Avraham ben Yaakov
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 15
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 47-51), 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.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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