Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 1
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!!!
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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