Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 11
"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 me to Kasdim (= Babylon ) to the exiles in a vision through the spirit of God" (v 24). "This informs us that the journey to Jerusalem and the return to Babylon were not MAMASH (i.e. in material reality), but it was through a vision that came through the spirit of God that it appeared to him so" (RaDaK ad loc.).
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.
May HaShem save us from the tribulations of the war of Gog and Magog and turn our hearts into hearts of flesh. Amen.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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