Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 19
The two short allegories contained in the present chapter complete the series of prophecies that began in Chapter 8 v 1, "in the sixth year, in the sixth month." (i.e. SIX YEARS AFTER the exile of King Yeho-yachin and King Tzedekiah's ascent to the throne, and FIVE YEARS PRIOR to the destruction of the First Temple).It was in that year that Ezekiel was carried by a RU'ACH, "wind" or "spirit", from Babylon to the Temple in Jerusalem to witness the abominations of the people and the withdrawal of the Shechinah from the city (chs 8-11), after which he was brought back to Babylon to prophesy to those who were already in exile there, delivering various reproofs veiled in allegory and metaphor (chs 12-19). The prophecy in the present chapter is the last of that year, for the following chapter is dated to "the seventh year in the fifth month" (ch 20 v 1; see the commentary there).
"And you, take up a lament for the princes of Israel " (v 1). The three "princes" that are the subject of this lament are the righteous King Josiah's three wicked sons, who ruled in Jerusalem in the period culminating in the destruction of the First Temple: Yeho-ahaz (II Kings 23:31ff), Yeho-yakim (ibid. vv 34ff) and Tzedekiah (II Kings 24:17ff). Not included is Yeho-yachin, the son and successor of Yeho-yakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar exiled after only 3 months, replacing him with Tzedekiah.
The first of the two allegories in the present chapter is that of the lioness and her cubs (vv 2-9). "What a lioness was your mother.!" (v 2). The mother lion is the House of Josiah (Metzudas David ad loc.). "And she brought up one of her cubs. and it learned to catch prey; it devoured men (ADAM)" (v 3). This refers to Yeho-ahaz, who robbed his own people Israel , who are called ADAM (see Rashi ad loc., cf. Ez. 34:31), and who was taken by Pharaoh Necho to Egypt where he died, as told in II Kings 23:33-34 and alluded to in v 4 of our present chapter.
Verses 5-9 allude to how Pharaoh Necho replaced Yeho-ahaz with another of the "lioness' cubs" - Yeho-ahaz' brother Yeho-yakim - but the latter pursued the same sinful path, as told in Jeremiah (22:18, ch 36:1-32 etc.), and "the nations set upon him on all sides" (v 8 of our present chapter, cf. II Kings 24:2) and he was ignominiously captured by Nebuchadnezzar, dying on the road to Babylon.
The second of the allegories in this chapter (vv 10-14) is that of a fruitful vine that grows too tall and proud and is then cut down in fury. This alludes to Tzedekiah, the last king of Judah , and recalls the lengthier earlier allegory in Ezekiel 17:5-10 & 13-21. "And a fire has gone out from the rod of her branches" (v 14 of our present chapter) - "It is because of the transgression of her kings and leaders that all this evil has come upon her" (Rashi ad loc.). This teaches that the leaders of the people are expected to be the exemplars of the righteousness required of the Holy Nation, and when the leaders fail, this is the root cause of Israel 's troubles.
* * * In accordance with the Sefardic custom, Ezekiel 20:1-20 is read
as the Haftara of Parshas Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27 * * *
"And it was in the seventh year in the fifth month on the tenth of the month" (v 1). The fifth month is the month of Av, and the tenth day of Av was destined to be the day when the Temple was destroyed (for although it was set on fire on 9 Av, the conflagration continued for the whole of the 10 th ). The present prophecy came to Ezekiel four years before this occurred. "Each year God sent him one prophecy with which to reprove the people, and even though he was sent other prophecies in between, the first of his prophecies in any given year was the one that is specifically dated to that year" (RaDaK ad loc. Cf. Ezekiel 1:2 and 8:1).
RaDaK continues: "His telling the month and the day of this prophecy was a hint that this would be the date on which Jerusalem was destined to be destroyed. The coming of the elders to the prophet on that day was arranged by God so that they should hear the reproof on that day, because it was on account of their sins and those of their fathers that the Temple was to be destroyed. Now these elders who came to seek out HaShem were Tzaddikim from among those who went into exile with Yeho-yachin, and when God said to them, 'I shall not be inquired of by you', it was on account of the sins of their generation. Perhaps they came to inquire if the exiles in Babylon would ever return to the Land of Israel. Seder Olam states that these elders of Israel were Hananiyah, Mishael and Azariah (Daniel 1:6, 3:12 etc.)."
If the elders themselves were righteous, those whom they represented were less so, to go by the explanation by Rashi (on v 1) as to what the people were saying. "If He won't listen to us, we too shall not be punished for our sins, for it means He has already sold us and He has no further claim against us. We are like a slave whose master has sold him or a woman whose husband has divorced her: They simply have no further connection with one another!" (Rashi's comment here is founded on verse 32 below in accordance with the interpretation that will be explained in our commentary.)
In verse 3 God tells the prophet to respond that He will NOT answer the people's inquiry, i.e. He will not send a prophecy with specific information, which would be a sign of great favor. This implies that the people were in disfavor. But Rashi points out that "At the end of this book, Ez. 36:37, he says, 'I SHALL be inquired of by the Children of Israel'. This is one of the places that teaches us that the Holy One blessed be He MAY go back on an evil decree" (Rashi on v 3).
Instead of providing the people with the information they wanted about how long the exile would last, God reproves them in a lengthy review of the history of their rebellions from the time of the birth of the nation in Egypt . Verses 5-9 recount God's self-revelation to Israel while still in Egypt in order to redeem them and lead them to the Promised Land. But from the very outset, "They rebelled against Me and did not want to listen to Me." (v 8) - "It was hard for them to give up idolatry" (Mechilta). "These were the wicked, who made up the majority of Israel , who died in the three days of darkness" (Rashi on v 8). Yet despite the rebellion, God redeemed them in order to keep His promise to the Patriarchs, so as not to desecrate His name (v 9) as if He did not have the power to do so.
Verses 10-16 tell the next stage in the saga of rebellion during Israel 's sojourn in the wilderness. Even after God's spectacular self-revelation in giving them the Torah and mitzvos, they would not listen. "They did not go in My statutes." - "They tried Me with the golden calf"; ".and they greatly desecrated My Sabbaths" - "Some of the people went out to gather manna" (v 13 with Rashi's glosses).
Verses 17ff continue the saga, implying that God would have wiped out the people in the wilderness but for His compassion. Instead, He asked the new generation born to the rebels in the wilderness to observe His life-giving Torah, yet they too failed to keep it. "I too lifted up My hand to them (=swore) in the wilderness, declaring that I would scatter them among the nations" (v 23). Here we see that later cycle of exiles that afflicted Israel was already decreed when they were in the wilderness, and Moses warned them there that this is what would befall them if they sinned (see Deut. 4:25ff).
"So I too gave them statutes that were not good. and I defiled them through their gifts." (vv 25-6). Rashi explains: "I delivered them into the power of their evil inclination so as to cause them to stumble in their sins. The very gifts that I instituted - to dedicate every firstborn to Me - I delivered into the power of their evil inclination, which caused them to hand those very firstborn to the Molech god. These are the 'statutes that were not good'" (Rashi ad loc.).
In vv 27-9 the saga of rebellion continues with the people's entry into the Land of Israel , where instead of affirming God's unity through offering sacrifices only in the Temple in Jerusalem , they scattered to all the hills and natural beauty spots, each making his own altar of pride.
In verses 30ff the prophet is commanded to address the people of his own generation directly, as if to say: After all this history of rebellion, what are YOU going to do???
In verse 31 God swears that He will not be inquired of by the House of Israel, implying the withdrawal of His direct, detailed providence (HASHGACHAH PRATIS) from the people, signified by the absence of prophecy.
"But that which comes into your mind (HA-OLEH AL RUCHACHEM) shall never come about, that you say, 'We shall be like the nations.'" (v 32). After the lengthy preceding catalog of Israel 's rebellions, one might have thought that God's patience would have been exhausted and that He would reject them for ever more ("replacement theology"). But this important verse tells us otherwise. The rebellious Israelites of Ezekiel's day thought that if God had rejected them (by taking them into exile without revealing the date of their redemption), this gave them a carte blanche to assimilate with the surrounding nations. Many Jews in modern times, despairing of Mashiach, have come to the same conclusion. The phrase in verse 32, HA-OLEH AL RUCHACHEM, "that which arises in your RU'ACH, spirit, mind" is the basis for the rabbinic teaching that the OLAH sacrifice comes to atone for rebellious thoughts and doubts (Vayikra Rabbah #87).
However, God says that this thought of complete assimilation that has come into their minds "SHALL MOST SURELY NEVER COME ABOUT" (v 32). This is because God will never allow Israel to assimilate and disappear, even if He has to rule over them "with a mighty hand and a stretched out arm and outpoured anger" (v 33). An example of this "outpoured anger" in modern times was when the proportion of assimilated Jews in Europe rose to over 50% in the 1930's, provoking a fury that while indiscriminately wiping out six million Jews, religious and non-religious, also indirectly lead to the establishment of the State of Israel, a huge ingathering of the exiles and the ongoing Torah revival that is taking place in our generation.
Thus verses 34ff depict the final redemption and ingathering of Israel at the end of days, which we have reached in our times. "And I will bring you into the wilderness of the nations" (verse 35). Rashi (ad loc.) states that this is the same wilderness in which the Children of Israel journeyed for forty years. Does this allude to the countries of the nations in which Jews have lived during the long exile? Or could it be that the "wilderness of the nations" contains an allusion to the United Nations, where Israel is subjected to daily remonstrations???
Verse 36 teaches that the final redemption will be an event quite as great and cataclysmic as the redemption from Egypt . God will bring the people back under the discipline of the Covenant (v 37) and purge out the rebels (v 38). Verse 40 promises the restoration of the Temple services in Jerusalem . "And I shall be sanctified through you in the eyes of the nations" (v 41) - "Through you I will be sanctified in the eyes of the nations when they will see that My hand has ruled" (Metzudas David ad loc.). "This will be in the war of Gog and Magog" (RaDaK ad loc.). At the end of days Israel will look back over their history and understand the root cause of the suffering they endured in exile - their own rebellions (v 43) - and this new level of self-understanding will keep them bound to the service of God forever after.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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