Avraham ben Yaakov
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 21
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 * * *
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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