Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 13
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).
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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