "chariot", "automatically" went wherever the "head" – the cherub, the "beast" drawing it – went. "And every one [of the cherubs/chayos] had four faces. The first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle" (v 14). Ezekiel himself tells us in verse 20 that the cherubs he saw in the present vision were themselves the chayos he saw in his vision at the River Kvar (Ezekiel 1:5ff). The only difference is that in the present vision he saw the face of a cherub instead of the face of the ox that he had seen at the River Kvar. Our sages opened a tiny chink into the mystery of the reason for this change when they said that Ezekiel begged God to have mercy, asking how the "accuser" (the golden calf – an "ox") could become a "defender" (one of the drawers of the Divine Chariot; Talmud Chagigah 13a). With Ezekiel watching, the Divine Chariot makes successive "journeys" out from the Temple. As long as the Temple stood, it was at the very center of everything: all the lines of God's providence radiated outwards from there to the entire world. Even today, God's providence remains at the center of everything, but from the time of the destruction of the Temple it ascended from there and can no longer be
seen to be manifestly radiating from Jerusalem. It continues to govern the world, but it does so from a place of mystery. "Blessed be the glory of HaShem FROM HIS PLACE" (Ez. 3:12; Kedushah).
"Then a spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the House of HaShem… and behold at the door of the gate twenty-five men…" (v 1) – "These were the same men that he described earlier in chapter 8 v 16 having their backs to the Sanctuary, except that there he did not specify who they were, but here he names two of them" (Rashi ad loc.). "Then He said to me: These are the men that devise mischief and give wicked counsel in this city, who say, It is not near: let us build houses…" (vv 2-3). In his prophetic vision of Jerusalem shortly before the destruction of the Temple, Ezekiel saw the people whose stubbornness was to bring down calamity upon themselves. As we find in detail in the prophecies of Jeremiah (chs 28ff), despite the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had already carried off King Yeho-yachin and the leading sages and Tzaddikim of Jerusalem to exile in Babylon, most of those who remained in the city under King Tzedekiah were certain that "It is not near…" – i.e. that the prophecies of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem by Jeremiah and Ezekiel would certainly not materialize soon, and if at all, only in the far-distant future. Fortified by the soothing assurances of numerous false prophets both in Jerusalem and also among the exiles in Babylon, those who still remained in Judah were convinced that Nebuchadnezzar's empire would collapse within a couple of years and that they should therefore "build houses" and "dig in" for a long stay in Jerusalem (see Jeremiah ch 28. Contrary to their ideas, in Jer. 29:5 it is the exiles in Babylon that he instructs to build houses and plant gardens.). The remaining inhabitants of Jerusalem defiantly say: "This city is the cauldron and we are the meat" (v 3) – "Just as the meat is not taken out from the pot until it is completely cooked, so we shall not go out of the city until we die a natural death" (Rashi ad loc.). But in just the same way as Jeremiah warned the remaining inhabitants of Jerusalem that the sword, famine and plague were very shortly to be unleashed against them (Jer. 29:17), so his disciple Ezekiel is now told to prophesy that God would bring against them the very sword they feared (v 8 of our present chapter). "You shall fall by the sword: I shall judge you at the border of Israel " (v 10). The "border of Israel" refers to "Rivlah in the land of Hamath" (II Kings 25:21) – this is the town of Antioch or Antakya in modern-day Turkey – where Nebuchadnezzar was encamped while his armies took Jerusalem, and where he judged the captured King Tzedekiah and killed his sons in front of his eyes before blinding him. Antioch is the northern boundary of the Promised Land (Numbers 34:8; see Rashi on verse 10 of our present chapter). "And it came to pass, while I prophesied, that Palatiyahu son of Benayah died…" (v 13). The sudden death of one of the most prominent leaders of the twenty-five idolaters whom Ezekiel saw in the Temple courtyard was part of his prophetic vision and did not actually occur until later, for according to the Talmud in Kiddushin 72b, Palatiyahu went into exile in Babylon. Ezekiel's vision of his sudden death came to confirm that the illusions of the defiant inhabitants of Jerusalem would simply burst like a bubble.
Ezekiel cried out in horror at what he saw (v 13) but in verse 14 God answered him by explaining the wickedness of Palatiyahu and the other defiant inhabitants of Jerusalem. Our commentators explain that the seemingly repetitious phrasing in verse 15, "…your brothers, your brothers, your kinsmen and all the House of Israel in its entirety," comes to allude to the successive stages in which first the exile of the Ten Tribes and then that of King Yeho-yachin had taken place prior to this prophecy (see Rashi, Metzudas David and RaDaK on v 15). The remaining wicked inhabitants of Jerusalem under Tzedekiah were scoffing at all these exiles, saying, "Get you far from HaShem, for to us is this land given in possession" (v 15) as if God Himself had cast out the exiles to far-off lands and would no longer watch over them, giving those in Jerusalem the entire country of Israel in perpetuity. (A similar brand of snobbery is not unknown today among certain Israelis who simply dismiss the whole of Diaspora Jewry as being of no significance.) "Therefore say, Thus says the Lord God: Although I have cast them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, I shall be to them a little sanctuary in the countries where they have come" (v 16). These are almost the first words of any kind of comfort we have had so far in the book of Ezekiel (see also Ezekiel 5:3), promising that those who had submitted to the decree of exile would in fact remain under God's constant providence and protection. Despite the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, they would have "a little sanctuary" in the form of the synagogues in which they would pray during their exile. The phrase in this verse MIKDASH ME-AT, "a little sanctuary", is one of the foundations of the idea that the synagogue building becomes sanctified with a sanctity akin to that of the Temple in virtue of its being used for the communal prayer services, and that it must therefore be treated with the appropriate respect (Megillah 29a, Rambam, Laws of Prayer ch 11). Indeed it was through the vibrant community life in their synagogues, study halls and community centers that the Jews of the Diaspora kept the torch of Torah life burning brightly through thousands of years of exile. "And I shall gather you from the nations…" (v 17) – "Since even the exiles themselves thought they would never return to their own land and that those in Jerusalem would inherit it, He therefore says to them 'I shall gather you in'… and then I shall bring you back to the Land of Israel. This is speaking about the days of Mashiach" (Metzudas David ad loc.). In verse 18 we learn that the returning exiles will cleanse the Land of all the abominations that had been practiced there. May this come soon in our days! Amen. "And I will give them one heart and I will put a new spirit within you, and I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and I will give them a heart of flesh…" (v 19). "'One heart' means that their hearts will no longer be divided and in doubt as to whether to believe in HaShem, for they will believe in HaShem with all their heart; 'a new spirit' means a new willingness to follow His laws; 'a heart of stone' is a heart hard as stone, whereas 'a heart of flesh' is a heart soft as flesh – submissive and easy-going (NO-ACH)" (Metzudas David on v 19). The stubborn remaining inhabitants in Jerusalem had said, "WE are the FLESH" (v 3), but God promises that it will be those purified by the tribulations of the long exile that will have "a heart of flesh" at the end of days. When Rabbi Nachman arrived in the town of Breslov, which became his center for most of the last eight years of his life (1802-1810), he said that his followers would always be called the Breslover Chassidim, revealing that the Hebrew letters of BReSLoV are the same as in the phrase in our verse, LeV BaSaR, "a heart of flesh" (Chayey Moharan #339). "And the glory of HaShem went up from the midst of the city…" (v 23). This verse brings us to the conclusion of the series of prophecies that began in chapter 8 v 1, when the "form of a hand" coming out of the fire took Ezekiel by the fringes of his
head from Babylon to the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem, where he witnessed the abominations the people were committing there and simultaneously, the withdrawal of the Divine Presence in stages from the Temple. It was the Divine Presence and its "Chariot" that he had originally seen in his opening vision by the River Kvar (Ezekiel ch 1) and in the plain (Ezekiel 3:23). Now, at the end of his prophetic vision of being in the Temple Courtyard, Ezekiel sees the "Chariot" finally departing the city of Jerusalem and standing on "the mountain" (v 23 of our present chapter). "This is the Mount of Olives, which stands to the east of the city" (Rashi ad loc.). "And a spirit took me up and brought vision through the spirit of God" (v Jerusalem and the return to Babylon but it was through a vision that came him so" (RaDaK ad loc.). me to Kasdim (= Babylon) to the exiles in a 24). "This informs us that the journey to were not MAMASH (i.e. in material reality), through the spirit of God that it appeared to
In the new prophecy that opens in this chapter, God says to Ezekiel: "Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but see not; they have ears to hear but they hear not, for they are a rebellious house". This "rebellious house" refers to the body of exiles in Babylon among whom Ezekiel dwelled. "For they had seen that they had come there in exile, but it was as if they had not seen and had not heard God's reproof, because they were still encouraging those who remained in Jerusalem, sending them false prophets and sorcerers telling them that those who stayed would not go into exile, such as Shemayahu the Nachalami, who sent letters to all the people in Jerusalem giving them false promises" (RaDaK). Shemayahu's campaign is the subject of Jeremiah's prophecy in Jer. 24:32. In order to dramatize the fact that the remaining inhabitants of Jerusalem would definitely go into exile shortly with the destruction of the Temple, Ezekiel is commanded to "prepare the vessels of exile" (v 3) – "These are a drinking pouch, a dish and a mat, and each one serves two purposes: the pouch is filled with water and used as a pillow; the dish is used for eating and drinking, and the mat is used to sit and to sleep on" (Eichah Rabasi). In the gaze of all the community in Babylon Ezekiel was day after day to go through the motions of a person going into exile (v 4) in order to symbolize vividly the imminent exile of those who still remained in Jerusalem. "Dig through the wall in their sight…" (v 5). "This was to symbolize how Tzedekiah would leave Jerusalem through a tunnel through fear of leaving openly on account of the Chaldees" (Rashi ad loc.). The intention of Ezekiel's exercise was to arouse the curiosity of the exiles in Babylon about the meaning of his mysterious actions, and in vv 8ff God tells him how he was to answer them. "Say to them… This burden (=prophecy) concerns the prince in Jerusalem (=Tzedekiah) and all the House of Israel that are among them (= in the streets of the city)" (v 10, see Metzudas David). Six years prior to the destruction of the Temple and the capture of Tzedekiah, Ezekiel here prophesies: "My net also I shall spread upon him and he shall be taken in My snare, and I shall bring him to Babylon to the land of the Kasdim: yet he shall not see it, though he shall die there" (v 13). As he emerged from his escape tunnel, Tzedekiah was caught by Chaldean soldiers who were hunting deer (the snare). Even when he was taken to Babylon, Tzedkiah never saw it because he had already had his eyes put out in Rivlah on the way.
In vv 17-20 Ezekiel is commanded to eat and drink in the public view in the frenzied, anxious way of exiles in order once again to impress upon the people in Babylon that it was illusory to believe that Jerusalem would not fall, because very soon the remaining inhabitants would be going into exile. Those who were living in the world of illusion wanted to believe that if there was any substance in Ezekiel's prophecies, they would only materialize in the far distant future, but in vv 21-28 God commands him to emphasize to the "House of Rebellion" that the coming catastrophe was no far-off prophetic vision, but IMMINENT.
As discussed in the commentary on the two previous chapters, both among those who had gone into exile in Babylon with King Yeho-yachin prior to the destruction of the Temple and also among those who still remained in Jerusalem, numerous false prophets were highly active, prophesying the imminent collapse of the Babylonian empire and peace for Jerusalem (see Jeremiah chaps 28-9). In the prophecies in our present chapter and the next, Ezekiel is instructed to speak out against these false prophets and sorcerers "who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing" (v 3). They are compared to "foxes amidst ruins" (v 4) because just as the many breaches in the walls of a ruined building afford ample opportunities for foxes to escape from there should any man enter, so these false prophets have left the walls of Jerusalem – its spiritual defenses – full of breaches through which they themselves would flee in time of danger leaving the city completely exposed to the enemy. Verse 5 explains the work of the true prophet – to repair the breaches and spiritual defenses of Israel so that they may stand on the day of war. The false prophets employed the classic locutions of the authentic prophetic tradition – "Thus saith the Lord" etc. – but their visions were vain and deceptive (vv 6-7). Accordingly, "My hand shall be against the prophets that see vanity… they shall not be in the COUNSEL (SOD=secret) of My people, neither shall they be written in the WRITING of the House of Israel, neither shall they enter into the LAND of Israel …" (v 9). This verse lists three ways in which these false prophets would be completely rejected. The Talmud explains that the "COUNSEL (or SECRET) of My people" refers to SOD HA-IBBUR, "The secret of pregnancy". This is the esoteric Torah wisdom relating to the intercalation of the Hebrew calendar (having months of 30 days interspersed with months of 29 days, and periodic leap years of 13 instead of 12 lunar months) which ensures that the lunar year remains in synch with the solar year. Besides the astronomical calculations involved in this wisdom, the alignment of the "moon" (MALCHUS, NUKVA) with the "sun" (TIFERES, ZEIR ANPIN) is a fundamental pillar of the Kabbalah. The WRITING of the House of Israel refers to SEMICHAH ("ordination") whereby a senior sage and recipient of the authentic Torah tradition metaphorically places his "hand" (authority) upon a student initiate (cf. Numbers 27:18). Such ordination with the "hand" is a form of "writing" in that the subsequent status of the student as a sage in his own right now endures like something written. The LAND of Israel means literally the Holy Land (Talmud Kesuvos 112a; see Likutey Moharan I, 61:2-3 for Rabbi Nachman's in-depth explanation of the inner connection between the three concepts.) The simple meaning of the passage in verses 10-16 is that these false prophets and diviners were constructing what appeared to be a protective "wall" for Jerusalem through their reassurances to the people that there would be peace, "plastering" this wall with every kind of plausible rationalization and rhetorical flourish, but that
God would send driving rain and hail (=the Babylonian enemies) and wash this entire flimsy "wall" and its "plaster" away. With no twisting of a single word in the same passage in vv 10-16, it is possible to see a clear contemporary reference to the so-called "Security Fence" that the Israeli government has built in recent years with the ostensible purpose of keeping terrorists out of those parts of the country enclosed within it. (This wall does NOT divide the Biblical Promised Land from territories outside it, but rather, it runs bang through the very middle of the heartland of Judea and Samaria, ripping them into shreds, awarding all the territories to the east of it to the Arabs who happen to be there today while enclosing the Jews inside Little Israel within what former Israel Foreign Minister Abba Eban called "the Auschwitz borders".) The Israeli government "have deceived My people, saying 'Peace' when there is no peace, and it builds a wall and they daub it with plaster" (v 10). The plaster is provided by the mainstream media, which soothe the citizens into believing that this "wall" will provide "security". It is plain that in building this fence the government seeks to define the borders of the truncated future State of Israel they wish to hold onto after unilaterally throwing away vast swathes of the precious territories of the Holy Land that came back under Israeli sovereignty in the 1967 Six Day War, as if the sacrifice of those territories together with a defensive "wall" will provide the people of Israel with security. But the plain reading of Ezekiel's prophecy indicates that far from being a factor in the Final Settlement, this wall will in due course be swept away by God's wrath in preparation for the genuine Final Settlement as prophesied by Ezekiel in the closing chapters of his book. Verses 17ff address "the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own heart". According to the plain meaning of the text, these were women who in exchange for gifts of barley and pieces of bread, practiced various kinds of divination and fortune-telling, sewing cloth armbands and head veils for use in special rituals by the people who came to consult them, whom they would answer quite arbitrarily according to the fancies of their own hearts (vv 18-19). They were simply entrapping the souls of the people and sending them to hell (Rashi on v 20), causing distress to the righteous with their falsehoods while encouraging sinners in their path with the result that they did not repent (v 22). God warns that He will put an end to their divination and save his people from their clutches (v 23).
"Then men from among the elders of Israel came to me…" (v 1). As God's ensuing message to Ezekiel makes plain, these elders were making the pretence of earnestly seeking out guidance from the prophet, but in fact they had "set their idols up in their heart" (v 3) – i.e. internally, they had willfully fanned the flames of the evil inclination's craving for idolatry in their hearts, and they had "put the stumbling block of iniquity before their faces" (ibid.), i.e. they were fully intent on gratifying their craving. They were thus examples of those who come to the true Tzaddik as if to repent and draw near to God, but inwardly want to seek some way to do this without having to sacrifice their material lusts and cravings. Despite the fact that their intentions were impure, God was willing to answer them (v 4) "in order that I may catch the House of Israel in their own heart…" (v 5): His purpose was "in order to take hold of them in their hearts and draw them closer to Me despite their being separated from Me because of their thoughts and idols, for when they see that I listen to them and answer them, they will know that there is a God in Israel" (Metzudas David ad loc.).
God warns these hypocritical exiles in Babylon that they must turn aside from their idolatry completely, for anyone who makes a pretense of coming to the prophet to search out HaShem while still entertaining thoughts of idolatry will be destroyed and cut off from His people (vv 6-8). The false prophets and those who seek them out will both be punished (vv 9-11). A new prophecy opens in verse 12, running to the end of this chapter (Ez. 14:23) with a brief pause between v 20 and v 21. The main theme of verses 12-20 is that under the normal rules of God's providence, if an entire country sins, even the perfect Tzaddikim who live there will not be able to save anyone except themselves from God's punishment. Nevertheless, in verses 21-23 God promises that even when He would send His four "evil judges – the sword, famine, evil beasts and plague" – against Jerusalem , He would still spare a remnant of the city's sons and daughters, which would provide some consolation for those who had already gone into exile in Babylon earlier. "Son of man: When a land sins against Me by trespassing grievously, I shall stretch out My hand against it… Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they would only save their own lives through their righteousness" (vv 13-14). Noah and Job were familiar figures in the lore and legends of Israel , while Daniel was an outstanding contemporary of Ezekiel who also went to Babylon in the exile of King Yeho-yachin and soon attained greatness in the court of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel chs 1ff). The reasons for citing these three specifically as examples of the perfect Tzaddik in this context are discussed at great length by our commentators. Metzudas David explains: "These three are mentioned because Noah alone survived the flood but he could not protect the people of his generation. Likewise Daniel was unable to protect his entire people, for he alone was accorded high status in Babylon, while Job could not even protect his own children and household because they were all destroyed and he alone survived. This is why it says that even if the three of them were present together, the line of judgment would not necessarily protect anyone else" (Metzudas David on v 14. Rashi and RaDaK ad loc. explain at length other parallels between Noah, Job and Daniel.) Thus under the normal rules of God's providence, even the perfect Tzaddik might be unable to protect the people from suffering retribution for their sins. The paradox is that despite this, owing to God's love for Israel, even when He would strike Jerusalem with the imminent blow, "yet behold, there shall be left therein a remnant to be brought out, both sons and daughters" (v 22). Although many would die when the Babylonians captured the city, others would survive and would be taken to Babylon to join the exiles who were already there, who would see their ways and deeds, "…and you shall know that not without cause have I done all that I have done there, says the Lord God" (v 23).
THE FOREST VINE In the short prophecy in this chapter, God asks Ezekiel a series of rhetorical questions about the forest vine that produces no fruits – a metaphor for the sinful people of Jerusalem (vv 1-5). These questions lead to the inexorable conclusion that there is no alternative but to consume the vine with fire (vv 6-8). The vine in question is not the cultivated vine of the vineyard, which produces grapes, but "the branch that grew up among the trees of the forest" (v 2) – the wild vine that, like the other wild trees in the forest, does not produce fruits. At least the other trees of the forest may provide useable wood, but not only is wood
of the vine in question useless for any kind of work: it does not even have the strength to serve as a mere peg to hang something on! (v 3). Isaiah had already compared Israel to such a vine in his "song of his Beloved": "My Beloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill… and planted it with the choicest vine… and He hoped that it would bring forth good grapes but it brought forth foul grapes" (Isaiah 5:2). Several generations later, Ezekiel now prophesies about this vine: "Behold it is cast into the fire for fuel: the fire devours both ends of it, and its middle is burned – is it fit for any work?" (v 4 of our present chapter). The fire had already "devoured both ends of it" – for the Arameans had already encroached on Israel from the north and the Philistines from the south (Isaiah 9:11), but as for Jerusalem, which was in the middle, "He set it on fire from all around yet they did not know, and He burned it yet they did not lay it to heart" (Isaiah 42:25). Even after having seen the calamity that befell the Ten Tribes and the rest of Judah, and despite having themselves been "scorched" by the "fire" of God's "evil judgments" of famine, plague and the sword, the inhabitants of Jerusalem still did not heed His rebuke. "Is it fit for any work?" – "If they will not repent and improve their behavior, there is no other solution except to deliver them to the fire to be consumed: Jerusalem too will be destroyed" (see RaDaK on v 4). "I shall set My face against them, for they came forth from the fire, and the fire shall consume them…" (v 7). Targum (ad loc.) renders: "I shall send them My punishment on account of their having transgressed the teachings of the Torah, which were given from the midst of the fire, and nations fierce as fire shall destroy them."
The very harsh reproof against Jerusalem contained in the lengthy prophecy in the present chapter is developed through the allegory of Israel as an abandoned baby girl upon whom God took pity, taking her in, dressing her and providing for her magnificently, only to see her turn into a shameless harlot desirous of nothing but fornication. In retribution God will gather all her "lovers" around her as enemies and deliver her into their hands for punishment until she is completely chastened. "Your birth and your nativity are from the land of the Canaanite: your father was an Emorite and your mother a Hittite" (v 3). Nothing could be more damning than the simple meaning of the text, which suggests that the people of Jerusalem were kinsfolk of the very nations that the Land of Israel vomited out before them on account of their abominations. "And as for your birth on the day you were born: your navel was not cut, nor were you washed in water for cleansing, you were not salted at all nor swaddled at all" (v 4). Israel's "day of birth" was in Egypt, when God "found" them like a baby abandoned in a field with no one to take pity on it (vv 4-5). In an important halachic teaching, the sages of the Talmud stated that "all the things mentioned in this passage of reproof may be performed for a woman who gives birth on the Sabbath. It is permitted to deliver a child on Shabbos, to cut the umbilical cord, to wash the newborn baby, to salt its skin and wrap it in swaddling clothes" (Shabbos 129b). God alone took pity on the abandoned, slave people: "When I passed you by and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you: In your blood, live! Indeed, in your blood live!" (v 6). This verse is included in the Pesach Seder Night Haggadah, and among the verses recited at the naming a boy child immediately following his circumcision. The double appearance of the word "blood" in the verse alludes to (1)
the blood of the circumcision performed by the Children of Israel at the time of the Exodus; (2) the blood of the paschal lamb, for it was in virtue of these that they were redeemed (Rashi on v 6). "I caused you to increase like the plants of the field…" (v 7): This verse, also included in the Pesach Haggadah, alludes to the fruitfulness of Israel – which was the sign of the "puberty" of the new nation, which was now ready to be taken in as God's "wife" through the redemption (vv 7-8). Verses 9-13 as rendered by Targum Yonasan allude to God's redemption of Israel from Egypt , giving them not only the material wealth of their enemies but also the Torah and the commandments and the Sanctuary that they were commanded to build in the wilderness. But the great beauty and glory of the once-abandoned girl went to her head and caused her to lavish her fornication on all passers by (vv 14-15). Not content with her true "husband" and savior, she made male images – idols – and offered them the very bounties God had given her (vv 17-19). "Moreover you have taken your sons and your daughters whom you gave birth for Me to sacrifice to them" (v 20). "If a person had five sons, four were allocated to worship idols while one was set aside to go to school to learn Torah, but when the person came to sacrifice one of his sons to Molech, he would offer the one he had set aside to learn Torah" (Midrash Tanchuma quoted by Rashi on v 20). The people went deeper and deeper into their "fornication" returning to their Egyptian former masters to multiply harlotry (vv 23-26), causing God to send the Philistines against them to chastise them (v 27), but they were not chastened, and continued seeking to ingratiate themselves with other heathen nations, such as the Assyrians and Babylonians (vv 28-29). "Yet you have not been like a harlot that scorns the payment" (v 31). The normal harlot sneers at the sums offered by her clients, showing that she is interested only in the reward and not the fornication itself. But the people of Jerusalem paid and bribed their foreign "lovers" to fornicate with them out of sheer love of the immorality itself (vv 33-34). [Similarly, the present-day government of Israel offers constant "concessions" and other gifts and bribes to their Arab enemies in the hope of buying their "love", but their enemies remain implacable.] God warns the "harlot" that because of her immorality, He will gather all her "lovers" and put her on trial before them and let them tear down her high places, strip her, stone her and pierce her with their swords, burning her houses in order to assuage His anger (vv 36-43). "Behold, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb against you saying: Like mother like daughter! You are your mother's daughter, who loathed her husband and her children, and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and their children…" (vv 44-45). The "mother" is the Land of Canaan, which "loathed her husband and her children" in the sense of vomiting out the sinful Canaanite nations. Jerusalem's "sisters" are Shomron – the citadel of the Ten Tribes, who had also been "vomited out" and exiled from the Land – and Sodom, which had been overturned because of her wickedness (v 46). The sins of Jerusalem were far more serious than those of Sodom and the Ten Tribes (vv 4751), and what was worse than anything was that Jerusalem used to sanctimoniously judge and condemn the Ten Tribes for their sins when she herself was no better (v 52, cf. II Chron. 13:8).
"When I bring back the captivity of Sodom and her daughters and the captivity of Shomron and her daughters, then I will bring back the captivity of your captives in the midst of them" (v 53). "This will be in the time of Mashiach" (Metzudas David ad loc.). The return of the captivity of Shomron means the return of the Ten Lost Tribes. Rashi states that the return of the captivity of Sodom means that God will "heal the land of sulfur and salt and settle it with inhabitants" (Rashi ad loc.). The future "healing" of the waters of the Dead Sea is prophesied at the end of Ezekiel (47:8). Present-day Jewish settlements in the region of the Dead Sea are among the miracles of modern times, and it is said that Israeli scientists have developed plans for habitation there by enormous populations in the future. The people of Jerusalem may have forgotten and despised God's Covenant, but God Himself promises to remember it and to establish it forever (vv 59ff). Verse 61 states that Israel will be chastised and ashamed when God will give her older and younger sisters to her even though she is undeserving. This implies that at the time of the redemption God will put the territories of her neighbors under the dominion of Jerusalem, not because of her own merits but because of His compassion (see Rashi on v 61). God's very compassion will cause her to remember her evil and be ashamed of her former deeds.
"Son of man: propound a riddle and speak a parable to the House of Israel …" (v 2). In verses 3-10 Ezekiel sets forth the allegory of the great eagle that snatched the top branch of the cedar, taking it to a land of traders and planting instead a spreading vine. The meaning of the symbolism is then explained in verses 11-21. The great eagle with its long, outspread wings symbolizes Nebuchadnezzar (Rashi on v 2; see verse 12), under whose rule Babylon was flying high and conquering the world. The "Lebanon" to which the eagle came refers the Land of Israel , "for it has good forests which are called Lebanon " (RaDaK on v 3). The top branches of the cedar, which the eagle snatched, symbolize King Yeho-yakim and his mighty warriors, whom Nebuchadnezzar took into exile (Rashi on v 3; see verse 12). The "seed of the land" which the great eagle then planted symbolizes King Tzedekiah (Rashi on v 5; see verse 13), whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed to replace Yehoyakim's successor Yeho-yachin after his brief three-month reign and subsequent exile to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar made Tzedekiah swear a solemn oath of loyalty (cf. v 13). "And it sprouted and became a spreading vine…" (v 6). Initially Nebuchadnezzar gave Tzedekiah dominion over the neighboring lands of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon (Jer. 27:3, see RaDaK on v 6 of our present chapter) but intended that he should remain the vassal of Babylon. However, when Tzedekiah flourished, he betrayed the eagle that "planted" him, rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar while hoping for "water" and succor from the second great eagle in the allegory symbolizing Pharaoh, king of the other great world power of the time – Egypt (see verse 15). Surely this cannot succeed, HaShem declares, for the first eagle would certainly pull up the roots of the vine and cut off its fruit (an allusion to Nebuchadnezzar's killing Tzedekiah's sons) while the second eagle would utterly fail to defend the vine with the great power and abundant army it had promised (see Rashi on v 9; cf. verse 17). "Shall it not utterly wither when the east wind (= Babylon, which is to the east of Israel) touches it? It shall wither in the plantations where it grew" (v 10). "Thus says HaShem: As I live, surely My oath that he has despised and My covenant that he has broken I will put upon his own head" (v 19). The oath that
Tzedekiah swore to Nebuchadnezzar was in the name of HaShem, and for that reason it was as if he had sworn to HaShem, so that when he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar it was a rebellion against HaShem (see Metzudas David on v 19). For that reason God would punish him "upon his own head": this alludes to how Nebuchadnezzar put out Tzedekiah's eyes. In verse 20 Ezekiel prophesies in exactly the same words as he had used earlier (Ez. 12:13) that God would trap Tzedekiah in His snare, alluding to his capture near the exit to his escape tunnel by a party of deer-hunting Babylonians. Yet the prophecy ends with words of comfort, for "I shall take from the high cedar… and I will pluck off from the top of its young twigs a tender one and I will plant it upon a high and lofty mountain" (v 22). RaDaK (on v 22) explains that the "top of its young twigs" alludes to King Yeho-yachin, who repented in his prison cell in Babylon and fathered She'alti-el, the father of Zerubavel, who led the Judean exiles back to Jerusalem – the "high and lofty mountain – and built the Second Temple. Zerubavel was the archetype of Melech HaMashiach, and Rashi and Metzudas David (ad loc.) explain this verse as a prophecy about Mashiach, who will be from the seed of David and will rule in Jerusalem.
The present chapter is a discourse on the ways of God's justice. It's starting point is a riddle or proverb that has a thrust different from that of the proverbs and allegories in the previous chapters. The inferior vine whose fruits are a pain to the mouth has figured prominently as a symbol of sinful Israel in the prophet's allegories in chapters 15 and 17. But in the people's defiant rejoinder to the prophet, they took the same metaphor and turned it into a glib quip that justified their continuing on their sinful path. We hear what the people were saying when God challenges the Children of Israel: "What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge?" (v 1). Metzudas David explains the people's proverb: "The fathers ate the sour grapes that are supposed to set the teeth on edge, yet they did not set their teeth on edge. Then why should the teeth of the children be set on edge if they themselves have not eaten the sour grapes? That is to say: Does it make sense that our ancestors sinned yet spent all their days in tranquility without receiving retribution, and that we, their children, who are not such great sinners as they were, should be punished for their sins?" (Metzudas David on verse 2 of our present chapter). The true prophets were constantly warning the people that God's retribution was to strike them imminently. Rashi spells out the counter-argument the people were posing in their proverb: "Is this the way of the Holy One blessed be He – that the fathers sin and the children get punished? The kings of Israel sinned for many years before they were finally exiled. We too do not need to fear that we shall be punished for our sins" (Rashi on v 2). To justify their stubborn sinfulness, the people were mocking the entire concept of divine retribution, pointing to the fact that very often complete sinners appear to enjoy prosperity and tranquility all their days. This chapter's prophetic discourse on God's ways of justice in answer to the people does NOT address the mystery that is the main subject of the debates and discussions in the book of Job: Why do the wicked seem to prosper while the righteous often suffer? Rather, Ezekiel states the inexorable law of God's justice: "Behold, all the souls are Mine: as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son
is mine. It is the soul that sins that shall die" (v 4) – "Everyone loves his own possessions and wants them to endure…. 'The soul that sins shall die' because there is then no reason to favor it, but if not for the sin, why should He withdraw His favor?" (Metzudas David ad loc.). The discourse proceeds to set forth the various corollaries of this basic principle of personal responsibility that is the foundation of God's justice. Verses 5-9 depict the conduct that befits a truly righteous person. Not only does he steer well clear of all idolatry, keeping clean in the areas that are "between man and God"; he also observes God's laws "between man and man", keeping well clear of adultery, business malpractice, robbery and exploitation of the poor etc. practicing true justice. "He is just: he shall surely live" (v 9). Verses 10-13 depict the opposite case – the son of a righteous man who turns into a robber and a killer, practicing everything that his father rejected. All his father's righteousness will not protect him from the penalty for his deeds. "Shall he then live? He shall not live… he shall surely die" (v 13). In yet another inter-generational swing, the wicked son gives birth to a son "who sees all the sins that his father did but considers and does not do similarly" (v 14). It is one of the great mercies of creation that sinful parents do not necessarily breed sinful children, and that a new generation can break out of the ways of the old and lead better lives. Verses 14-17 depict the righteous life of the grandchild: "He shall not die because of the sin of his father, but he shall surely live" (v 17). Verse 20 concludes the first part of the discourse with a restatement of the fundamental principle of God's justice: "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father and the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." In a new development of the theme of the discourse, vv 21-23 teach that even the habitual sinner will also live if he repents of his sins and follows the path of justice and charity. The possibility of repentance is the greatest gift of God's compassion – for, "Do I desire the death of the sinner, says HaShem, but surely, rather, that he should repent of his ways and live!" (v 23). This verse figures prominently in the prayers of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The corollary of the principle that the wicked can repent is that there is also always a danger that the righteous may lapse. "But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness… shall he live? All his righteousness that he has done shall not be remembered…" (v 24). This does NOT mean that if a tzaddik sins, all his merits are instantly wiped out. Rather, "our rabbis explained that this verse applies to the case of someone who was righteous but comes to regret his good deeds" (Rashi ad loc.). "The fathers ate sour grapes – shall the teeth of the children be set on edge?" The people's pungent proverb gave terse expression to their philosophy that there was no such thing as divine justice. But the prophet has answered them with his discourse setting forth the principles of God's ways. "You say: The way of the Lord is unfair. Hear now, O House of Israel: Is My way unfair? Surely your ways are unfair!" (v 25; cf. v 29). A world without reward for good deeds and punishment for bad is a world run amok. But God's world is one of justice and retribution, and for our own benefit we should therefore repent and LIVE.
The two short allegories contained in the present chapter complete the series of prophecies that began in Chapter 8 v 1, "in the sixth year, in the sixth month…" (i.e. SIX YEARS AFTER the exile of King Yeho-yachin and King Tzedekiah's ascent to the throne, and FIVE YEARS PRIOR to the destruction of the First Temple).It was in that year that Ezekiel was carried by a RU'ACH, "wind" or "spirit", from Babylon to the Temple in Jerusalem to witness the abominations of the people and the withdrawal of the Shechinah from the city (chs 8-11), after which he was brought back to Babylon to prophesy to those who were already in exile there, delivering various reproofs veiled in allegory and metaphor (chs 12-19). The prophecy in the present chapter is the last of that year, for the following chapter is dated to "the seventh year in the fifth month" (ch 20 v 1; see the commentary there). "And you, take up a lament for the princes of Israel" (v 1). The three "princes" that are the subject of this lament are the righteous King Josiah's three wicked sons, who ruled in Jerusalem in the period culminating in the destruction of the First Temple: Yeho-ahaz (II Kings 23:31ff), Yeho-yakim (ibid. vv 34ff) and Tzedekiah (II Kings 24:17ff). Not included is Yeho-yachin, the son and successor of Yeho-yakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar exiled after only 3 months, replacing him with Tzedekiah. The first of the two allegories in the present chapter is that of the lioness and her cubs (vv 2-9). "What a lioness was your mother…!" (v 2). The mother lion is the House of Josiah (Metzudas David ad loc.). "And she brought up one of her cubs… and it learned to catch prey; it devoured men (ADAM)" (v 3). This refers to Yehoahaz, who robbed his own people Israel , who are called ADAM (see Rashi ad loc., cf. Ez. 34:31), and who was taken by Pharaoh Necho to Egypt where he died, as told in II Kings 23:33-34 and alluded to in v 4 of our present chapter. Verses 5-9 allude to how Pharaoh Necho replaced Yeho-ahaz with another of the "lioness' cubs" – Yeho-ahaz' brother Yeho-yakim – but the latter pursued the same sinful path, as told in Jeremiah (22:18, ch 36:1-32 etc.), and "the nations set upon him on all sides" (v 8 of our present chapter, cf. II Kings 24:2) and he was ignominiously captured by Nebuchadnezzar, dying on the road to Babylon. The second of the allegories in this chapter (vv 10-14) is that of a fruitful vine that grows too tall and proud and is then cut down in fury. This alludes to Tzedekiah, the last king of Judah, and recalls the lengthier earlier allegory in Ezekiel 17:5-10 & 13-21. "And a fire has gone out from the rod of her branches" (v 14 of our present chapter) – "It is because of the transgression of her kings and leaders that all this evil has come upon her" (Rashi ad loc.). This teaches that the leaders of the people are expected to be the exemplars of the righteousness required of the Holy Nation, and when the leaders fail, this is the root cause of Israel's troubles.
* * * In accordance with the Sefardic custom, Ezekiel 20:1-20 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27 * * * "And it was in the seventh year in the fifth month on the tenth of the month" (v 1). The fifth month is the month of Av, and the tenth day of Av was destined to be the day when the Temple was destroyed (for although it was set on fire on 9 Av, the conflagration continued for the whole of the 10 th ). The present prophecy came to Ezekiel four years before this occurred. "Each year God sent him one prophecy with which to reprove the people, and even though he was sent other prophecies in
between, the first of his prophecies in any given year was the one that is specifically dated to that year" (RaDaK ad loc. Cf. Ezekiel 1:2 and 8:1). RaDaK continues: "His telling the month and the day of this prophecy was a hint that this would be the date on which Jerusalem was destined to be destroyed. The coming of the elders to the prophet on that day was arranged by God so that they should hear the reproof on that day, because it was on account of their sins and those of their fathers that the Temple was to be destroyed. Now these elders who came to seek out HaShem were Tzaddikim from among those who went into exile with Yeho-yachin, and when God said to them, 'I shall not be inquired of by you', it was on account of the sins of their generation. Perhaps they came to inquire if the exiles in Babylon would ever return to the Land of Israel… Seder Olam states that these elders of Israel were Hananiyah, Mishael and Azariah (Daniel 1:6, 3:12 etc.)." If the elders themselves were righteous, those whom they represented were less so, to go by the explanation by Rashi (on v 1) as to what the people were saying. "If He won't listen to us, we too shall not be punished for our sins, for it means He has already sold us and He has no further claim against us. We are like a slave whose master has sold him or a woman whose husband has divorced her: They simply have no further connection with one another!" (Rashi's comment here is founded on verse 32 below in accordance with the interpretation that will be explained in our commentary.) In verse 3 God tells the prophet to respond that He will NOT answer the people's inquiry, i.e. He will not send a prophecy with specific information, which would be a sign of great favor. This implies that the people were in disfavor. But Rashi points out that "At the end of this book, Ez. 36:37, he says, 'I SHALL be inquired of by the Children of Israel'. This is one of the places that teaches us that the Holy One blessed be He MAY go back on an evil decree" (Rashi on v 3). Instead of providing the people with the information they wanted about how long the exile would last, God reproves them in a lengthy review of the history of their rebellions from the time of the birth of the nation in Egypt. Verses 5-9 recount God's self-revelation to Israel while still in Egypt in order to redeem them and lead them to the Promised Land. But from the very outset, "They rebelled against Me and did not want to listen to Me…" (v 8) – "It was hard for them to give up idolatry" (Mechilta). "These were the wicked, who made up the majority of Israel, who died in the three days of darkness" (Rashi on v 8). Yet despite the rebellion, God redeemed them in order to keep His promise to the Patriarchs, so as not to desecrate His name (v 9) as if He did not have the power to do so. Verses 10-16 tell the next stage in the saga of rebellion during Israel's sojourn in the wilderness. Even after God's spectacular self-revelation in giving them the Torah and mitzvos, they would not listen. "They did not go in My statutes…" – "They tried Me with the golden calf"; "…and they greatly desecrated My Sabbaths" – "Some of the people went out to gather manna" (v 13 with Rashi's glosses). Verses 17ff continue the saga, implying that God would have wiped out the people in the wilderness but for His compassion. Instead, He asked the new generation born to the rebels in the wilderness to observe His life-giving Torah, yet they too failed to keep it. "I too lifted up My hand to them (=swore) in the wilderness, declaring that I would scatter them among the nations" (v 23). Here we see that later cycle of exiles that afflicted Israel was already decreed when they were in the wilderness, and Moses warned them there that this is what would befall them if they sinned (see Deut. 4:25ff).
"So I too gave them statutes that were not good… and I defiled them through their gifts…" (vv 25-6). Rashi explains: "I delivered them into the power of their evil inclination so as to cause them to stumble in their sins… The very gifts that I instituted – to dedicate every firstborn to Me – I delivered into the power of their evil inclination, which caused them to hand those very firstborn to the Molech god. These are the 'statutes that were not good'" (Rashi ad loc.). In vv 27-9 the saga of rebellion continues with the people's entry into the Land of Israel , where instead of affirming God's unity through offering sacrifices only in the Temple in Jerusalem , they scattered to all the hills and natural beauty spots, each making his own altar of pride. In verses 30ff the prophet is commanded to address the people of his own generation directly, as if to say: After all this history of rebellion, what are YOU going to do??? In verse 31 God swears that He will not be inquired of by the House of Israel, implying the withdrawal of His direct, detailed providence (HASHGACHAH PRATIS) from the people, signified by the absence of prophecy. "But that which comes into your mind (HA-OLEH AL RUCHACHEM) shall never come about, that you say, 'We shall be like the nations…'" (v 32). After the lengthy preceding catalog of Israel's rebellions, one might have thought that God's patience would have been exhausted and that He would reject them for ever more ("replacement theology"). But this important verse tells us otherwise. The rebellious Israelites of Ezekiel's day thought that if God had rejected them (by taking them into exile without revealing the date of their redemption), this gave them a carte blanche to assimilate with the surrounding nations. Many Jews in modern times, despairing of Mashiach, have come to the same conclusion. The phrase in verse 32, HA-OLEH AL RUCHACHEM, "that which arises in your RU'ACH, spirit, mind" is the basis for the rabbinic teaching that the OLAH sacrifice comes to atone for rebellious thoughts and doubts (Vayikra Rabbah #87). However, God says that this thought of complete assimilation that has come into their minds "SHALL MOST SURELY NEVER COME ABOUT" (v 32). This is because God will never allow Israel to assimilate and disappear, even if He has to rule over them "with a mighty hand and a stretched out arm and outpoured anger" (v 33). An example of this "outpoured anger" in modern times was when the proportion of assimilated Jews in Europe rose to over 50% in the 1930's, provoking a fury that while indiscriminately wiping out six million Jews, religious and non-religious, also indirectly lead to the establishment of the State of Israel, a huge ingathering of the exiles and the ongoing Torah revival that is taking place in our generation. Thus verses 34ff depict the final redemption and ingathering of Israel at the end of days, which we have reached in our times. "And I will bring you into the wilderness of the nations" (verse 35). Rashi (ad loc.) states that this is the same wilderness in which the Children of Israel journeyed for forty years. Does this allude to the countries of the nations in which Jews have lived during the long exile? Or could it be that the "wilderness of the nations" contains an allusion to the United Nations, where Israel is subjected to daily remonstrations??? Verse 36 teaches that the final redemption will be an event quite as great and cataclysmic as the redemption from Egypt. God will bring the people back under the discipline of the Covenant (v 37) and purge out the rebels (v 38). Verse 40 promises the restoration of the Temple services in Jerusalem. "And I shall be sanctified through you in the eyes of the nations" (v 41) – "Through you I will be
sanctified in the eyes of the nations when they will see that My hand has ruled" (Metzudas David ad loc.). "This will be in the war of Gog and Magog" (RaDaK ad loc.). At the end of days Israel will look back over their history and understand the root cause of the suffering they endured in exile – their own rebellions (v 43) – and this new level of self-understanding will keep them bound to the service of God forever after.
Following the prophecy of the final redemption in the closing section of the previous chapter (Ez. 20:40-44), our present chapter contains very harsh prophecies about the imminent calamity that was looming over Jerusalem as Ezekiel spoke: the destruction of the First Temple was only four years ahead. The first of these prophecies was once again heavily veiled in allegory: "Son of man, set your face towards the south and preach towards the south, and prophesy against the forest of the field of the south… Behold I will kindle a fire in you and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree…" (vv 2-3). The prophet himself complained that the people would mock him as a false prophet who simply made up his own clever riddles and parables (v 5, see RaDaK). Accordingly God immediately sent him another much more specific prophecy retroactively explaining the meaning of the previous allegory by depicting the coming horror of the sword that was be unleashed against the people of Jerusalem (vv 6-10). The "forest of the field" in the allegory (v 2) symbolized the Holy Temple (v 7), which would be plowed like a field (Rashi on v 2). The consumption by fire of "every green tree… and every dry tree" (v 3) meant that the sword would consume the righteous and the wicked indiscriminately (v 8). Moreover, "My sword shall go out of its sheath against ALL FLESH from the south to the north" (v 9) – "Because I know that the nations will rejoice over your calamity, I shall vent my fury against them and incite Nebuchadnezzar against them all" (Rashi ad loc.). In vv 11-12 the prophet is instructed to sigh and groan bitterly in front of his fellow exiles in Babylon in order to dramatize the horror that was soon to afflict Jerusalem. The reason why he had to do this was because the people simply did not believe that Jerusalem could possibly fall. Even when Nebuchadnezzar was marching against her with his armies, Rashi (on v 28) states that the people did not believe he could succeed. Thus a new section of the prophecy in verses 13-22 vividly depicts in detail the sharpened, polished sword that was to be unleashed against Jerusalem. Nobody should imagine that God had prepared this sword for any other purpose than to chastise His "son" Israel (v 15). Vv 19ff foretell that the sword would be doubled and then strike a third time. Rashi (on v 19) explains that this alludes to how first Nebuchadnezzar's sword would strike Jerusalem, then the sword of the Ammonites would strike Gedaliah ben Ahikam (Jeremiah 40:14-41:2), and finally the sword would catch up with Yochanan ben Korach and the other remaining Judeans who sought refuge from the Babylonians in Egypt. In a further prophecy in vv 23ff, God tells Ezekiel to "appoint two ways that the sword of the king of Babylon may come: the two of them shall come out of one land; and construct a signpost – construct it at the head of the way to the city". Here the prophet is once again commanded to take symbolic actions that would dramatize graphically what was destined to happen, which he foretells in vivid detail in vv 26ff. At the start of what was to become Nebuchadnezzar's final advance against Jerusalem, even the Babylonian king himself would at first not
know which of two possible directions he would take, because just as Tzedekiah had rebelled against him, so had the Ammonites (RaDaK on v 33). The prophet foretells that Nebuchadnezzar would stand at the crossroads and instruct his diviners and augurs to practice their occult arts, firing flashing arrows, observing the Teraphim statues and examining the innards of sacrificed animals in order to discover which road would bring him success (v 26). Even Nebuchadnezzar was in grave doubt whether he could succeed in capturing Jerusalem – but forty-nine different signs and auguries consistently indicated that he would (see Rashi on v 28). The people of Jerusalem were doomed because of their sins (v 29) and those of her king (v 30), who would be stripped of his crown at the same time as the High Priest would be stripped of his turban with the destruction of the Temple (v 31). Even though Nebuchadnezzar decided to march first against Jerusalem, the Ammonites were not to escape the sword. When his auguries fell out against Jerusalem, the Ammonites rejoiced (Rashi on v 33) and their own augurs promised them that they were henceforth safe (Rashi on v 34), but this would prove to be false and Ezekiel concludes by prophesying that the time would come when God would vent His wrath upon them at the hands of the kings of Media (vv 35-7; see Rashi ad loc.).
The prophecies in this chapter detail the sins for which Jerusalem was to be destroyed. The catalog of sins begins with bloodshed, because "even though the city was full of idols and other abominations, the worst sin of all is the shedding of innocent blood" (RaDaK on v 2). "Behold, the princes of Israel, every one according to his might, have been in you to shed blood" (v 6) – "Whoever was stronger prevailed" (Rashi ad loc.). "This teaches that they would stretch out their hands and arms from under their sleeves and take bribes to corrupt justice" (Tanchuma). "They have made light of father and mother…" (v 7) – "All the abominations against which they were warned in Parshas KEDOSHIM (Leviticus ch 19) are enumerated here" (Rashi on our verse). After all these sins, "Can your heart endure or can your hands be strong in the days when I shall deal with you???" (v 14). "Son of man: the House of Israel has become like dross" (v 18) – "Dross is the waste of silver. He compares them to metals that are all inferior to silver, as if to say that if they were all melted in the furnace they would all be accounted as dross and not as silver" (RaDaK ad loc.). Vv 19ff depict the coming calamity as a terrible burning and smelting of metals that will cause everything to melt down and loose its original form (see RaDaK on v 19). The concluding section of the prophecy in verses 23-31 gives further details the sins that were leading to this retribution. "Her priests have violated My Torah" (v 26) – "It was their duty to rebuke and teach the people and inform them about the law, but they did not do so. This is their violent robbery (HAMAS) – they stole Torah from those who needed to learn it" (Rashi ad loc.). "…and from My Sabbaths they have hidden their eyes" (v 26) – "Jerusalem was destroyed because they violated the Sabbath there" (Talmud Shabbos 119b).
"And I sought for a man among them that should build up the wall and stand in the breach before Me for the sake of the land, so that I should not destroy it, but I did not find one!" (v 30). Had there been some true Tzaddikim, they could have saved the city! Let each of us take responsibility to strive to be the one who stands in the breach. In the merit of our TESHUVAH, may God spare us from all further troubles! Amen. * * * According to the Ashkenazi custom, Ezekiel 22:1-16 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27 * * *
This chapter's extended allegory about two lustful adulterous sisters comes to explain and justify the coming destruction of Jerusalem on account of the people's idolatry. The older (=GEDOLAH, literally "greater") sister is Oholah, representing the Ten Tribes (the majority of Israel) under the leadership of Ephraim in their capital city of Shomron. The name Oholah is from the root OHEL, a tent, alluding to the "tent" or temple erected by Jeraboam, first king of the breakaway Ten Tribes, for the worship of his golden calves, and also to the house of Baal later erected by Ahab (Rashi on v 4). The name OHOLAH signifies HER tent, i.e. hers and not HaShem's, for He had no share in it (RaDaK on v 4). The "junior" sister, representing Judah, whose capital was in Jerusalem, is called Oholivah, "because My tent (OHOLI), My sanctuary, was in her (BAH)" (Rashi ibid.). From their earliest youth the two sisters had acted like harlots (v 3). RaDaK explains that "Every expression of harlotry used in connection with the Assembly of Israel refers to idolatry. Even though the imagery is that of adultery and intercourse, this is all part of the allegory because she is compared to a harlot, but this is a metaphor for every kind of idolatry" (RaDaK on v 3). The infatuation with idolatry was more than a matter of simply bowing to graven images. Israel had a fatal fascination for foreign nations and their worldviews, cultures, styles and fashions (cf. vv 7, 12, 14-15), as if the YETZER RA (evil inclination) of the people whom God chose to be distinct and separate from all others necessarily craved for the diametrical opposite of separation, i.e. assimilation. The same craving to be like the nations has been manifest time and time again in Jewish history until the present, as in the case of those who sought to Hellenize during the Second Temple period, those in medieval Spain who embraced the philosophy and culture of the host country, those in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe who idolized the French and German "enlightenment", and those today who have eyes only for secular culture, the punkier the better. Already in Egypt "their breasts were pressed and their virgin teats were handled" (v 3) – "That is to say, the Egyptians taught them the ways of their abominations" (Rashi ad loc.). Initially Oholah led the way, "and she doted on her lovers, on those of Assyria , her neighbors…" (v 5). Rashi (ad loc.) states that this alludes to the bribe paid by Menachem ben Gadi, one of the later kings of Israel, to Pol king of Assyria to help consolidate his kingship (II Kings 15:19). This indicates that political expediency was often a major factor in Israel's dalliance with the nations. "Neither did she abandon the lewd practices she brought from Egypt" (v 8) – "We find that Hosea ben Elah (king of Israel) sent emissaries to Sou king of Egypt" (II Kings 17:4; Rashi on our verse). In vengeance for the kingdom of Israel's "adultery" with foreign nations, her "Husband" – God – delivered her into the hands of her lovers (v 9) – "for Sennacherib (king of Assyria) came and took them into exile" (Rashi ad loc.).
Even though the allegory tells the story of both sisters, its essential purpose is to explain the reason for the calamity that was to befall the "junior sister", Oholivah, Judah and Jerusalem, who had witnessed Oholah's "adultery" and the terrible retribution she suffered as a result yet failed to take heed of the moral, and indeed did even worse (vv 11ff). Thus Jerusalem too "doted on the children of Assyria" (v 12) – "This refers to King Ahaz, who sent to the king of Assyria to help him" (Rashi ad loc.). Furthermore, "She increased her harlotries, and she saw men portrayed upon the wall, the images of the Kasdim…" (v 14). In the eyes of the people of Jerusalem, the distant Kasdim (=Chaldeans, people of Babylon and surrounds) were much more exotic than the nearby Assyrians, and mere images and pictures of Chaldean culture were sufficient to cause the Jerusalemites to become infatuated. Likewise today, merely through the power of TV, film, magazine and internet images, millions of people throughout the world are hypnotized by the culture disseminated by Hollywood even though the vast majority have never physically set foot anywhere near Hollywood itself. The allurements of ancient Babylonian men's fashions as described in v 15 bring to mind how the Sophisticate in Rabbi Nachman's story of "The Simpleton and the Sophisticate" fell in love with the elegant hats and long pointed shoes of the shop clerks he saw in Warsaw . "And the children of Babylon came to her into the bed of love" (v 17) – "I say that this refers to Hezekiah, who rejoiced over the emissaries sent by Merodach Beladan (king of Babylon) and fed them at his table and showed them his entire treasure house (II Kings 20:13; Rashi on our verse). But after having been defiled by the Babylonians, "her mind was alienated from them" (v 17) – the later kings of Judah, Yeho-yakim and Tzedekiah, rebelled against the Babylonians (Rashi ad loc.). Yet this did not spell the end of Oholivah's adultery, for "she multiplied her harlotries, recalling the days of her youth… in Egypt" – Tzedekiah sent emissaries to Egypt seeking help (Ezekiel 17:15; Rashi on verse 19 of our present chapter). Verses 22ff explain that in retribution for Oholivah's long history of adultery God would arouse her lovers – the very Babylonians from whom she now recoiled in disgust – against her. "They shall take away your nose and your ears" (v 25). The primitive punishment of a harlot by disfiguring her face in this way is a metaphor for the abolition of the kingship and the priesthood (Rashi ad loc.). The nose, which protrudes from the face, alludes to the king, who is above all the people, while the ears allude to the high priest, the bells on whose coat are heard by the ears when he enters the Sanctuary (RaDaK ad loc.). All this would be Oholivah's punishment for going after the nations in the way of her sister Oholah (v 31). Verses 36ff further elaborate on the sins of the two sisters. "…And blood is on their hands… and also they have caused their sons, whom they bore to me, to pass (through the fire) to them to be devoured" (v 37). While this verse overtly refers to the people's Molech-worship, the "blood on their hands" also alludes to their willful vain emission of seed with their hands, for which they did not repent (see Rashi ad loc.). On the very same day that they sinned, they had the gall to enter the Holy Temple, where they set up an idol (Rashi on v 38). Vv 40ff depict Oholivah as a harlot seated on her couch at a banquet with her "lovers". "Then I said that she was worn out with adulteries…" (v 43) – God thought that perhaps the people would eventually tire of their ways, but they did not, and there was therefore no other recourse than to stone them and cut them in pieces, kill their sons and daughters and burn their houses (v 47). This terrible retribution would be a lesson to Israel and all the nations, who would know that God rules the world, "and I shall cause lewdness to cease out of the land" (v 48).
"And the word of HaShem came to me in the ninth year in the tenth month on the tenth of the month" (v 1). This was the ninth year of the reign of King Tzedekiah – two years before the destruction of the Temple. The tenth day of the month of Teves of that year marked the commencement of King Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, an event that is commemorated annually until today with the Fast of the Tenth of Teves. There were no radio transmitters, phones, emails or anything of the kind when Ezekiel, located far away from Jerusalem in Babylon, received this prophecy about what was happening in the Holy City and was instructed to record the date. "The ultimate purpose of writing down the date was because the prophet was in Babylon yet he recorded what was taking place in Jerusalem, and when the people would hear from messengers that it was so, they would believe in him and stop paying attention to the words of the false prophets" (Metzudas David on v 2). "And utter a parable…" (v 3). We learned earlier that the inhabitants of Jerusalem had their own glib slogan that "Jerusalem is the pot and we are the meat" (Ezekiel 11:3), meaning "just as the meat does not leave the pot until it is completely cooked, so we shall not leave the city until we die naturally" (Rashi ibid.). Now God turns the same metaphor of the meat in the pot against the inhabitants of Jerusalem with a vengeance. Only now was the pot being put on the stove: this alludes to the fact that the siege was just beginning. "…And also pour water into it" (v 3): from the moment the water is first poured in, it takes time for the pot to boil. Similarly the siege would last for two long years before the bitter end (see Metzudas David ad loc.). "Gather the pieces of meat into it…" (v 4) – "Out of fear of the siege, all the heads and ministers had gathered inside the city" (Rashi). "Take the choice of the flock…" (v 5) – "these are the choicest of Israel " (Rashi). "Make it boil well" (v 5) – "After all of them are inside, the siege engines will be drawn up and war will come to the city" (Rashi). Verses 6-14 explain and elaborate the metaphor. "Woe to the bloody city, the pot whose filth is in it" (v 6). The "filth" is the scum that rises to the surface as a pot of meat comes to the boil, but here, instead of being removed, the filth stays within – i.e. the sinners in the city would not leave (Rashi). Instead, they would be burned up inside it (see vv 11-12). "For her blood is in her midst, she set it upon the bare rock…" (v 7). Our sages interpret verses 7-8 as alluding to the blood of the prophet Zechariah son of Yehoyada, which was spilled on the marble floor of the Temple Courtyard when he was killed on the instructions of King Yo'ash (II Chronicles 24:20-22) and which seethed incessantly in a mute call for vengeance until the arrival of Nebuchadnezzar's captain, Nevuzaradan, to destroy the Temple (Gittin 57b; P'sikta; see KNOW YOUR BIBLE on II Chronicles 24). The pot was to boil and boil until all the contents dried up and burned on the fire in order that "its impurity may be molten and its filth may be consumed" (vv 10-11) – only thus would the sins of the people be expiated. "Because I have purged you but you were not purged" (v 13) – God had sent prophets to rebuke the people but they did not heed them (see Rashi ad loc.).
"I AM TAKING AWAY THE DELIGHT OF YOUR EYES" (v 15) A new prophecy begins in verse 15 with God informing Ezekiel that He would take away "the delight of your eyes", i.e. the prophet's wife (see v 18), yet paradoxically, the prophet was instructed to exhibit no signs of mourning. He delivered his prophecy to the people in the morning; his wife died that very evening, and the following morning he acted quite unlike any mourner (v 18) in order to needle the people into asking him the reason for his strange behavior. The prophet's explanation to the people is given in vv 20-24: Ezekiel's loss of his wife represented the coming destruction of the Temple – for "Whenever a man loses his first wife, it is as if the Holy Temple was destroyed in his days" (Sanhedrin 22a). Yet just as Ezekiel exhibited no signs of mourning over his wife, so the remnant of Judah who were in Babylon at the time of the destruction of the Temple would show no outward signs of mourning over it. Rashi explains that the reason for this was because there would be nobody to comfort the people since there would not be a single one among them who would not be a mourner, and signs of mourning are only displayed in a place where there is someone to give comfort. Moreover, the people would be afraid to shed tears openly in the presence of the Babylonians in whose midst they lived (Rashi on v 22). Many important laws relating to mourning practices are derived from verse 17, which details the usual signs of mourning that Ezekiel was NOT to exhibit in this case. Instead, he was to "bind" his "turban" (PE-EIR) as usual. The PE-EIR refers to the Tefilin, which a mourner does not wear (Berachos 11a). Ezekiel was told: "Put your shoes on your feet", whereas a mourner is forbidden to wear shoes (Mo'ed Katan 15b). Ezekiel was told: "Do not cover your lips", but in earlier times, mourners would swathe their head in grief (ibid. 15a). Ezekiel was told: "And do not eat the bread of men", whereas a mourner is fed the first "meal of consolation" by his friends and neighbors (ibid. 27b). In the final section of this prophecy (vv 25-7) God tells Ezekiel that on the day when a fugitive would arrive in Babylon to break the news that the Temple had been destroyed, "your mouth shall be opened and you shall speak and be dumb no more" (contrary to His telling him in Ez. 3:26 to be dumb) because then the people would see that everything had happened exactly as the prophet had foretold long before, and the truth of his prophecy would be vindicated.
Ezekiel's grim prophecy in the previous chapter (Ezekiel 24) about the coming destruction of Jerusalem was specifically dated to the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem, which started on the tenth day of the tenth month (Teves) in the ninth year of the reign of King Tzedekiah (Ez. 24:1) and continued for two years until the destruction of the Temple and the city and the exile of its surviving inhabitants. Since Judah under David, Solomon and a number of its later kings had been the dominant power from the Nile to the Euphrates, the prospect of its imminent destruction and humiliation elicited great joy among the peoples in the neighboring territories of Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia as well as in the great maritime city of Tyre to the north of Israel and in Egypt to its south. Their relish increased as they watched Nebuchadnezzar tighten his stranglehold on Jerusalem.
The prophecies in the coming eight chapters of Ezekiel (chs 25-32), which date from the period of the siege Jerusalem, all deal with the destined destruction of the above-mentioned nations in retribution for their gloating over the fate of Judah. The prophecies in our present chapter (Ezekiel 25) are directed against Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia, while Tyre and its ruler are the subjects of the prophecies in chs 26-28. These are then followed by a series of prophecies against Egypt in chs 29-32. Ezekiel's prophecies against the nations parallel the prophecies about the coming retribution against the nations contained in Isaiah (chs 13-16, 19, 21, 23, 25 & 34 etc.) and Jeremiah (chs 46-51). A comment in the Midrash may shed some light on the complex issue of whether these prophecies apply only to the specified nations at that time, who may since have simply perished from the face of the earth, or whether they apply to peoples existing until today, either in the same territories or elsewhere. "R. Huna said in the name of R. Acha: All the empires (MALCHUYOS) are called by the name of ASHUR (Assyria) on account of the fact that they have become wealthy (misASHRos) at the expense of Israel. R. Yose bar Chaninah said: All the empires are called by the name of NINIVEH on account of the fact that they took their beauty (misNA'Os) from Israel. R. Yose bar Chalaphta said: All the empires are called by the name of MITZRAIM (' Egypt ') because they oppress (METZIROS) Israel " (Bereishis Rabbah 17:4). Biblical Egypt, Niniveh, Ashur and Tzur etc. were the archetypal embodiment of certain characteristics that in later history became embodied in other nations (garbs). This while Ezekiel and the other prophets were without doubt on one level referring specifically to these nations as they were in their own times, since all their prophecies came through holy spirit, they simultaneously relate to nations that emerged later on embodying the same archetypal traits. The "sister" nations of Ammon and Moab were close relatives of the Israelites since their founding father, Lot, was a nephew of Abraham, who saved him from captivity at the hands of the four kings (Genesis ch 14). Thus their joy over the destruction of the Temple and the land of Israel (verses 3 and 8 of our present chapter) was an expression of rank ingratitude. Edom (=Seir) was an even closer relative of Israel since Edom's founding father was Esau, Jacob's brother, and thus when the Edomites handed fugitive Judeans over to Nebuchadnezzar's armies, it was a betrayal of their brotherly ties. Only through the destruction of their peoples and their land would these nations know that HaShem rules (vv 7, 11 and 14).
"And it came to pass in the eleventh year on the first day of the month…" (Ezekiel 26:1). This was the eleventh year of the reign of King Tzedekiah. It was in this year that the Temple was destroyed. "The prophet does not reveal to us in which month he received this prophecy, but since he left it unsaid, it would appear that he is referring to the month in which the destruction took place, i.e. the month of Av" (RaDaK ad loc.; cf. Rashi & Metzudas David ad loc.). The prophecy in this chapter is the first in a series of prophecies running until ch 28 v 19 directed against TZOR, which on the level of PSHAT (the plain meaning) refers to the Lebanese sea-faring city-state of Tyre, which at its height was the center of a highly prosperous maritime empire stretching from one end of the Mediterranean Sea to the other. Yet at the same time as we read these prophecies as relating to Tyre, we should also bear in mind the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer that "every place in the Bible text where TZOR is spelled CHASSER ('defective', i.e. without the letter VAV in the middle), it refers to the kingdom of Edom, while every TZOR that is
spelled MALEH ('full', i.e. WITH the VAV) refers to the city of Tyre" (Tanchuma Vaera ch 13; see KNOW YOUR BIBLE Isaiah ch 23). The root TZAR, without a VAV, means a trouble or oppressor, while the root TZOR with a VAV means to form or create. In the Hebrew text of Ezekiel's prophecies against TZOR, the name is sometimes spelled CHASSER (26:2, 26:3, 26:4, 26:7, 27:2, 28:2; 29:18) and sometimes MALEH (27:3, 27:8, 27:12). Verses 7ff in our present chapter specifically refer to the destruction of TZOR – i.e. Tyre – at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet rabbinic commentary on TZOR's exclamation of glee at the destruction of Jerusalem in verse 2 – "Aha! I shall be filled with her that is laid waste" – refers it to the glee of Rome over the downfall of Israel . "Rav Nachman said: Initially, when they brought wine libations from Judah , their wine never became sour… but now it is the wine of the Edomites that does not become sour" (Pesachim 42b). "If someone tells you that both Caesarea (the Roman colonial capital of Judea) and Jerusalem are in ruins or that both are inhabited, do not believe him. But if he says that Caesarea is in ruins and Jerusalem is inhabited or that Caesarea is inhabited and Jerusalem is in ruins, believe him, as it says, 'I shall be filled with her that is laid waste' – If one is full, the other is in ruins, if one is in ruins, the other is full" (Megillah 6a). The implied see-saw linkage between the destinies of Israel and Edom-Rome is seen as the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy about the descendants of Jacob and Esau that "the one people shall be stronger than the other people" (Genesis 25:23, see Rashi ad loc.). Verses 1-6 of our present chapter are an overall introduction announcing the coming destruction of TZOR on account of their glee over the destruction of Jerusalem. Verses 7-14 depict the destruction of Tyre at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Verses 15-18 depict the horror that the downfall of TZOR would evoke among the other nations, who would understand that if such a thing could befall such a mighty world power, they were all imperiled. Verses 19-21 foretell the bitter end of TZOR, which will finally be wiped off the face of the earth. "And I shall bring you down with them that descend into the pit, to the people of old time" (verse 20). Those who "descend into the pit" are those who go down to Gehennom, and the "people of old time" are all the other nations who have been there from before (Rashi ad loc.). "And I shall set up my ornament in the land of living" (v 20) – "And I shall give beauty to Jerusalem" (Rashi ad loc.).
"Now you, son of man, take up a lamentation for TZOR…" (v 1). Ezekiel's prophecy in the previous chapter about the coming downfall of Tyre is now followed in the present chapter with an elaborate allegory about the calamity that was to befall this most successful ancient commercial superpower. Tyre was a heavily fortified Phoenician island city situated "in the heart of the seas" approximately 3.5 miles from the Lebanese mainland. A line of mainland suburbs provided timber and water for the mother city, which amassed enormous wealth from its maritime trade. As we see from our present chapter, every kind of exotic luxury product poured into Tyre from all parts of the then-known world. The locations of her many different suppliers and trading partners as mentioned in this chapter stretch from Persia (v 10) and Media (= Kilmad v 23) in the east to Greece (v 13), Italy (=Elisha v 7) and Germany (= Togarmah, "Germamia" v 14) in the west, and from S. Russia (=Meshech, cf. Muscovy, v 13) in the north to the Red
Sea coastal regions of Arabia (v 21) and Africa (Phut=Libya? Somalia? v 10, Sheva= Ethiopia v 23) in the south. Tyre's great wealth and strength derived from her strategic position with "your borders in the heart of the sea" (v 4). "Because Tyre was situated in the sea and was destroyed in her place, Ezekiel depicts her allegorically as a most magnificent ship which was overloaded with cargo and was sunk by an east wind (see v 26), and because of the weight of the ship the sailors were unable to save it" (Metzudas David on v 5; cf. Rashi on v 26). The prophesied downfall of Tyre was to come about because "you have said, I am of perfect beauty" (verse 3). "Until now, everyone used to say that Jerusalem was 'of perfect beauty, the joy of all the earth' (Lamentations 2:15), but now (after the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar) you arrogantly say, 'I am of perfect beauty'" (Rashi ad loc.). In verses 4-25 of our present chapter, the prophet paints a detailed picture of the exceptional wealth and glory that led to Tyre's swelling pride, providing us with an abundance of fascinating information about the sophistication of trade and commerce in Biblical times. We should not think for a moment that the people of those times were simple and primitive. "The rowers brought you into great waters: the EAST wind has broken you in the heart of the seas" (v 26). Tyre became subject to Nebuchadnezzar, who came from the east and to whom she paid tribute, after which she fell under the power of Persia, also in the east. In verses 27ff Ezekiel prophesies that all of Tyre's wealth together with her sailors and men of war would "fall into the heart of the seas" (i.e. they would fall prey to other powers) causing horror and consternation among all her former trading partners and allies, who would tear out their hair and rend their garments in bitter mourning over the fearful destruction of such a glorious, prosperous world power on account of her overweening arrogance.
After having addressed the CITY of TZOR in the previous chapter, the prophet is now told to turn to her RULER, the "Prince of TZOR", who was the very epitome of the maritime empire's arrogance. "Because your heart is lifted up and you have said 'I am a god, I sit in the seat of God in the heart of the seas', but you are a man and not a god, yet you set your heart as the heart of God" (v 2). According to tradition, the "Prince of TZOR" is none other than Hiram king of Tyre , who was a friend of King David and collaborated with King Solomon in the building of the Temple in Jerusalem , and who is said to have lived for a thousand years! We learn from verse 15 of the present chapter that initially, "you were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created until iniquity was found in you". To have been a friend of the righteous King David and to have played a key role in the building of Solomon's Temple, Hiram must indeed have been a most exceptional CHASSID UMOS HA-OLAM (a saint of the nations of the world). Indeed our sages said that Hiram was one of thirteen who did not taste the taste of death (together with Enoch, Eliezer servant of Abraham, Methuselah, Eved Melech HaKushi, Batia daughter of Pharaoh, Serah daughter of Asher, the three sons of Korach, Elijah, Mashiach and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi – Yalkut Shimoni). Hiram is listed as one of nine who entered the Garden of Eden while they were still alive (Avos d'Rabbi
Nathan). But the same source cites the view that Hiram was removed from there and his place was taken by R. Yehoshua ben Levi (Avos d'Rabbi Nathan). "You have been in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering…" (v 13). This verse lists ten different kinds of precious stones, and is the foundation of the midrashic teaching that when God brought Eve to Adam in the Garden of Eden, He made him ten CHUPOS (marriage canopies). This midrash (which conceals much more than it reveals) is based upon the style of DRUSH known as "understanding one thing from another". The ten canopies are not mentioned directly in the Biblical text in Genesis, but since Ezekiel reveals the adornments enjoyed by Hiram in Eden, the midrash deduces that these were the adornments that God brought for Adam and Eve. The above-mentioned view that Hiram was removed from Eden is also expressed in a lengthy midrash in Yalkut Shimoni giving a detailed description of an enormous phantasmagorical "sky-scraper" structure of seven "firmaments" that he built out of steel, glass and other materials, plating it with gold and studding it with precious stones, in order to provide a fitting throne for himself. This description brings to mind many modern expressions of the same kind of arrogance, such as the late lamented World Trade Center. The midrash concludes: "Hiram became arrogant because he had sent cedars for the Temple. The Holy One blessed be He said, I will destroy My House so that Hiram will not be able to vaunt himself over Me. What was his end? The Holy One blessed be He brought up against him Nebuchadnezzar, who raped his mother in front of his eyes and took him down from his throne and used to cut off two finger-breadths of his flesh every day and dip them in vinegar and make him eat them until he died a horrible death. And what happened to his palaces? The Holy One blessed be He tore apart the earth and hid them away for the righteous in the world to come" (Yalkut Shimoni). In the words of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the "ARI"): "The matter of Hiram king of Tyre's arrogance arouses great wonder, but it may be understood in conjunction with teachings about Pharaoh king of Egypt, who was also very arrogant and said he was a god (see Ezekiel 29:3). Now all pride is in the neck (GARON, 'throat'), as it says, 'the daughters of Zion …walk with outstretched necks' (Isaiah 3:16). Now Pharaoh and Hiram are both rooted in the husks (KELIPOS) that have a hold on the neck of Zeir Anpin. This is why Pharaoh is called king of Egypt (MITZRAYIM) because Egypt is the "throat", which is very narrow (TZAR) indeed… Likewise TZOR is from the same root as MATZOR, like MITZRAYIM. The letters of Pharaoh rearranged make up the word OREPH (back of the neck), while the gematria of HIRAM is the same as that of GARON (with the kolel), because Hiram is on the side of the throat (the front of the neck) and not at the back (OREPH)… All the husks that have their hold at the throat – causing constricted consciousness (MOCHIN D'KATNUS) – are greater than all the other husks, and their level is very great. This is why Pharaoh and Hiram, who both have their hold here, were very exalted and had the arrogance to turn themselves into gods. Pharaoh said, 'I do not know HASHEM' because he had no hold on the level of the expanded consciousness of HAVAYAH, and likewise Hiram said, 'I have sat in the seat of God (ELOKIM)' because his hold was on the level of ELOKIM, i.e. in the 'throat' but not in the head on the level of Havayah" (Sha'ar HaPsukim on Ezekiel ch 28). Verses 20-24 prophesy the destruction of Tyre 's northern neighbor of Sidon , which would remove a pricking briar from the side of the House of Israel. (The "pricks" were well felt in Israel during the 2006 Lebanon war, when many rockets fired by Hizbullah forces from Sidon caused considerable damage.)
The downfall of Israel's proud neighbors will have the see-saw effect of facilitating the return of the House of Israel from their exile among the nations (vv 25-26). Speedily in our times! Amen.
All the prophecies in the four chapters from the beginning of our present chapter until the end of chapter 32 relate to the downfall of Egypt at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar some years after the destruction of the First Temple, and to the final downfall of Egypt together with the other nations at the end of days. Egypt was the archetypal oppressor of Israel, and her downfall marks the redemption of Israel . Thus the last two verses of the previous chapter speaking of the ingathering of Israel from the nations (Ez. 28:25-26) together with verses 1-21 of our present chapter prophesying the downfall of Egypt are appropriate reading as the Haftara of Parshas Va-era (Ex. 6:2-9:35) recounting the destruction of Egypt through the plagues at the time of the Exodus. Ezekiel's opening prophecy in this series is specifically dated to "the tenth year in the tenth month on the twelfth of the month" (verse 1). This was the tenth year of the reign of King Tzedekiah and just over one year since the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. This prophecy was received BEFORE the prophecies against Tyre in the previous three chapters, which are dated to "the eleventh year", the year of the destruction of the Temple (Ez. 26:1). Thus we see that all these prophecies are not written in our text in the strict chronological order in which they were received. Rather, the series of prophecies against Tyre were arranged together because of their thematic unity, and likewise the prophecies against Egypt. From the quotation from the ARI Shaar HaPsukim cited in our commentary on Ezekiel chapter 28 about the kabbalistic conceptual connection between Hiram of Tzor and Pharaoh of Mitzrayim, it is clear why the series about Tyre and that about Egypt come one after the other. "Son of man: set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt … the great crocodile that crouches in the midst of his streams…" (v 2-3). "Because the entire greatness of Egypt and all her abundance were on account of the channels of the Nile, the prophet accordingly metaphorically refers to her king as the crocodile and to her people as the fish of the river" (Rashi ad loc.). "…who has said, My river is my own and I have made it for myself…" (v 3) – "I have no need for the ELYONIM (the supreme powers of God), because I have my river which provides all my needs" (Rashi). "…and I have made it for myself" (ibid.) – "through my own might and wisdom I have magnified my greatness and rule" (Rashi). Rashi here concisely brings out the essence of Pharaoh's idolatry of himself, his prosperity and power, believing that as long as his control over his natural resources was intact, nothing could bring him down. The wealthy elite that own and control much of the world today apparently think the same way. "But I will put hooks in your jaws…" (v 4). "On account of his having represented him as a crocodile – which is considered to be a fish – he uses an expression relating to the way a fish is caught by putting hooks in its jaws to haul it out of the water" (Metzudas David ad loc.). "…and I will cause the fish of your streams to stick to your scales" (v 4) – "When they haul you up out of the river, your people will also be taken up out of the river – the fish metaphorically represent the people of Egypt, the ministers, horsemen, warriors as well as the poorer sections of the population, all of whom would be swept away" (RaDaK ad loc.).
The essential reason for the coming downfall of Egypt was "because you have been a STAFF OF REED to the House of Israel …" (verse 6). "Several times they relied on them in the days of Sennacherib and in the days of Nebuchadnezzar but it did not avail them, like a soft reed that does not support one who leans on it" (Rashi ad loc.). RaDaK explains further: "The Egyptians promised Israel that they would save them from the Babylonians but they were unable to do so… as it says in Jeremiah 37:5 recounting how Pharaoh did march out from Egypt causing the Babylonians, when they heard, to go up from Jerusalem, but Pharaoh returned to Egypt and the Babylonians went back to capture and destroy Jerusalem. Thus not only did the Egyptians not support Israel but they actually harmed them because their trust in Egypt led them to rebel against the king of Babylon… and thus Ravshakeh (Sennacherib's lieutenant addressing those under Hezekiah who put their trust in Egypt) said, 'You have trusted in this broken STAFF OF REED'" (II Kings 18:21; RaDaK on our verse). This first in the series of prophecies about the coming destruction of Egypt does not specify who would bring the sword that would wreak the havoc there, which we only learn in the next prophecy (verses 17ff of our present chapter). The focus in this first prophecy is on the devastation itself, which would spread from one end of the country to the other (v 10ff). This would last for a period of forty years (v 11ff). Our commentators explain the deep thread of divine justice that underlies this forty-year timeframe. "Forty-two years of famine were decreed in Pharaoh's dream (Genesis 41) corresponding to the three times that seven bad cows and seven bad ears of corn are written in the text – once when Pharaoh saw his dream, once when he narrated it to Joseph, and a third time when Joseph explained to him what the seven empty bad cows and seven empty ears of corn were – a total of forty-two years of famine. But in the time of Jacob they suffered only two years of famine, because when Jacob came down to Egypt the famine ceased. The remaining forty years were exacted from them now" (Rashi on v 11). "And it was in the twenty-seventh year…" (verse 17). This cannot mean the twentyseventh year of the reign of Tzedekiah since he reigned for only eleven years. All our commentators explain on the basis of the ancient historical Midrash "Seder Olam" that the "twenty-seventh year" was the twenty-seventh year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, i.e. eight years after the destruction of the Temple and the death of Tzedekiah, which was when Egypt was delivered into the hands of Babylon (Rashi, Metzudas David, RaDaK). Thus the series of prophecies beginning with that at the end of the next chapter (Ezekiel 30:20-26), which is dated to "the eleventh year" – i.e. of the reign of Tzedekiah, the year of the destruction of the Temple – were received BEFORE this prophecy from Nebuchadnezzar's twenty-seventh year. Thus again we see that these prophecies are not written in the book in the strict chronological order in which they were received but rather are arranged thematically to bring out the prophet's message with maximum effect. Having prophesied in general about the destruction of Egypt and its reason in the earlier sections of our present chapter (vv 1-16), Ezekiel now "zooms in" and tells how Nebuchadnezzar would do the work, receiving the pillage of Egypt as his "reward" for his "great work" in destroying TZUR (vv17-21), after which, in the prophecy in the first part of the next chapter (Ez. 30:1-19), Ezekiel details the devastation in Egypt city by city. Then in the prophecies that follow from Ezekiel 30:20 until the end of the series about Egypt at the end of Chapter 32, he returns to give more of a "wide angle" perspective on the significance of the downfall of Egypt in comparison with the downfall of other great nations. "Son of man: Nebuchadnezzar made his army labor hard against Tzor… yet he had no wages, nor his army" (v 18). "The way of those who besiege a city for a long time is that they exert themselves and exhaust themselves carrying great loads of
wood and stones. Nebuchadnezzar captured Tzor in the twenty-third year of his reign, as we find in Seder Olam… but after he took all its plunder the sea rose and swept it away from them, because it had been decreed against Tzor and her booty that they should be lost at sea" (Rashi ad loc.). Having read Ezekiel's prophecies about the downfall of Tzor in the previous chapters (Ezekiel chs 26-28), learning now how Nebuchadnezzar was sent to destroy it but could only receive his "reward" by plundering Egypt provides us with a fascinating insight into how the Almighty plays off one nation against another in order to bring about His inscrutable purpose in His providential government of human history. Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Egypt would be her retribution for having been a broken reed for Israel, and the decree against Egypt would spell redemption for Israel . "ON THAT DAY I shall cause the horn of the House of Israel to put out roots" (v 21). Rashi comments on this verse that he has neither heard nor found any satisfactory explanation of how the fall of Egypt would bring forth roots for Israel, and refers the phrase "on that day" back to verse 13 which says that God would gather in the Egyptians from their exile "at the end of forty years". Rashi explains that the end of forty years coincided with the short-lived reign of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon. This was when the star of Persia began to rise, and with Persia's destruction of Babylon not only was Egypt freed from subjection to Babylon but the roots were planted for the rebuilding of the Temple, because Cyrus of Persia authorized the first wave of Judean exiles to return to Jerusalem under Zerubavel.
Verses 1-9 of this chapter wail over the coming destruction of Egypt and her various neighbors and allies at the hands of God's MAL'ACHIM – "agents" and "messengers" (v 9), the executors of His inscrutable plans. Verses 10-19 detail Nebuchadnezzar's systematic destruction of Egypt, its population and their idols city by city. A new prophecy begins in verse 20, "in the eleventh year" – i.e. of the reign of Tzedekiah, the year in which the Temple was destroyed. This prophecy, running to the end of the chapter, "zooms out" from the detailed description of the devastation of Egypt into a more general summary of the unhealable breach of Pharaoh's power at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, showing how God raises up and God brings down, "and they shall know that I am HaShem".
The prophecy in this chapter, which continues the series about the coming downfall of Egypt, was received by Ezekiel in Babylon "in the eleventh year in the third month on the first of the month" (v 1) – i.e. at the beginning of the month of Sivan in the eleventh year of the reign of King Tzedekiah, little more than two months before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem on 9 Av. The prophet challenges Pharaoh, asking him: "To whom do you think you compare in your greatness?" – "i.e. in aggrandizing yourself before God" (v 2 and Rashi ad loc.). For the empire of Assyria achieved even greater heights than Egypt , yet God cast Assyria down. If so, why should Pharaoh think he was any better and could survive?
From the perspective of today's world of mega-superpowers, we may tend to look back on ancient Assyria, which had no cars, airplanes, computers, satellites and other marvels of modern technology, as little more than a short-lived puny forerunner of later empires. We should therefore bear in mind that in its time, Sennacherib's empire comprised the greater part of the known world, extending from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean across the entire Middle East deep into central Asia, while its capital of Nineveh was legendary for its grandeur and sophistication. The prophet allegorically depicts Assyria as a great cedar. "The waters made it great, the deep set it up on high…" (v 4). Targum renders: "It abounded with nations, it was mighty through its allies; it subjected the kingdoms under its rule and put its government over all the countries of the world". Rashi on verse 6 hints why God granted Assyria such power. "For what reason did Assyria attain greatness? Because Ashur (the founder of Nineveh ) refrained from collaborating in the plan of those in the generation of the dispersal (i.e. to build the Tower of Babel ), as it says, 'Ashur left that land' (Gen. 10:11), when all the people in the world joined together in one network to rebel against God… Furthermore, Ashur listened to the voice of the prophet Jonah and repented from the robbery in their hands". In other words, Assyria retained a certain moral level in virtue of which it attained greatness. Nevertheless, Assyria fell into the sin of pride and was therefore cast down: "You have lifted yourself up in height… and his heart is lifted up in his height. I have therefore delivered him into hand of the mighty one of the nations…" (vv 1011). Sennacherib had arrogantly supposed that after his other successes over idolatrous nations he would be able to conquer God's city of Jerusalem, but his armies were miraculously wiped out overnight. Assyria still maintained its empire for more than a century after Sennacherib's defeat, but was finally overthrown by "the mighty one of the nations", i.e. Nebuchadnezzar, who had conquered Nineveh in the first year of his reign (Megillah 11b), twenty-seven years before his coming conquest of Egypt. Verses 12-13 allegorically depict the destruction of Assyria and all those who took refuge in the shadow of this "mighty tree" – i.e. its allies and tributaries. The purpose of its terrible downfall was to teach mankind God's lesson, "…so that none of all the trees of the waters (=the other nations) should exalt themselves in their height… for they are all delivered to death, to the nether parts of the earth in the midst of the children of men, with them that go down to the pit" (v 14). In the words of Metzudas David (ad loc.): "For all of them are destined to die and descend to the nether world, i.e. the grave… Since all of them are going to die, what point is there in swelling with arrogance over their great worldly power and wealth?" "I made the nations shake at the sound of his fall, with those that descend into the pit; and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water were comforted in the nether parts of the world" (v 16). Everything in this world reflects and alludes to the upper worlds, and thus the various nations in this world and their guardian angels correspond to the "trees" in the supernal Garden of Eden and are called this in the verse in keeping with the allegory of Ashur as the mighty cedar. The fall of this great tree and the descent of Ashur into hell "was a comfort to the other wealthy and mighty who had already died and were in their graves when they saw that even the mighty Ashur finally met with the same fate. For it is the way of a person who sees the same trouble that befell him strike even those greater than himself to feel comforted" (Metzudas David on v 16).
The moral of the allegory about the fall of Assyria was directed against Pharaoh, who was to be defeated by Nebuchadnezzar eight years after this prophecy, but who apparently still believed he was invincible. "To whom do you think you compare in glory and greatness among the trees of Eden?" (v 18). Pharaoh and his multitude would suffer the same fate as all the other proud and mighty powers of this world and end up in the pit among the slain uncircumcised nations.
The two prophecies in vv 1-16 and vv 17-32 of this chapter were received by Ezekiel in Babylon "in the twelfth year in the twelfth month" – i.e. in the month of Adar of the year following the destruction of the Temple, on the first and fifteenth of the month respectively. We see that days like Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, and the 15 th Adar, which was later to become the festival of Shushan Purim, are particularly auspicious for spiritual ascent and prophecy. The message of these prophecies is directed against Pharaoh king of Egypt. "You thought yourself to be a lion among the nations, but you are like a crocodile in the waters" (verse 2). "You imagined that in relation to the other nations you are like a lion against a flock of sheep, but it is not so, because you are like a crocodile in the waters who has no strength except in his own place in the waters, but the moment he comes up onto the dry land he dies. Likewise, you have power only in your own land" (Metzudas David ad loc.). In other words, had Pharaoh been content with a policy of isolationism without trying to interfere in international affairs, he could have survived, but because he sought to wield influence throughout the world (as when Pharaoh Necho campaigned in the time of King Josiah to try to contain Assyria and when Pharaoh in Tzedekiah's time tried to campaign against Nebuchadnezzar) he came to grief. (Similarly, many Americans today are coming to the conclusion that their country would be more successful if it sought to play less of a role internationally, and that its role as global policeman is endangering its very survival.) Verses 3ff depict the coming fall of Egypt. "And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heaven and make its stars dark" (v 7) – "All who hear what has befallen you will mourn and be astonished, for each one will be fearful for himself saying that the destroyer will also succeed against us" (Rashi ad loc.). The final prophecy in this series against Egypt opens in verse 17. It is a lament on the multitude of Egypt, who are destined to be cast down to the very depths of the earth with all the other nations that have and will go down into the pit. "Son of man: wail for the multitude of Egypt and cast them down, her together with the daughters of mighty nations, to the nether parts of the earth with them that go down into the pit" (v 17). It is the prophet himself who is commanded to cast them down through the power of his words. "Prophesy against him and against all those who deny the Torah, who will go down to the pit of destruction. Here the Holy One blessed be He showed Ezekiel that all those who deny the Torah go down to Gehennom" (Rashi ad loc.). This concluding prophesy against Egypt is more than merely the continuation of Ezekiel's prophesies about the fall of Egypt at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. It is in the form of an allegory of the Egyptians being taken down to hell and laid in their graves in a certain order or arrangement amidst the various other nations in hell, including Ashur (vv 22-23), Eilam (vv 24-25), Meshech and Tuval (vv 26-28), Edom (v 29) and the "princes of the north" (v 30). A common factor among these nations is that they are punished in this way because "they struck terror in the land of the
living" (vv 23, 24 & 27) – i.e. they brought about destruction in the Land of Israel" (Rashi on v 23). In other words, all the nations mentioned are among the persecutors of Israel. The historical roles of Ashur (which exiled the Ten Tribes) and Edom (who destroyed the Second Temple) require no commentary. Eilam not only sought to capture Abraham's nephew Lot, ancestor of Mashiach (Genesis 14:1) but also aided the Babylonians in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, coming with them to harm Israel (RaDaK on Jeremiah 49:24). Meshech ("Muscovy", Russia) and Tuval are nations under the leadership of Gog king of Magog who will come up against Israel at the end of days (Ezekiel 38:1). In the words of the Biblical commentator MALBIM (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Weiser, 1809-79) , on verse 17 of our present chapter: "This prophecy is very opaque indeed and it is not known what it comes to teach us, but earlier commentators have already commented that this is a future prophesy about the end of days in the time of the war of Gog and Magog, when all the nations will gather against Jerusalem… When the end comes, after Israel will already have settled in the land of Israel, the nations are destined to gather and capture Jerusalem, and Gog, prince of Meshech and Tuval will come from the lands of the north and the west, where the people are uncircumcised and called Edom, while Meshech and Tuval are from among the children of Japheth who dwell in Europe. And there (in Ez. Ch 38) he says that Paras (Persia) Kush (E. Africa? Pakistan???) and Phut ( Somalia ?) and Beith Togarma ( Turkey ?) will come with them, all of these being circumcised and adherents of the religion of the Ishmaelites. They will gather with the children of Edom to conquer the land from the hands of Israel, but when they arrive, turmoil will break out among them and each one will make war against his brothers, i.e. Edom and Ishmael will fight against each other because their beliefs are separate, and there God will judge them with the sword and with blood. Here the prophet starts by enumerating Egypt, Ashur and Eilam, who adhere to the religion of Ishmael and are today circumcised. Afterwards he enumerates Meshech, Tuval and Edom and their kings, and the 'princes of the north', all of whom are uncircumcised. The war will be between them. The main downfall will start among the Egyptians, who are close to the land of Israel. They will come at the head and fall. Then the Assyrians and Persians will come to exact vengeance on their behalf and then all of them – both sides – will fall." "For I have struck My terror into the Land of the Living" (v 32) – "I will put the fear of Me in the Land of Israel, and the fear of man will no longer be put among them" (Rashi ad loc.).
THE WATCHMAN Following his lengthy series of prophecies against Israel's various oppressors (chapters 25-32), Ezekiel now addresses his own people, who after losing their Temple and going into exile among the nations would only merit redemption and restoration through Teshuvah, repentance. The prophecy in verses 1-20 of our present chapter is a teaching about Teshuvah and how God deals with sinners and tzaddikim. Verses 1-6 set forth the allegory of the watchman, who has the obligation to warn the people of a coming war. As long as he sounds his shofar of alarm, he has fully discharged his duty, and if the people of the city fail to heed his message and take appropriate precautions, they themselves bear full responsibility for all the harm
that befalls them. Verses 7ff explain the allegory. The watchman is a metaphor for the prophet, who when he hears from the mouth of God about impending retribution (="war") has the obligation to warn the people in His name, in order that they should repent (see Metzudas David on v 7). "The sound of the shofar is the word of the prophet, as it says, 'Raise your voice like a shofar and tell My people their sin'" (Isaiah 58:1; RaDaK on v 7). If the prophet does indeed warn the people, he has fulfilled his duty, but if he fails to warn them he will bear the responsibility for their failure to repent and will be held to account. However, the people had fallen into despair, and did not believe in the efficacy of repentance. "Thus you speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins are upon us and we are wasting away in them, how should we then live?" (verse 10). Metzudas David explains what the people were saying: "In truth we have committed sins and transgressions and we are wasting away because of our troubles, which have not come upon us for nothing. But how can we live – how can we be saved from destruction? – because they did not believe that Teshuvah would help, and it was as if they were saying that therefore they would continue sinning, since they were lost anyway" (Metzudas David on v 10). In answer to the people's despair, verses 11ff reveal God's ways of judgment, teaching that repentance ALWAYS avails the sinner. Righteousness brings LIFE to a person in this world and the next, while sin brings DEATH to a person in this world and the next. God is not cruelly vindictive, and has no desire for the sinner to die but rather that he should repent of his ways and live. God's "arm" is always outstretched to receive the penitent sinner. On the other hand, even one who has spent a lifetime in the pursuit of righteousness is not allowed to become complacent. "The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him on the day of his transgression…" (v 11). God will exact retribution from a wayward tzaddik who gives himself permission to sin in the belief that he can somehow "afford" it since any sin should be outweighed by his many past merits. "Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, Even if a person was a complete tzaddik all his days but rebelled at the end, he looses his earlier merits, as it says, 'The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him on the day of his transgression…'. And even if he was a complete sinner all his days but he repented in the end, his wickedness will not be invoked against him any more as it says, '…but as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble in it on the day when he repents of his wickedness'" (Kiddushin 40b). "Yet the children of your people say, 'The way of HaShem is unfair' – but it is their way that is unfair" (v 17). The people argued that "it was unfair to judge a person according to his later deeds, because they thought it would be more proper to take into account his earlier deeds together with his later deeds and weigh them against each other in order to reach a verdict" (Metzudas David ad loc.). At first sight it may indeed seem that people should be judged according to the aggregate of all their deeds, but in fact there is more compassion in judging them for their later deeds. This way the wicked person is able to repent and attain life even after a career of evil. And if a tzaddik lapses from his righteousness and sins, it is considered a benefit for him if he dies and is taken from the world, because then he can no longer sin (Metzudas David on v 19). Righteousness and evil cannot simply be weighed one against the other because they are two entirely different categories. When a person carries out a mitzvah or good deed, he attaches himself to LIFE, gaining a reward that is beyond limits, above time. But when a person sins, he binds himself to this finite, time-bound world, which can only end in limitation and death. "Today if you will listen to His
voice" (Sanhedrin 98a): Repentance must always be TODAY – not yesterday or tomorrow – because repentance is above time. There is only now. THE FUGITIVE "And it was in the twelfth year of our exile in the tenth month…" (verse 21). This was in the twelfth year counting from the exile of King Yeho-yachin, with whom Ezekiel had come to Babylon, and who was succeeded by King Tzedekiah. Metzudas David (ad loc.) states that the years are counted from Tishri while the months are counted from Nissan. Thus the "twelfth year" began in Tishri, almost two months after 9 Av of the "eleventh year", which was when the Temple was destroyed. The arrival of the escaped fugitive in Babylon bearing the tragic news came in the "tenth month" of the twelfth year, i.e. Teves, nearly five full months after the event. In the absence of today's instantaneous relay of news via satellite, etc., it was all the more remarkable that Ezekiel had already been informed of the news through holy spirit and told it to others the evening prior to the arrival of the fugitive. This was in fulfillment of God's promise to him in his earlier prophecy about the loss of his wife, symbolizing the destruction of the Temple, that "on that day, the fugitive will come to you to cause you to hear it with your ears. On that day your mouth will be opened and you will speak, and you will be dumb no more" (ch 24 vv 26-7). With the actual arrival of the fugitive now bearing a first-hand eye-witness report of the very destruction that Ezekiel had specifically prophesied, the people would know that he was a true prophet. But even after the destruction of the Temple, the people could still not believe that they had lost the Land of Israel (vv 23f). Indeed, a residue of "the people who had nothing" still remained in Judea tending the vineyards and fields (Jeremiah 39:10) until the assassination of the Babylonian-appointed governor, Gedaliah ben Achikam. They apparently believed that they could retain their hold on the land, arguing that "Abraham was one yet he inherited the land, whereas we are many – to us the land has been given as an inheritance" (verse 24 of our present chapter). Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai explained that they were saying, "If Abraham, who was only given one commandment (circumcision), inherited the land, how much more so should we, who have received many commandments, receive the land as our inheritance" (see Rashi on v 24; see Tosephta Sotah for other midrashim on this verse, and Likutey Moharan, Intro to Part II, for Rabbi Nachman's inspiring explanation of the phrase "Abraham was one"). But God's reply to the people was that "You eat with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood – shall you then possess the land?" (v 25). Verses 27-29 warn that the land would be completely destroyed because of their sins. Those who want Israel to remain intact in our land today should take heed. In verses 30-33 God warns Ezekiel not to be deceived by the outwardly pious manner of those in Babylon who came to him to enquire about the latest word of prophecy, because they too were still far from genuine repentance, looking on his prophecies scornfully as "a song for flutes by one who has a pleasant voice who can play the instrument well – for they hear the words but they do not carry them out" (v 32). But harsh reality would finally bring them to know that they had a prophet in their midst.
THE SHEPHERDS OF ISRAEL The prophecy in this chapter is an indictment of the corrupt leadership of Israel which applies until today. The leaders are supposed to be the "shepherds" who feed and pasture the flock of the people, but instead they feed themselves, taking the fat, the meat and the wool of the best and healthiest for themselves, while abandoning the weak, sickly, broken, scattered and lost (cf. Zechariah 11:15-17). The failure of the leaders has left the people like a scattered flock exposed to the ravages of wild beasts. Verses 7-10 warn the shepherds that God will depose them from their position of leadership. In the very beautiful passage of comfort in verses 11ff, God promises that in place of the corrupt leadership of the people, He Himself will pasture the flock. This corresponds to His promise that when the people will repent, "HaShem your God will turn your captivity and have compassion upon you and will return and gather you from all the nations… If your outcasts be at the utmost parts of heaven, from there will HaShem your God gather you and from there will He fetch you…" (Deuteronomy 30:3-4). These promises that God extends personal providence to each and every one of us in order to bring us to follow His ways should be a comfort to all those who feel they can still find no true leader of flesh and blood to guide them. "And as for you, My flock… behold I judge between one lamb and another" – between those with powerful fists and the weak" (verse 17 and Rashi ad loc.). It is not sufficient for the corrupt leaders to be removed: the people at the grass roots must change their ways and enter the mode of helping one another instead of each being bent on the pursuit of his own selfish interests at the expense of everyone else. "Is it a small thing to you that you have eaten up the good pasture but you must also tread down with your feet the residue of the pasture lands?" (v 18). It is permitted to eat and enjoy, but the individual citizen must realize that it is immoral for him to wantonly consume, despoil the environment and squander resources instead of protecting and preserving them for the common good. Similarly, it is immoral for farmers to destroy produce in times of a glut in order to keep prices "stable" at the same time as many people are starving. In vv 20f God warns that He will bring the strong and mighty to judgment for oppressing the weak. This is the compassionate diametrical opposite of the philosophy of Nietzsche. "And I will establish one shepherd over them, namely my servant David" – "i.e. a king from his seed" (v 23 and Rashi ad loc.). "And I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing" (verse 26) – "And I will cause them to dwell around My Temple, and they will be blessed" (Targum ad loc.). "But you are My flock, the flock of My pasturing, you are ADAM" (v 31) – "You are called ADAM but the idol worshipers are not called ADAM" (Yevamos 61a). All true members of Israel are encompassed under the noble form of ADAM – "and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness of the appearance of ADAM upon it from above" (Ezekiel 1:27).
The previous prophecy ended with consolations to Israel about the future restoration under Melech HaMashiach, directing our attention to the end of days, which has become the main underlying theme in these later chapters of Ezekiel. The coming chapters will bring us prophesies about how the Land of Israel will flourish at the end of days (ch 36), and about the spiritual rebirth of the "dry bones" – the souls of Israel (37). Interwoven with these prophesies are prophesies about the judgment of Israel's persecutors at the end of days. Thus prior to the prophecy of the Future Temple and the Final Settlement (chs 40-48), chapters 38-9 deal with the war of Gog and Magog, while our present chapter (Ez. 35) foretells the future destruction of Edom, the offspring of Esau, who was the embodiment of the primordial serpent and chief adversary of Israel's founding father Jacob. In the words of RaDaK on v 1 of our present chapter: "The prophecy of the fall of Mount Seir follows immediately after the prophecy of the salvation of Israel because the downfall of Edom will come about at the time of the redemption, 'and saviors will ascend Mt Zion to judge the mountain of Esau' (Obadiah 1:21)". "Son of man: set your face against Mount Seir …" (v 2). "For as an inheritance to Esau have I given Mount Seir" (Deut. 2:5). Mount Seir is the rugged mountainous region south east of the Dead Sea in the south of present day Jordan, which was originally allotted to Esau and his descendants. RaDaK (on Obadiah 1:1) writes that "the land of Edom does not belong today to the descendants of Edom because the nations became mixed up and most of them are of either the Christian or Moslem faith and it is impossible to recognize which of them is from Edom, Moab, Ammon or any of the other nations because they were all exiled from their lands and became mixed among the nations. But Rome was initially mainly composed of the descendants of Edom, and where the prophets speak about the destruction of Edom they are speaking about the end of days – for when Rome is destroyed Israel will be redeemed". In the time when RaDaK – Rabbi David Kimche, 1160-1235 – was alive eight hundred years ago, the city of Rome was indeed the spiritual capital of European civilization. Since then the influence of Rome-Edom has spread all over the world, whether directly or indirectly through such later "garbs" as Britain , Spain , Germany , America etc. Given the prophecies of bloodshed and devastation contained in our present chapter, it is noteworthy that although the last half century was relatively peaceful in Europe, its history in general in the two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Temple has been one of repeated warfare, death and destruction. It may be added that even without the physical destruction of the great cities of western civilization, many of them are today "desolate" in the sense that extensive areas are effectively no-go areas for peaceable citizens (unless they speed through in fast cars) owing to the danger and violence, and wide sections of their populations have lapsed into ever deeper moral depravity. The prophet explains the underlying reason for the destruction of Edom's cities and their devastation: "Because you have had a perpetual hatred and have hurled the children of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity" (v 5). Again and again this prophecy emphasizes that God's retribution against Edom is strictly "measure for measure". The first expression of this comes in verse 6: "Surely you have hated blood – and blood shall pursue you" (v 6). If Edom unleashed the sword against Israel (v 5), in what sense can it be said that they "hated blood"? Rashi (on v 6) gives three explanations: "(1) You despised the right of the firstborn, to whom My service was entrusted, but you did not want to dirty yourself with the blood of the sacrifices of which My service consists – therefore the blood of the slain shall pursue you. (2) Like all men, you fear killers, but killers will
pursue you. (3) You hated blood – you hated your brother, who is your own flesh and blood". A second expression of the principle of "measure for measure" is in vv 9-10, which explain that the reason for the devastation of Edom is "because you have said, These two nations and these two countries shall be mine and we shall possess it" (v 10). In explaining this verse, Rashi (ad loc.) says that the simple meaning is that Esau wanted to inherit both Israel (the Ten Tribes) and Judah. However, Rashi also brings an interesting midrash of R. Tanchuma explaining that Esau went to marry Ishmael's daughter (Gen. 28:9) in order to rouse him to challenge Isaac over the inheritance of Abraham so that Ishmael would kill Isaac, leaving Esau as the "redeemer" of his father's blood so that he would have the right to kill Ishmael, and this way Esau would inherit both Isaac and Ishmael. This midrash is of particular interest given the present war of the "West" (Esau) against Ishmael (Islam). A third expression of the principle of "measure for measure" in the punishment of Edom comes in verse 11: "Therefore I shall do according to your anger and according to your envy…" Yet another expression of the same principle comes in verse 15: "Just as you rejoiced at the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so will I do to you: you shall be desolate, Mount Seir, and all of Edom, all of it, and they shall know that I am HaShem."
"And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel …" (v 1). "After speaking of the retribution against Mount Seir, he now speaks consolation to the mountains of Israel " (RaDaK ad loc.). Today's Edomites, scattered across the whole earth, show not the least interest in their ancestral territories in the rocky mountains of Seir in S. Jordan. But for two thousand years Jews have thought about their land and mentioned it in their prayers many times every day, and not one of them has the least doubt that their country is the same mountainous strip of land that everyone in the world knows as Israel. The other nations have always wanted unjustly to take the promised inheritance of Israel, children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for themselves. "Because the enemy has said against you, Ahah, the eternal high places are an inheritance FOR US!!!" (v 2). The mountains of Israel are called BAMOS OLAM, 'the high places of the world', because the Land of Israel is higher than all the other lands" (RaDaK ad loc.). These "high places" are "on the lips of talkers and the gossip of the people" (v 3). Never has this been more apparent than today, when Israel is the talk of the entire world – in the United Nations etc. and the world media. Every day the "Palestinians" and their backers, most notably President Ahmadinejad of Iran, declare that Israel must be "wiped off the map" and the land snatched from its rightful owners. "Measure for measure" God swears that he will judge all the residue of the nations and Edom with the fire of His jealousy "because they have appointed My land to themselves for a possession with the joy of all their heart, with disdainful minds, to cast it out for a prey" (v 5). Things will turn out the very opposite of what Israel's enemies imagine. "Surely the nations that are about you shall bear their own shame" (v 7) – as when the Arab armies that vowed the destruction of Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973 were roundly defeated. On the contrary, "You O mountains of Israel shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people of Israel, for they will soon be coming" (v 8). "When the land of Israel will give forth its fruits generously, that is when the end will be close – for throughout the Bible you have no more clearly revealed end than in this verse" (Sanhedrin 98a). The last century
has witnessed the miraculous revival of agriculture in Israel after two thousand years of desolation! "And I will multiply ADAM upon you, all the House of Israel …" (v 10). Once again in this verse and the two verses that follow it, Ezekiel – who is himself repeatedly called BEN ADAM, "the son of ADAM" – refers to Israel as ADAM, as he did in Chapter 34, when he said, "And you, My flock… are ADAM". Israel have the form of ADAM (the Tzelem Elokim) when they follow the Torah of ADAM (Numbers 19:14). "Because they say to you, You are a land that devours men" (v 13). This was the complaint of the Ten Spies, who gave a false report about the Land as "a land that eats up its inhabitants" (Numbers 13:32). Likewise Israel's enemies say that "this land is accustomed to destroy her inhabitants: the Emorites were consumed there and the Jews were consumed their" (Rashi on Ezekiel 13). But God promises that the Land of Israel "shall not devour men any more nor any more bereave your nations" (v 14). Surely this can be taken as a promise that contrary to the hopes of Israel 's enemies, THERE WILL NOT BE ANOTHER EXILE. Introducing the theme that at the end of days Israel will be purified of their sins, in verses 16-21 the prophet recounts the history of Israel after they first took possession of the land, when "they defiled it through their way and their deeds – like the impurity of the menstruous woman (NIDDAH) was their way before Me" (v 17). "Because the Assembly of Israel is metaphorically called God's 'wife' while He is her 'husband', when she sins she is compared to a NIDDAH whose husband distances himself from her throughout the time of her period but draws near to her after her purification. Likewise God 'distanced' Israel and exiled them to the lands of the nations because of their sins, but He will restore them after they return to Him and become purified of their sins" (RaDaK on v 17). Israel's ignominious exile and degradation in the lands of the nations is CHILUL HASHEM, a desecration of God's name (v 20). Conversely, the ingathering of Israel before the very eyes of their enemies is the sanctification of His name, for they will know that God rules (v 23). "And I shall take you from the nations and gather you in from all the lands and I will bring you to your land. And I shall sprinkle upon you pure waters and you shall be purified from all your impurities, and I shall purify you from all your idols" (vv 24-25). "Just as a defiled person is purified through the water in which he immerses and through the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer, so he who is defiled with sins is purified through atonement" (Metzudas David on v 25). The ORDER of the promises in the above-quoted two verses is surely significant: the ingathering of the exiles takes place BEFORE their purification. This should give us hope that even though many of the ingathered Jewish inhabitants of the land are still far from the Torah, if God has fulfilled His promise to bring them back physically, He will in the end surely fulfill His promise to bring them back spiritually. "And I shall sprinkle upon you pure waters" (v 25) – "Rabbi Akiva said, Happy are you O Israel: Before Whom are you purified? Who purifies you? Your Father in heaven!" (Yoma 86a). "And I shall give you a new heart and I shall put a new spirit within you and I shall remove the heart of stone from your flesh and I shall give you a heart of flesh" (v 26). The "heart of stone" refers to man's evil inclination. The Talmud teaches: "The evil inclination is called by seven names. God calls it 'evil' (Gen. 8:21). Moses called it 'uncircumcised' (Deut. 10:16). David called it 'impure', asking for a pure heart (Psalms 51:12). Solomon called it an 'enemy' (Proverbs 25:21). Isaiah called it a
'stumbling block' (Isaiah 57:14). Ezekiel called it 'stone' (as in our verse, Ez. 36:26), while Joel called it the 'northern' (or 'hidden') one (Joel 2:20)" (Succah 52a). A "heart of flesh" is "a heart that heeds and a spirit that is ready to receive the words of God with love" (RaDaK on Ez. 36:26). Rabbi Nachman pointed out that the letters of the name of his chosen city of residence, BReSLoV, are the same as in the phrase LeV BaSaR, "a heart of flesh", saying that his followers would always be called the Breslov Chassidim – because his pathways have the power to turn our hearts into hearts of flesh! After the restoration at the end of days, Israel will not sit in the land arrogantly eating their reward. Rather, they will be full of contrition and remorse, having learned and internalized the harsh lessons of their history (v 31). Then the desolate land will be like the very Garden of Eden and its cities will be inhabited again (v 35) – a promise that in the last hundred years has begun to be realized before the eyes of the whole world. Israel will be "like the flock of sacrifices, like the flock of Jerusalem in her appointed times" (v 38) – "That is to say, their sins will no longer be remembered against them" (Rashi ad loc.) * * * Verses 16-38 of this chapter speaking of the sprinkling of the waters of purification upon Israel to purify them of their sins make up the Haftara read on Shabbos Parshas Parah (after Purim) when in preparation for the coming festival of Pesach, the weekly Torah portion is followed by an additional Torah reading about the purification from defilement from the dead through the ashes of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:1-22). * * *
VISION OF THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES "…And He set me down in the midst of the valley, which was full of dry bones" (v 1). Commenting on this vision, RaDaK writes that "the Holy One blessed be He showed Ezekiel this valley as a metaphor showing that the Children of Israel would leave their exile, in which they were living in a state comparable to that of 'dry bones'. Alternatively, He showed him this to show him that in time to come He will resurrect the dead of Israel at the time of the redemption so that they too should witness the redemption" (RaDaK on verse 1). WHOSE BONES? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 92b) brings a variety of opinions among our sages as to whose bones these were. The different opinions are by no means mutually exclusive, since certain souls may be re-incarnated in different bodies time after time. Rabbi Yehudah considered that the vision was "in truth a metaphor" (BEEMES MASHAL), while Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer (ben Hurknos) both considered that Ezekiel literally revived the dead. R. Eliezer son of R. Yose HaGlili stated that the dead that Ezekiel revived came up to the land of Israel, married and had children, and R. Yehudah Ben Beseira declared that he was one of their descendants, exhibiting a pair of Tefilin which he inherited from his paternal grandfather that had been handed down from them. The opinion of Rav is that the dead bones were those of the members of the tribe of Ephraim who left Egypt before the appointed time and were killed by the native inhabitants of Gath (I Chronicles 7:21, see Targum Yonasan and RaDaK ad loc. and
Rashi on our verse in Ezekiel.). Shmuel's opinion is that these were the bones of people who had denied the tenet of resurrection, while Rabbi Yonasan said they were dry because they were the bones of people who "did not have in them the moisture of a mitzvah", i.e. they did not observe any of the commandments of the Torah. Rabbi Yochanan stated that the bones were those of the people who were killed in the Valley of Dura . This was where Nebuchadnezzar set up his sixty-cubit high idol, to which all the peoples bowed down, including all the Judean exiles except for Chananya, Mishael and Azariah (Daniel ch 3). When Nebuchadnezzar saw this, he was enraged, asking them if just as they had worshipped idols in their own land causing its destruction they intended to worship them in Babylon in order to destroy it, and he massacred them (Yalkut Shimoni). Another reason why Nebuchadnezzar carried out a mass slaughter of young Jewish men at that time was because "among them were youths who put the sun to shame with their beauty and when the Chaldean woman saw them they started running with blood (ZIVA) and told their husbands, who told the king, who had them trampled down. It was at the moment when the wicked Nebuchadnezzar cast Chananya, Mishael and Azariah into the fiery furnace that God told Ezekiel to go and revive the dead in the Valley of Dura " (Sanhedrin 92b). Unraveling the exact identify of these bones is of less importance than grasping the essential point of Ezekiel's vision, which attests to our perfect faith and belief "that the Resurrection of the Dead will take place at the time when it will be the will of the Creator, blessed be His Name" (last of the Thirteen Principles of Faith as formulated by Rambam). God has the power to take even dry bones (such as the tiny, indestructible LUZ bone from the top of the spine) and clothe them with sinews, flesh and skin to breathe into them the spirit of life (v 6). "Come from the four winds (directions), O breath, and breathe upon these slain" (v 9) – "From every place where their souls went to wander in all four directions of the world they will be gathered in" (Rashi ad loc.). "Behold, O My people, I shall open your graves…" (v 12). In the words of RaDaK (ad loc.): "If this vision is a metaphor, the lands of the nations where Israel is in exile are the graves. If it is to be taken literally, the meaning is plain. There is a division of opinion among our sages about the dead outside of Israel. Some held that they will arise from their graves in the Diaspora itself, while others said that they will come up to the Land of Israel by rolling (GILGUL) through underground passages (Kesuvos 111a). The present verse supports the view that they will come back to life in the Diaspora… for it says 'I will open up your graves and bring you up from your graves' and afterwards 'I will bring you to the Land of Israel '". "Three keys are in the hand of the Holy One blessed be He and have not been entrusted to any agent: the key to the rains, the key to giving birth and the key to the revival of the dead" (Ta'anis 2b). * * * Ezekiel's vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones is read as the Haftara on Shabbos Chol HaMo'ed Pesach, the intermediate Shabbos of the festival of Passover. *** TWO STICKS JOINED INTO ONE In a further inspiring prophecy of consolation in vv 15-28, God instructs the prophet to take two sticks and write on one "for Judah and the children of Israel his companions" – i.e. the tribe of Benjamin, which remained attached to Judah even
after the split of the kingdom – and to write on the other "for Joseph the stick of Ephraim and all the House of Israel, his companions". The latter are the Ten Tribes, because when the kingdom was divided, Jeraboam, who was from the tribe of Ephraim, became king, and accordingly the Ten Tribes were called by the name of Ephraim (verse 16 as explained by RaDaK). The prophet was to join the two sticks together to make one stick (v 17) to symbolize that in the end of days the great fissure that has divided the Children of Israel since the death of King Solomon will be healed, and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who are called the "Jews" (cf. Esther 2:5), will be reconciled with the lost Ten Tribes and become "one in My hand" (v 19) – "they shall become ONE NATION before Me" (Targum ad loc.). Verses 21ff prophesy the restoration of the scattered exiles of Israel to their land to become one people under one king. "And My servant David will be king over them" (v 24) –"Melech HaMashiach, who comes from the seed of David, will be king over them" (Metzudas David). This will inaugurate an eternal covenant of peace between God and Israel with the return of the Shechinah to Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple, showing all the nations that HaShem rules (v 28). * * * Ezekiel's vision of joining the two sticks of Joseph and Judah (Ez. 37:15-28) is read as the Haftara of Parshas Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27) describing the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers. * * *
THE WAR OF GOG AND MAGOG Many people mistakenly believe that the war of Gog and Magog is a war of Gog AGAINST Magog, and the two have been represented in many weird and monstrous ways in popular folklore. But the truth is plainly visible in the opening verse of our present chapter. Gog is the name of the king or leader of an unholy alliance of nations, while Magog is the name of his people, whose founder was Japheth's second son (Gen:10:2, see Rashi on the opening verse of our present chapter). It is clear from verses 8 and 12 of the present chapter that their war is against the people of Israel in the land of Israel. The onslaught of Gog and his allies against Israel at the end of days was foreordained from the beginning of time and already spoken of "in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days for many years that I would bring you against them" (verse 17). Thus the war of Gog and Magog is prophesied in Zechariah ch 14 and alluded to in many different passages in Isaiah and the other prophets. According to tradition, this war was also the subject of the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad in the wilderness in the time of Moses (Numbers 11:26, see Targum Yonasan ad loc. and Sanhedrin 17b). There is an historical inevitability about this war that will cause it to come about whether the nations want it or not. Thus God says to Gog: "I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you and all your army…" (v 4). PRINCIPAL MEMBERS OF THE ALLIANCE The peoples of Magog, Meshech and Tuval mentioned in verse 2 were all descendants of the sons of Japheth and are considered to have spread out from
where Noah's ark came to rest on Mt Ararat to the regions that became their original habitations in the northeast of Turkey, immediately south of the Black Sea, in Armenia, southern Georgia and the regions west of the Caspian Sea. It is highly likely that in the course of time these peoples wandered far and wide from there. (It is noteworthy that Meshech – Muscovy, Russia – has traditionally been one of the leading persecutors of Israel and Judaism, and its one-time dictator, Joseph Stalin, was from Georgia , embedded in the name of whose capital city of Tbilisi is the name TUVAL.) Verse 5 mentions Paras or Persia, Kush (descended from the firstborn son of Ham, Gen. 10:6), identified either with Sudan or with the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, and Phut, which is identified by some with Libya and by others with Somalia. Verse 6 mentions Gomer, which the rabbis identified with GERMAMIA (= Germany, see Targum Yonasan on our verse and Yoma 10b) and Togarma, which was the traditional Hebrew name for Turkey. Verse 6 also mentions "many nations" as well as "the far sides of the north", which might indicate anywhere across the northern hemisphere from North America to Northern Europe, Russia, China and Japan! Verse 13 mentions Sheba, identified variously with east Africa (Ethiopia?) and Arabia (Yemen?), Dedan (=northeast Arabia, the Arab Emirates?) and Tarshish, which has different connotations in different Biblical texts and may indicate Tarsus in Asia Minor, North Africa ( Tunisia ) or Spain . WHEN DOES THE WAR OCCUR? Our text explicitly states that the war of Gog and Magog will occur "at the end of days", when the nations will come "against the land that is brought back from the sword and is gathered out of many peoples…" (v 8; cf. verse 16). As a follow-on from Ezekiel's prophecy in Chapter 36 about the return of Israel to their land at the end of days, our present text teaches that the assault of the nations occurs AFTER the ingathering of Israel, or the greater part of them, from exile, when they have come back to their land in the hope of dwelling there prosperously and securely, spread out unfortified habitations (vv 8, 11-12 & 14). It is plain that this refers to our present era, when for the first time in two thousand years a majority of the world's population of Jews lives in Israel. Our texts state explicitly that the intention of Gog and his allies is to despoil Israel of their wealth (vv 12-13 of our present chapter) and appropriate their land (as stated in Ezekiel 36: 2 & 5). THE JUDGMENT AGAINST GOG AND MAGOG Verses 18-23 depict the divine wrath that will be unleashed against Gog and his armies (which is also the subject of the following chapter). Verse 19 speaks of a great "shaking" (RA'ASH) in the Land of Israel, which indicates a literal earthquake, as prophesied in Zechariah 14:4-5). Verse 20 says that the very fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field and all creeping beings as well as all mankind will shake at God's presence. RaDaK (ad loc.) states that this verse may be taken both metaphorically and literally. (It is well-known that many animals are intuitively aware of earthquakes etc. even before they occur.) Verse 21 teaches that the downfall of the nations will come about when tumult breaks out among the forces of Gog and Magog, who will fight "each against his brother". Then God will judge them with "plague, blood and driving rain and stones of algavish (hail shining like the gavish jewel), fire and sulfur" (verse 22). The name of God will then be magnified and sanctified in the eyes of many nations and they will know that HaShem rules (v 23).
* * * Verses 18-23 of the present chapter together with chapter 39 vv 1-15 are read as the Haftara on Shabbos Chol HaMo'ed Succos – the intermediate Sabbath of the festival of Succos. * * *
The present chapter continues Ezekiel's prophecy of the war of Gog and Magog, depicting the miraculous overthrow of their invading hordes on the hills and mountains of Israel, where they will be prey for the wild birds and beasts of the field. "And I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel and I will not allow My holy name to be profaned any more" (verse 7). "For if Israel are lowly, this is causes desecration of His name because people say that these are the people of HaShem yet He does not have the power to save them" (Rashi ad loc.). "And I will give to Gog a place for burial in Israel, the valley of those who travel to the east of the sea…" (v 11). Although this verse does not explicitly spell out whether the sea in question is Israel 's "western" sea, i.e. the Mediterranean, or her "eastern" sea, i.e. the Sea (or "Lake") of Tiberius, our commentators agree that it is referring to the latter (Targum, Rashi and RaDaK ad loc.). It would thus appear that the great bulk of the armies of Gog and Magog will fall in a mountain pass to the east of the Kinneret ("Lake Tiberius"), which suggests that they will seek to mount a land invasion of Israel from Jordan and Syria via the Golan Heights, a scenario that in the present age becomes more and more plausible with every passing day. Our rabbis taught that the unique privilege of the armies of Gog and Gog in being brought to burial (COVERED under the earth) rather than being ignominiously left out in the open to eternity is a reward "measure for measure" for their ancestor Japheth, who with his brother Shem averted his eyes from the nakedness of their father Noah after he became drunk and COVERED it over (Genesis 9:23; Bereishis Rabbah #36). "And all the people of the land shall bury them and it shall be for them for a name" (v 13) – "All the nations will tell their praises and kindness, saying 'There is no other people who are as compassionate as this – can you find anyone who buries the very enemy that stood up against him to kill him?" (Rashi ad loc.). Those who have not been deceived by the contemporary world media campaign to demonize Israel and its people know that until today this outstanding compassion even for their enemies is one of the distinguishing traits of the chosen people. God's overthrow of the armies of Gog and Magog and His restoration of Israel to dwell at peace in their land will be the vindication of His glory in the eyes of both Israel and all the nations, who will thereby know that HaShem rules (vv 21-29).
After the completion of Ezekiel's prophecy of the war of Gog and Magog, we now come to the triumphant closing section of his book in chapters 40-48 prophesying the final order that will prevail in the world at the end of days with the restoration of the Holy Temple and the coming of Melech HaMashiach, when the twelve tribes of Israel will dwell securely and at peace in their land. This will be the Final Settlement, when the world will attain a state of complete rectification (TIKKUN).
"In the twenty-fifth year after our exile, at the beginning of the year (ROSH HASHANAH) on the tenth of the month…" (v 1). Since Rosh HaShanah is normally celebrated on the FIRST of the month of Tishri, the dating of this prophecy to Rosh HaShanah AND the tenth of the month (Yom Kippur) is a seeming self-contradiction. This is resolved through the teaching of our rabbis that Ezekiel received this prophecy in the Jubilee year, which is inaugurated with the sounding of the shofar throughout the land of Israel on Yom Kippur, which is thus the "Rosh HaShanah" of the Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:9; see Rashi on verse 1 of our present chapter). Since all slaves are freed in the Jubilee year and all lands that have been sold return to their original owners, it was appropriate that this prophecy of complete redemption and restoration should have been received on this auspicious day of liberation. "In the visions of God He brought me into the land of Israel" (v 2) – "He did not actually take me there but showed it to me as if I was there" (Rashi ad loc.). "…and set me upon a very high mountain" (v 2) – "This is the Temple Mount. God showed it to him as being very high indeed, for it will be on a very high and exalted level, as it is written, 'Established shall be the mountain of the House of HaShem at the head of the mountains and exalted above the hills" (Isaiah 2:2, RaDaK on verse 2 of our present chapter). "…And behold there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze" (v 3) – "This was the same color as the radiance of the Chayos, who were 'flashing like the color of burnished bronze'" (Ezekiel 1:7; Rashi on verse 3 of our present chapter). The linen cord in the angel's hand was to measure the dimensions of the various Temple courtyards, while his measuring rod was to measure the thickness of the walls and the height and breadth of the gates. "And the man said to me, Son of man, see with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to all that I will show you… tell all that you see to the House of Israel" (v 4). The angel stood ready to take Ezekiel on a complete "virtual tour" of the Future Temple, explaining the detailed measurements of every wall, courtyard, gate and chamber, in order that he should go back to the people and teach them the form of the Temple. Despite the fact that Ezekiel's prophecy was received well in advance of the building of the Second Temple, it should be emphasized that what Ezekiel saw was not the exact form in which the Second Temple was actually built. In the words of Rambam (Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:4): "The building that Solomon built (the First Temple ) had already been clearly explained in the book of Kings. Now the form of the Temple that is destined to be built in the future is written in the book of Ezekiel but it is not clearly explained, and when the men of the Second Temple built it in the time of Ezra, they built it like Solomon's Temple with certain details as explained in Ezekiel." It would appear that the builders of the Second Temple did not believe that the world had yet reached the level of perfection which Ezekiel's Temple expressed. We may infer from Rambam's words that until now the Temple prophesied by Ezekiel has never been built and that this is therefore the form of the Future Temple for which we are praying and waiting every day. Ezekiel's vision of the Future Temple and its meaning is the subject of the kabbalistic classic MISHKNEY ELYON ("Dwelling places of the Supreme") by Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto ("Ramchal", 1707-47), which the present author had the privilege of translating into English under the title of "Secrets of the Future Temple " with full introduction, maps and diagrams. This work is available for free download at http://www.azamra.org/secrets.shtml .
Ramchal explains that the Temple is the center point where all the different branches of the Tree of Life connect with their roots, channeling a flow of sustenance and blessing to the entire world. The different areas of the Temple radiating outwards from the EVVEN SHESIYAH ("Foundation Stone") in the Holy of Holies to the surrounding courtyards on the Temple Mount correspond to the four kabbalistic "worlds". The detailed dimensions of the various Temple chambers, walls and gates correspond to various divine names and attributes, because the Hebrew letters that make them up all have mathematical values. These names and attributes interact with one another to create a three-dimensional "hologram" expressing through a unique form of sacred geometry the spiritual kingdom through which this world is governed. Through the study of the form of the Future Temple and its meaning, "You will know how the King of the kings of kings watches over His creatures and conducts His universe in an ordered manner… You will be able to understand the way the world is run and how God gives each day's portion of food and sustenance to all His creatures, each in its own time." (Ramchal, Mishkney Elyon). The route by which the angel took Ezekiel on his "virtual" tour of the Future Temple began at the outer wall of the Temple Mount. From here the angel took him through the Eastern Gate, showing him the "cells" flanking it on both sides on the outside of the wall, and the "vestibule" that stood before it inside the great Outer Courtyard (vv 5-16). Those familiar with the ground plan of the First and Second Temples should note that a fundamental difference in the design of the Future Temple is that the "Outer Courtyard" (corresponding to the Ezras Nashim, Women's Courtyard) will entirely surround the Temple Sanctuary and Inner Courtyard (Azarah) on all sides, whereas in the First and Second Temples the Ezras Nashim adjoined the Inner Courtyard on one side only but did not surround it on all sides. Vv 17-27 describe the three gates of the outer courtyard situated respectively on the north, south and east sides (the west side has no gate) and an elevated gallery with chambers running around the inside of the courtyard wall. Vv 28-37 describe the plan of the Inner Courtyard (Ezras Yisrael, Azarah) with its three gates facing those of the outer courtyard. Verses 38-43 describe the Washers' Chamber where the sacrificial portions will be washed and prepared for offering on the Altar. Verses 44-7 describe other special chambers in the Inner Courtyard for the instruments of the Levites and the garments of the Priests. Verses 48-9 describe the measurements of the OOLAM or "Vestibule" leading into the main Temple Sanctuary building.
The Hebrew text of Ezekiel's account of the Future Temple – which will be the earthly representation of the Heavenly Temple – is necessarily opaque because is simultaneously a detailed description of a highly complex physical structure and a garb clothing the deepest secrets of God's names and attributes and His government of the world. The classical Biblical commentators on our text (Rashi, Metzudas David and RaDaK) discuss at length the literal meaning of the words and phrases making up Ezekiel's description of the physical structure of the Future Temple but hardly enter into Midrash and do not touch at all (at least openly) upon its deeper meaning. The only comprehensive discussion of the latter with which this author is familiar is that of the kabbalistic genius Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto 1707-47), who side by side with his MISHKNEY ELYON on the kabbalistic meaning of the Temple also provided "Five Chapters" in the style of the Mishneh clarifying its dimensions and physical form on the basis of Ezekiel's text. My dear friend Rabbi
Abraham Rokeach, who is a Talmid Chacham, an authority on the forms of the First, Second and Future Temples and also a building engineer by profession, has told me that from the engineering point of view, it is Ramchal's explanation of the physical structure of the Future Temple that makes the most sense. Within the scope of the present Study Notes it is impossible to do more than briefly categorize the main areas of the Temple precincts as described by Ezekiel in these chapters and to offer a tiny sample of comments by Ramchal about the significance of the areas in question. Those interested in studying Ezekiel's text in conjunction with Ramchal's commentary in SECRETS OF THE FUTURE TEMPLE should note that Ramchal in his work takes a different route around the Temple from that taken by Ezekiel. For Ezekiel started at the outer wall of the Temple Mount, entering by the eastern gate into the Outer Courtyard and then going INWARDS first to the Inner Courtyard and then to the actual Temple building itself. Ramchal on the other hand chose to discuss first the Holy of Holies and the Sanctuary, and then move OUTWARDS from the Temple to the Inner Courtyard and from there to the Outer Courtyard and then to the Temple Mount. "And he brought me to the Sanctuary…" (v 1). The "Sanctuary" is the HEICHAL, the main Temple building – the House itself (containing the Menorah, Showbread Table and Incense Altar) as opposed to its surrounding courtyards. Verses 1-2 provide the dimensions of the Sanctuary and its entrance. "This is the place from which the souls of Israel receive their sustenance, and this is where the inner Incense Altar is located. This is the Altar where the sacrifice of the souls is offered when they bring their gift before the King" (Ramchal). Verses 3-4 provide the dimensions of the Holy of Holies – the innermost chamber of the House. "The first place that emanated from the Foundation Stone is a place of intense light and abundant blessing. For as she [i.e. Malchut] goes forth from before the King, there she stands at first in all her beauty and glory. Who can describe her power and brilliance? This power is given only to Israel. A great screen separates the Sanctuary from the Holy of Holies. This hall is thus for the King alone and none other. Only once each year [on Yom Kippur] when the High Priest in the lower world enters the Holy of Holies with the incense, is permission to enter granted to the one who is permitted to enter. This is because of God's great love for His people, who are more precious to Him than the ministering angels" (Ramchal). Verses 5-11 describe the walls of the House and the dimensions of the "side chambers" that were built in banks around them – three on the west side and fifteen each on the north and south sides. "Surrounding the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies are structures in the form of rooms or cells built one on top of the other. Everything that comes forth from the Holy of Holies divides into three columns. Thus there are three rows of five cells along the south wall, three rows of five along the north wall, and three cells on top of one another along the west wall. Thus the Sanctuary is surrounded by cells on three sides… Let me explain the purpose of these cells. Besides the sustenance that the armies of angels receive from the gates of the Inner Courtyard and beyond, they also receive a share from behind the walls of the Sanctuary itself. This is extra sustenance. Even though it comes to them from outside [the Sanctuary], it is on the highest level, as opposed to the sustenance they receive from the gates, which is already on a lower level even though it comes from inside" (Ramchal).
Verses 12-15 explain the dimensions of the outer walls of the House on the west, north, east and south sides. Verses 16-21 describe the windows and paneling of the House and the ornamental cherubs and palm trees on the walls. "Inside the Sanctuary, the most beautiful lights appear on all the walls. They all receive from one another as they spread out from amidst the radiance caused by the perfect union all around. These lights shine in the form of cherubs and palm trees. Understand the greatness and importance of these lights. There are male and female palms. Of this it is said: "The Tzaddik will flourish like the palm" (Psalms 92:13), referring to Tzaddik (Yesod) and his mate (Malchut). The cherubs have two faces: that of a man on one side and that of a lion on the other. Know that the building of this Temple is accomplished through the power of the right side (Chesed, the face of the lion) in mercy (Tiferet, the face of man). It is from the light of these two that the holy union symbolized by the palm tree derives. For this reason the faces of the cherubs are turned towards the palm tree, for the lion is on one side, the face of the man on the other, and the palm tree stands between the two" (Ramchal). THIS IS THE TABLE THAT IS BEFORE HASHEM Verse 22 apparently speaks about "the altar of wood" but our sages explained that this cannot refer to the altar on which the animal sacrifices are offered (since this is located in the Inner Courtyard in front of the House). It could possibly refer to the Incense Altar in the Sanctuary which is made of wood plated with gold (RaDaK ad loc.) but Targum (ad loc.) explains that the "altar" mentioned here is in fact a TABLE adjacent to the Incense Altar, in accordance with the words of the angel to Ezekiel at the end of the verse: "This is the table that is before HaShem". Thus our sages commented: "The verse opens with the 'altar' and ends up with the 'table'. This comes to teach that as long as the Temple is standing, the altar atones for Israel, but now it is a person's table (the way he eats in purity and holiness) that atones for him" (Berachos 54b, Chagigah 27a). Some customarily recite the verse "This is the table that is before HaShem" as they begin their meal, and take care to say words of Torah at the table in order to elevate their eating. Verses 23-26 describe the Sanctuary gates, their number and form and the windows of the Vestibule that stood in front of the Sanctuary. "The root of all things is found in the Supreme Wisdom that stands at the peak of all levels and gives power to all the hosts of heaven and the heavens of the heavens. This Wisdom possesses mighty 'gates' from which its radiance and glory shine to all the creatures in the lower worlds that crave to delight in its great pleasantness. This wall has gates, for without gates how would blessing and sustenance go forth to the lower realms?" (Ramchal).
"And he took me out to the Outer Courtyard… and he brought me to into the chamber that was over against the main wing…" (verse 1). Verses 1-12 of the present chapter describe the dimensions of three-storey buildings or "chambers" that stood parallel to the main Temple building on its north and south sides. Verses 13-14 then explain the function of these chambers, which was to serve as a place where the Cohanim can eat their portions of the holy of holy sacrificial offerings. "Understand that these chambers are where the angels actually receive the sustenance given to them from around the outside of the Sanctuary building. The
sustenance flows out from the recess into the cells adjoining the Sanctuary walls. As it leaves the cells it merges into a single flow in the Winding Staircase. Then at a distance of twenty cubits it reaches these chambers, where the angels receive it. These chambers are designated for eating the holy sacrificial portions, for this is the sustenance that comes down to the branches after they rejoin their root and after the beautiful unification that is brought about through the sacrifice. But note how far away the angels are when they receive their share of the holy offering as compared to the souls of Israel, who receive their share from inside the Sanctuary, since their sustenance comes from the incense, which is burned inside. This is why the sages said: "Israel's appointed place is further within than that of the ministering angels" ( Yerushalmi Shabbat 2; Ramchal) . Verses 15-20 measure the outer perimeter of the Temple Mount on the east, north, south and west sides. Since each side was 500 rods, and the angel's measuring rod was six cubits long (Ezekiel 40:5), the future Temple Mount will be 3000 x 3000 cubits. Thus the future Temple Mount will be THIRTY-SIX TIMES bigger than the Temple Mount in the time of the Second Temple, which was 500 x 500 cubits!!! "The Temple Mount is the place from which the officers of the World of Asiyah receive, and thus its walls, which set bounds for all the light contained within it, total five hundred rods by five hundred rods. The rationale of these dimensions is bound up with the fact that all the lights that govern the running of the world work together in complete accord and perfect unison. They all join and become interconnected with each other instead of going each in its own direction. Therefore nothing is ever executed through Kingly Power [Malchut] that was not commanded by the King [ Zeir Anpin ], Who is the Tree of Life. This is a journey of five hundred years. That is why the measure of the Temple Mount is the greatest of all: five hundred. But it did not spread out any further, for as she [Malchut] receives, so she gives. This future Temple will be superior to the earlier Temples. In the First Temple, each of the four sides of the Temple Mount was five hundred cubits in length, while in the Third Temple each side will be five hundred rods. The use of the rod as the unit of measurement in the Third Temple is bound up with fact that it will be built through the revelation of the hidden "Beginning", Keter, the Crown…
"Then he brought me to the gate… and behold, the Glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east…" (v 1). At the conclusion of Ezekiel's "virtual tour" around the Future Temple in order to learn its form and measurements, after completing measuring the Temple Mount, the angel who was his guide brought him back to the east gate of the Mount, where the prophet saw the Glory of God approaching in order to enter the completed Temple. With this Ezekiel's prophecy has come full circle, because at the beginning of his ministry, he witnessed the Glory (chapter 1) only to see it depart from its place above the Ark in the First Temple and leave stage by stage until it ascended to Heaven for the duration of the exile (chapter 9 v 3ff). That was when Ezekiel prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem in the time of Tzedekiah (ibid. vv 1f). Now, following all his intervening prophecies and after having seen the perfect form of the Future Temple in all its details, a spirit comes and lifts Ezekiel to the Inner Courtyard, where he sees that the Glory of HaShem fills the House again (v 5). God promises that this will be His dwelling place among the Children of Israel forever – for they will be fully rectified and will no longer engage in the abominations practiced in the time of the First Temple, when kings (Menasheh and Amon) were
buried in the gardens of their palaces adjacent to the Temple, and idolatry was practiced at their tombs (vv 7-8, see Rashi, Metzudas David & RaDaK ad loc.). God promises that from now on they will reject their old pathways so that God will dwell among them forever (v 9). TEACH THEM THE FORM OF THE HOUSE "You, son of man, describe the House to the House of Israel that they may be ashamed of their iniquities… And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the form of the House…" (v 10). It is through Teshuvah – repentance – that Israel is worthy of seeing this Temple. Shame over one's improper behavior before God is the very root of true repentance. Thus the Hebrew letters of the first word of the Torah, BEREISHIS make up the words YOREI BOSHES, Awe and Shame (Tikuney Zohar). When Israel begin to glimpse the form of the Future Temple they will become ashamed of their deeds, and as their shame matures into ever deeper Teshuvah, they will be able to learn the form of the House in order to build it. The Midrash tells: Ezekiel said to the Holy One blessed-be-He: "Master of the World: We are now in exile, and You tell me to go and inform the Jewish People about the plan of the Temple? 'Write it before their eyes, and they will guard all its forms and all its laws and do them.' How can they 'do them'? Leave them until they go out of exile, and then I will tell them." The Holy One blessed-be-He said to Ezekiel: "Just because My children are in exile, does that mean the building of My House should be halted? Studying the plan of the Temple in the Torah is as great as actually building it. Go and tell them to make it their business to study the form of the Temple as explained in the Torah. As their reward for this study, I will give them credit as if they are actually building the Temple" (Midrash Tanchuma, Tzav #14). THE ALTAR Only after the completion of his main tour of the House and after witnessing the return of God's glory did Ezekiel see the form of the Altar. This is because the Altar is itself a manifestation of the Glory. "The place of the Altar is most precisely aligned and its place may not be changed forever…. It was in this place in the Temple that Isaac our father was bound… It is a tradition in everyone's hand that the place where David and Solomon built the Altar in the threshing floor of Arava was the place where Abraham built the Altar and bound Isaac, and that is the place where Noah sacrificed when he came out of the Ark and this is the Altar upon which Cain and Abel offered and there Adam sacrificed after he was created and from there he was created. Our sages said that Adam was created at the place where he gains atonement. The dimensions of the Altar are very precisely aligned and its form is known by tradition from one man to another. The Altar that the returning Babylonian exiles built was in the form in which the Future Altar will be built, and it is not permitted to add to or subtract from its measurements" (Rambam, Laws of the Temple 2:1-3). The form of the Altar is explained by Rambam (loc. cit.) on the basis of Mishneh Middos 3:1, and is discussed in relation to our present text in Talmud Eiruvin 4a and Menachos 97a. In the words of Ramchal: "The Altar provides a place for all who need to ascend on it. The total height of the Altar is ten cubits built on three distinct levels. The height of the top level is four cubits as is that of the second [or middle] level, while the
third [or bottom] level is two cubits high. This is because there is a place here for all the Palaces of the World of Beriyah according to their order of ascent. The top four cubits correspond to Keter , Chochmah and Binah in the Palace known as Holy of Holies, together with Desire [= Tiferet ], which ascends higher than all the others. The middle four cubits correspond to Chesed , Gevurah , Netzach and Hod . The bottom two cubits correspond to Yesod and Malchut , which join together in the Palace of Sapphire Stone . Know that the Supreme Wisdom [ Chochmah ] contains thirty-two pathways under which all things are subsumed: these are the ten Sefirot together with the twenty-two letters of the Aleph-Beit from top to bottom. Correspondingly the Lower Wisdom – Shechinah – is called "Glory" [ KaVoD = 32], because like the Upper Wisdom she too contains thirty-two pathways, only in this case they are ordered from the bottom upwards. Four lights descended from the Shechinah into the World of Beriyah . They are called Glory. When these lights reached their bottom level [i.e. the base ( Yesod ) of the Altar, which is thirty-two cubits square] all thirty-two appeared merged together in one place… (Ramchal). In verses 15f the Altar hearth is called the HAR-EL (="Mount of God") and the ARIEL (="Lion of God"), alluding to the shape of the crouching lion taken by the consuming Altar fire and to the likeness of the face of the lion (CHESSED) on the Chayos. In verses 18-27 Ezekiel is instructed to consecrate the Altar in order to inaugurate it for daily service. RaDaK commenting on the word "and YOU shall put it" in verse 19, writes: "He is speaking to Ezekiel, who was a Cohen, saying that he should hand the offering to the priests to offer and he should sprinkle the blood and make atonement on the Altar. For in the future he will be the High Priest, even though Aaron will be there, or he will be his deputy, and this verse also teaches about the revival of the dead in the future." The future Temple service is to be conducted by the line of Cohanim descended from Tzaddok (v 19). This is because he was the first High Priest in Solomon's Temple and he was descended from the sons of Elazar the Priest, because the covenant of the priesthood was given to Elazar's son Pinchas and his seed, while the sons of Ithamar went down on the scale of the priesthood on account of the curse of Eli (RaDaK on Ezekiel 40:48). The ox to be offered as the inaugural sin offering (vv 19-21) parallels the sin offering of the ox at the original inauguration of Aaron and his sons (Menachos 45a) but the sin offering of goats from the second to the seventh day of the future inauguration services (vv 22-26) does not parallel anything at the time of the inauguration of the Sanctuary in the wilderness (Rashi on v 22) but is a new innovation. * * * Ezekiel 43:10-27 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:2030:10), which tells how Aaron the High Priest and his sons were to be inaugurated into the priesthood. * * *
After teaching about the form of the Future Temple and its inauguration services, Ezekiel's prophecy now turns to detailing the regular functioning of the Temple and its ministering priests, the Cohanim. Ezekiel's prophecies were arranged by the Men of the Great Assembly, but some of what he says, particularly in certain places later in the present chapter and in those
that follow, raised concern among the sages because he appears to contradict what is written in the Five Books of Moses. They sought to hide away his prophesies – until a certain sage by the name of Hananyah ben Hizkiah hid himself away in an attic with three hundred barrels of oil for light by which to study, until he succeeded in understanding what Ezekiel was saying and how it fitted with what is written in the Torah (Hagigah 13a). In verses 1-2 Ezekiel is set down by the east gate of the Temple building, adjacent to which he is shown the southern side-entrance by the main gate (Middos 4:2) where no man may enter – for the Glory of HaShem passes there – and which is to remain closed except when the NASI sits there to "eat bread", i.e. sacrificial portions. This NASI is "the Cohen Gadol, who because of his importance is permitted to eat the bread and meat of holy offerings in that gateway, which is opened for him when he eats" (Rashi on v 3). Metzudas David (on v 3) states that this NASI is Melech HaMashiach. Ezekiel is then taken to the northern side-entrance, and he sees how the House is filled with the Glory of HaShem (v 4). In the ensuing prophecy in verses 5-8 God tells Ezekiel to take careful note of all the details of the Temple that he has been shown and to warn Israel against the rebellion and abominations that led to the destruction of the First Temple. The "strangers, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh" who had entered there and ministered had not been nonIsraelites but rather, those who "made their deeds strange to their Father in Heaven" to the point that not only were they uncircumcised in heart but they did not even circumcise their flesh (see Rashi on v 7, Zevachim 22b). Verses 10ff teach that "the Levites that went far away from Me when Israel went astray after what they went astray" – i.e. Cohanim who had practiced some kind of idolatry, the descendants of lines other than that of Tzaddok – will have only limited functions in the Future Temple. While they will be permitted to slaughter the sacrificial animals (v 11), this is because a ZAR (non-Cohen) is in any case permitted to carry out the SHECHITAH. However all the ensuing acts of priestly service following the SHECHITAH – receiving the blood, taking it to the Altar and sprinkling it in its proper place – will be barred to these "Levites" and permitted only to the descendants of Tzaddok (vv 15-16). One of the apparent contradictions between Ezekiel and Exodus is that Ezekiel seems to say in verse 17 that "when they come within the gates of the Inner Courtyard, they shall wear garments of linen and no wool shall come upon them" whereas the garments of the High Priest and the ordinary priests as described in Exodus ch 28 specifically include certain mixtures of wool with linen that are otherwise forbidden to be worn (SHA'ATNEZ). The apparent contradiction is resolved the moment we realize that here in Ezekiel the "Inner Courtyard" alludes to the Holy of Holies, and that he is referring to the High Priest on Yom Kippur, who enters there dressed in garments of pure linen (Leviticus 16:4; see Rashi on Ezekiel v 17). Verses 20ff teach special rules that apply to the Cohanim when they serve in the Temple, such as the way they are to cut their hair, the prohibition of consuming wine at the time of their service, and limitations on who they are permitted to marry. These compare with laws given in Parshas Emor (Leviticus 21:1ff etc.). A seeming inconsistency between verse 22 of our present chapter and Leviticus 21:7 & 14 as to whether a Cohen may marry a widow and whether she needs to be that of a Cohen is resolved through careful textual analysis (see Rashi on v 22).
Verses 28ff teach that the Cohanim will have no tribal portion in the Land of Israel among the other tribes. Instead they will receive their priestly gifts as taught in the Torah: the priests' share of the meal, sin and guilt offerings, the first fruits, Terumah (the first tithe), Challah (the first portion of the dough) and dedications (CHEREM). Verse 31 stating that the priests may not eat any part of "that which dies of itself (NEVEILAH) or is torn (TEREIFAH), whether it is a bird or beast" could be taken to imply that Israelites who are not priests WILL be permitted to eat NEVEILAH and TEREIFAH – which would contradict the Torah. However, the true intent of the verse is to give a specific warning about this to the priests since in the Temple their way of slaughtering bird sacrifices is not with a knife (SHECHITAH) but with their thumb nail (MELIKAH), which is TREIF to a non-Cohen, and they might wrongly infer that this entitles the Cohanim to eat other kinds of TREIF as well (Menachos 45a). Let us not imagine we can understand everything. "Rabbi Yochanan said: This parshah will be explained by Elijah the Prophet" (ibid.). * * * Ezekiel 44:15-31 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Emor (Leviticus 21:124:23), which begins with the laws that apply uniquely to the priests. * * *
"And when you divide the land by lot for inheritance…" (v 1). As Ezekiel's vision of the "Final Settlement" moves towards its conclusion in these final chapters of his book, he now begins to set forth the way in which the Land of Israel will be apportioned between the Temple, the Priests, the Levites, the Nasi and the Twelve Tribes of Israelites at the end of days. The opening section in our present chapter (verses 1-7) deals with the Temple compound, the territories of the Priests and Levites and those of the Nasi. Following this section, the prophecy digresses to subjects mostly relating to the Temple services before returning to the subject of the boundaries of the Land and its apportionment among the Twelve Tribes from ch 47 v 13 to the end of the book. In order to understand the situation of the territories of the Temple, Priests, Levites and Nasi as described in our present chapter in relation to those of the other tribes, it is necessary to grasp that the future boundaries of the Land of Israel will stretch "from the river to the river", i.e. from the Nile to the Euphrates, as promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:18). This is clear from the section on the future boundaries of the Land in Ezekiel 47:13-20. Thus the northern boundary of the Land is on the Mediterranean coast way north of the State of Israel's present-day northern border up in Turkey at HOR HAHAR by the city of Antakya (=ancient Antioch) approximately 38 degrees N of the Equator. The southern boundary of the Land will be at the western arm of the Nile near Port Said. In Ezekiel Chapter 48 we will learn that this entire stretch of land is destined to be divided into a series of thirteen equal strips running from east to west, one under the other from north to south. Each strip will be 25,000 poles (= approximately 80 kilometers) "wide" (i.e. from north to south), while its length (west-east) will be all the way from the western boundary of the Land, i.e. the Mediterranean Sea, to the eastern boundary of the Land. Out of these thirteen strips, the center strip just over midway from north to south – which is the subject of verses 1-7 of our present chapter – will be for the Temple, the Priests and Levites, the City of Jerusalem and the Nasi. Seven of the Twelve Tribes will take their territories in the seven strips to the north of this central strip, while the other five Tribes will take theirs in the five
strips to the south, as will be set forth in Chapter 48 (see Rashi on verse 1 of our present chapter). "And when you divide the Land… you shall designate a portion (TERUMAH) to HaShem, a holy area of the land: the length (i.e. east-west) shall be twenty-five thousand poles and the breadth (north-south) shall be ten thousand" (verse 1). This TERUMAH of approximately 80 x 30 kilometers is the choicest (holiest) part of the central strip and will house the Temple itself in an area of 500 x 500 poles (=3000 x 3000 cubits), as set forth in verses 2-3, while the remainder will provide areas for housing for the priests who will minister in the Temple (v 4). South of this TERUMAH strip will be another strip of 25,000 x 10,000 poles providing areas for housing for the Levites (verse 5), and south of the Levites' strip will be a third, narrower strip of 25,000 x 5,000 poles for the City of Jerusalem, where Israelites will be able to have houses (verse 6, see Rashi). Thus the TERUMAH strip of the Temple and priests together with the strips of the Levites and the City of Jerusalem will make up a square of territory 25,000 x 25,000 poles in the center of Israel (Rashi on v 6). The remaining territories of the central strip from the western border of this square to the Mediterranean and from its eastern border to the eastern border of the Land of Israel will be given to the Nasi, the king or leader of the entire people (verse 7). His position will evidently be hereditary (see Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:7) and his lands will be inherited by his descendants (see Metzudas David on Ezekiel ch 46 v 16). By having his own lands in perpetuity, there will be no need for the Nasi to exploit others or expropriate their lands, and this will enable the corruption that characterized the kings of Israel and many of the later kings of Judah (not to speak of Israel's present-day "leaders") to be eradicated forever (verse 9). Verses 10-12 lay down the future units of measurement of solids (the EIPHAH v 10) and liquids (the BATH v 11) and of currency (v 12). For the eradication of corruption and injustice also depends upon fair business dealings, whereas "double standards" bring on Amalek. This is why the Torah commandment about fair weights and measures (Deut. 25:13-16) is followed immediately by the commandment to erase the memory of Amalek forever (ibid. vv 17-19). Verses 13-15 describe the tithes of wheat, barley, oil and lambs which the people will offer in the Temple or for the consumption of the priests. The Nasi will have the responsibility of providing the Temple animal, meal, oil and wine offerings on the festivals, Sabbaths and new moons (v 17). Rashi comments on verse 17: "I say that NASI here refers to the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) and that the same applies wherever the word NASI appears in this subject, but I have heard in the name of Rabbi Menachem that it refers to the king." "Thus says HaShem: In the first month on the first day of the month you shall take a young bullock…" (v 18). Rashi (ad loc.) states that this refers to the ox mentioned earlier (Ez. 43:19) as the inaugural sin-offering in the Temple, and that we thus learn that the inauguration of the Future Temple will take place on the first of the month of Nissan. This supports the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua that the future redemption will take place in Nissan (see RaDaK on verse 18 of our present chapter). Verses 21-25 deal with the festival sacrifices in the Temple. The resolution of certain apparent discrepancies between our present text and the festival sacrifices as laid down in Leviticus and Deuteronomy is discussed by Rashi on v 22-4.
"The gate of the Inner Courtyard that looks eastwards shall be shut for the six working days but on the Sabbath it shall be opened…" (v 1). This is the gate of the center courtyard of the Temple. It will be closed during the week because neither the people nor the Nasi will normally come to the Temple on weekdays but only on the Sabbaths and New Moons (cf. Isaiah 66:23). For this reason the east gate will then be opened to enable them to prostrate towards the opening of the Temple and the Holy of Holies (see Metzudas David on v 1). In the words of Ramchal: "The East Gate is a place of the most intense light and power, and cannot be opened for the creatures of the lower worlds except on the Sabbath and the New Moon. This is because it is in direct alignment with the Great Gate, the center column, and must therefore be kept closed. It can only be opened for the Prince, namely the Messianic King. Because of his great strength and paramount importance, this gate will be open for him, but no-one else will be able to enter except on those two days… On these days the Shechinah receives a very great light indeed from Tiferet . For this reason this gate will be opened on these two days and the people will come to prostrate themselves and share its great light" (Ramchal, Mishkney Elyon). Verses 4-8 describe the offerings that the Nasi will bring on behalf of the people on the Sabbaths, New Moons and festivals (see Rashi on vv 4 and 6). Verses 9-10 describe how the people will enter and pass through the Temple precincts when fulfilling the commandment to appear there on the festivals (Ex. 23:17). Normally it is not permitted to take a "short cut" directly through the Temple or through a synagogue, entering on one side and going out on the other (Berachos 62b). But here the text explicitly instructs the people and the Nasi to enter from the north and exit from the south, or vice versa, on the festivals. In the words of Ramchal: "The obligation to appear in the Temple on festivals… has the purpose of reconnecting the branches with their roots three times a year. The roots are divided into two, one to the right and one to the left. The pilgrims [branches] must enter by one gate, proceed across the Temple and leave by the opposite gate in order for all the roots to be joined to one another and thus become interconnected and unified. When this happens, it is said, 'And who is like your People Israel, one nation in the earth!' (II Samuel 7:23; Ramchal Mishkney Elyon). Verses 11-12 describe the festival and free-will offerings of the Nasi, while verses 13-15 give the details of the daily continual offering in the Temple. Verses 16-18 revert to the subject of the rights of the Nasi over his designated territories, which were described in the previous chapter (Ez. 45:7). The perpetual ownership of these territories by the Nasi and his heirs will obviate the need for them to expropriate the lands of the people and oppress them. Verses 19ff seemingly somewhat abruptly revert to the subject of the form of the Future Temple in a further continuation of Ezekiel's "virtual tour" around its precincts, except that here, the focus is not so much on the structure of the buildings in question as on their function in the Temple rituals. In verse 19 the prophet is again shown the three storey chambers running parallel with the Temple building on its north (and south) sides which he described in ch 14 vv 1-14. Here he is informed that the purpose of these chambers is to provide a place for the priests to prepare (and eat) their holy of holies (KODSHEI KODSHIM) sacrificial portions (v 20).
In the final stage of his "virtual tour" of the Temple before its astounding climax in the next chapter, Ezekiel is shown four chambers in the four corners of the Outer Courtyard corresponding to the four unroofed "chambers" in the four corners of the Ezras Nashim in the First and Second Temples. The purpose of those in the Future Temple is somewhat different: they will provide places for the priests and the people to consume their portions of "light holy" sacrifices (KODSHIM KALIM), which have a lesser stringency than the KODSHEI KODSHIM of the priests (see RaDaK on v 24). * * * The passage in Ezekiel 45:16-46:18 is read as the Haftara on Shabbos Parshas HaChodesh prior to or on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, when in addition to the weekly parshah the section in Exodus 12:1-19 is also read * * *
"AND A FOUNTAIN SHALL GO FORTH FROM THE HOUSE OF HASHEM" Just like Ezekiel in our present chapter, the prophet Joel had already prophesied that at the end of days, "a fountain shall go forth from the House of HaShem" (Joel 4:18). Likewise the prophet Zechariah, a younger contemporary of Ezekiel's who according to one opinion was his student, also prophesied in his vision of the war of Gog and Magog that when the Mount of Olives splits, "it shall be on that day that living waters will go forth from Jerusalem, half of them towards the eastern sea (Yam HaMelach, the "Dead" Sea) and half of them towards the western sea (the Mediterranean)" (Zechariah 14:8; see RaDaK ad loc.). At the climactic conclusion of Ezekiel's "virtual tour" of the Future Temple, he is now shown these living waters emerging from the under the threshold of the Temple. "First he saw the water emerging from under the threshold of the House, which is in the middle of the east side of the House, and afterwards the water turned southwards and went down from the southern shoulder of the gate of the Sanctuary. It is possible that it was coming out of the southern side-door of the gate, by which no man ever entered the House. The water went down south of the Altar and flowed out of the Inner Courtyard and from there out of the city" (RaDaK on v 1). The Talmudic rabbis taught that "this stream originated in the Holy of Holies. At first it was as thin as the antenna of a locus. When it came to the entrance of the Sanctuary it was the thickness of a weft thread. When it reached the gate of the Vestibule it was as thick as a warp thread. When it came to the gate of the Inner Courtyard it became as wide as the mouth of a small bottle…" (Yoma 77a). The angel guiding Ezekiel takes him out of the north gate of the Inner Courtyard into the Outer Courtyard, bringing him around to the outer gate of the east side to watch the waters flowing out of the Temple precincts (v 2). By the time the angel went out and measured a thousand cubits from the Temple wall (even the flow of the waters of CHESSED is precisely measured with GEVURAH) the waters were already ankle-deep (v 3). By the time he measured another thousand cubits they were knee-deep (v 4), and after measuring another thousand, they were up to his loins. Soon the waters became a river so deep that it was dangerous to wade through and even to swim across would be impossible (v 5). In the short time between the angel's having brought Ezekiel out and his taking him back, many trees had sprung up on both banks of the river.
"And he said to me, these waters are going out towards the eastern region and go down into the Aravah, and on their entering the sea, the sea of issuing waters, the waters shall be healed" (v 8). Our sages taught: "Where were the waters going? To the sea of Tiberius (=the Aravah) and the sea of Sodom (Yam Hamelach, the first 'sea' in the verse) and to the Great Sea (=the Mediterranean, the 'sea of issuing waters, from where they will go out to the oceans of the world) to heal their salty waters and sweeten them" (Tosefta of Succah 3:3). Whereas previously these seas could not support many life forms because of their saltiness, they will in future support an abundant diversity of fish because "when these waters come there they will be healed and everything shall live wherever the river comes" (v 9). According to tradition, the souls of Tzaddikim are incarnated in fish, who will doubtless rejoice in swimming in the great sea of wisdom! "But its miry places and its marshes shall not be healed…" – and why? Because "…they shall be given for salt" (v 11; Rashi ad loc. See Ramchal quoted below). The many wonderful fruit trees on the banks of this amazing river are reminiscent of all the kinds of trees that were "pleasant to behold and good for food" which God caused to sprout in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). Every month these trees will produce a new harvest of ripe fruits (Rashi on v 12 of our present chapter). "The fruits will be for food and the leaves for medicine (LI-TERUPHAH)" (v 12) – a medicine "to release the mouth (LE-HATIR PEH) of the dumb, and to release the mouth of the barren women" (Sanhedrin 100a. LE-HATIR PEH, "to release the mouth", is a rearrangement of the letters of LI-TERUPHAH in our verse. See Likutey Moharan I, 60). In the words of the concluding passage of Ramchal's MISHKNEY ELYON on the form of the Future Temple: By the entrance to the Inner House is a small path where the sweetest waters flow. These waters come from the innermost place of delight, a place of the most powerful Mercy [ Rachamim ]. For that reason, as these waters come out, their direction of flow is to the south [ Chesed ]. They then flow out of the Temple. Where to? This is explained in the verse: "… And they will come into the sea, into the sea of the putrid waters, and the waters shall be healed" (Ezekiel 47:8). For their mission is to heal all gatherings of water from their saltiness by means of the tremendous mercy they contain. These waters are not the same as the basic sustenance given to enable all things to subsist, but rather a most precious light that shines from the Holy of Holies in order to temper the severity of Gevurah in any place where it is strong. Even so, it says: "But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will serve to supply salt" (ibid. v. 11) . For some Gevurah is needed in the world, and this is the significance of the salt required with all sacrifices. For this reason "they will serve to supply salt", and this is why some was left. If it were not so, Mercy would spread out on every side and all the powers of Gevurah would disappear. In the time of the Mashiach mercy will spread throughout the world, and all things will be rectified and brought to perfection. All the lights will shine with a radiance unlike anything ever known. Holiness will spread without bounds, and all the worlds will be filled with serenity, bliss and joy, as it says: "This is the day that God made, we will rejoice and be glad on it" (Psalms 118:24). THE FUTURE BOUNDARIES OF THE LAND OF ISRAEL Verses 13-20 trace the boundaries of the Land of Israel in the Final Settlement and parallel and complement the description of the boundaries of the Land in Numbers 34:1-12. It should be noted that the boundaries of the Land of Israel given in both
of these texts are those of the Land of Canaan – the land of the seven Canaanite nations west of the River Jordan that God gave to Israel – but do not include the territories of Sichon king of the Emorites and Og king of Bashan east of the Jordan (the Gilead, the Golan etc.), which already came into the possession of Israel in the time of Moses. Nor do they include the territories of Moab, Ammon and Edom (all in the present-day state of Jordan ), which are destined to come into Israel 's possession at the end of days in accordance with God's promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:19 see Rashi ad loc. and Rashi on verse 18 of our present chapter). There are varying opinions about the identity of some of the locations marking the boundaries as mentioned in our text. These opinions are set forth together with a supporting map in the Talmudic Encyclopedia Vol 2 s.v. Eretz Israel. As discussed in the KNOW YOUR BIBLE commentary on Ezekiel chapter 45, the western boundary of Israel is the Mediterranean Sea, and the northwest boundary of the Land is marked by the great mountain spur that comes down into the Mediterranean near the town of Antakya in what is presently Turkey. From there the northern border runs eastwards until it turns south to encompass large parts of present-day Syria , the whole of present-day Lebanon and all of Israel west of the River Jordan. The southern end of the eastern boundary of the land is marked by Tamar way south in Israel's Negev, from where the border turns westwards to meet the Mediterranean at the western arm of Egypt's Nile River, or at the very least at Wadi El Arish. This is the land that is to be divided among the Twelve Tribes of Israel, as set forth in the next chapter. Verses 22-23 state clearly that the righteous proselytes (GERIM) who have entered the community of Israel will also receive their share of the Land for themselves and their offspring in the territory of the tribe among whom they live.
The section contained in verses 1-29 of the present chapter sets forth the location of the tribal inheritances of the Twelve Tribes in the Final Settlement in relation to the TERUMAH "tithe" of land in the center of the country that will be for the Temple, the Cohen-priests and Levites, the City of Jerusalem and the Nasi. As discussed in the KNOW YOUR BIBLE commentary on Ezekiel chapter 45, the entire Land of Israel will be divided into a series of thirteen strips of territory each running from the eastern boundary of the land to the west western boundary and each 25,000 poles (appx. 80 kilometers) "wide" (i.e. from north to south). These strips will be arranged one below the other from the northern border of the Land all the way down to its southern border (see Rashi on verse 1 of our present chapter). In verses 1-8 we learn that seven tribes will have their territories north of the TERUMAH area of the Temple, Priests, Levites. City of Jerusalem and Nasi, which is the subject of verses 9-22. Then in verses 23-28 we learn that the other five tribes will have their territories to the south of this area. This division of the Land among the tribes in equal strips is radically different from its division in the days of Joshua, when the size of each tribe's inheritance was related to the size of its population, and in several cases a number of tribes took their inheritances side by side in a row running from east to west, which meant that some tribes were in mountainous territories with no access to the sea, while others were in valleys or lowlands by the coast etc. In the words of the Talmudic sages: "Not like its division in this world will be the division of the Land in the world to come. In this world a man who possesses a field for land crops may not possess a fruit orchard while one who has a fruit orchard may not have a field for land crops. But in the world to come there will be nobody who does not have a share in the
mountains, the lowlands and the valley, as it is written, 'the gate of Reuben, one; the gate of Judah, one; the gate of Levy, one…' (Ez. 48:31). And the Holy One blessed be He himself will give them their portions, as it says, 'and these are their portions says HaShem'" (Ez. 48:29; Bava Basra 122a). There are also some noteworthy differences between the locations of some of the tribes in the north (GEVURAH) and south (CHESSED) of the country in the division of the land under Joshua and their locations in the Final Settlement. The first three tribes mentioned in our text, who will take their portions in the three northernmost strips of the Land, are Dan, Asher and Naphtali, all three of whom did indeed take their portions in the northernmost part of the territories conquered in the days of Joshua. But whereas Zevulun and Issachar took territories immediately to their south in the time of Joshua, in the Future Settlement they will no longer be north of Jerusalem but south: they will take the two strips immediately adjacent to that of the southernmost of all the tribes – Gad. In place of Issachar and Zevulun in the north will be Menasheh and Ephraim. South of Ephraim will be Reuben, who in the time of Joshua did not have any portion in the Land of Israel west of the Jordan as the tribe of Reuben, together with Gad and half the tribe of Menasheh, took their portion in the territories east of the Jordan conquered in the days of Moses. An interesting switch is that Judah, who originally took virtually the entire country SOUTH of Jerusalem will in the future be immediately NORTH of the TERUMAH strip of the Temple, Priests and Levites etc. while Benjamin, who was originally in the territories NORTH of Jerusalem, will in the future be to its SOUTH. South of Benjamin will be the tribe of Shimon, who did not even have their own territory in the time of Joshua but were absorbed in the territory of Judah. This was because the tribe of Shimon had been under a cloud since the time when Jacob cursed Shimon after he and Levy slew the men of Shechem, and especially since the time of Moses, who did not even bless Shimon on account of the prince of that tribe having flouted his authority by taking a Midianite woman. The restoration of the tribe of Shimon in the Final Settlement signifies the complete rectification of Israel in time to come. Verses 9-14 demarcate the exact measurements of the TERUMAH of 25,000 x 25,000 poles of land and those of its constituent areas: (1) That of the priests – a strip of 25,000 x 10,000 poles running east-west with the Temple in the middle, vv 10-12. (2) That of the Levites immediately to its south – likewise in a strip of 25,000 x 10,000 poles running east-west, vv 13-14. (3) That of the City of Jerusalem, which was for Israelites from all the tribes – a narrower strip of 25,000 x 5,000 poles containing the city itself, which will be 4,500 x 4,500 poles surrounded on all four sides by open land 250 poles wide, i.e. a square of 5,000 x 5,000 poles touching the boundaries of its strip on the north and south sides, with two strips of 10,000 x 5,000 to its east and west providing lands for farming and support for the people in the city, vv 15-19. As stated above, these three areas make up a square of 25,000 x 25,000 poles, while the areas from the eastern side of this square to the eastern boundary of Israel and from its western side to the sea will be for the Nasi, v 21. "AND THESE ARE THE EXITS OF THE CITY…" The closing section of Ezekiel's prophecy (vv 30-35) describes the Twelve Gates of the City corresponding to the Twelve Sons of Jacob. The tribe of Levites (of which the Cohen-priests are a part) are not included in the apportionment of the Land of Israel among the Twelve Tribes as they will have their own areas in the TERUMAH territory. In the absence of the tribe of Levy from the apportionment of the Land,
Joseph's sons Menasheh and Ephraim both attained the status of full tribes, as indicated in Ezekiel 47:13, in order to make up the tally of twelve. But in taking their places at the twelve gates of the Holy City, three on each of its four sides, the twelve sons of Jacob are all equal. The "bed" and resting place of Jacob, perfect of the fathers – the Holy Temple – is at last complete, and each of his twelve sons has his own unique gate of ascent, prayer and devotion as part of the overall unity. Everything is peace and perfection – complete TIKKUN, repair and rectification. "And the name of the city from that day shall be: HaShem is there" (v 35). And may it be the will of our Father in Heaven to quickly bring about His redemption in kindness and mercy, "And the city will be built on its hill and the palace will sit in its appointed place" (Jeremiah 30:18) speedily in our days. Amen!
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.