Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 3
We read at the end of the previous chapter how a hand spread forth a scroll before Ezekiel, ".and it was written inside and outside, and in it was written lamentations and mourning and woe" (Ez. 2:10). Targum (ad loc.) renders: ".And written in it was what happened from the beginning and what is destined to happen in the end, and in it was written that if the House of Israel transgress the Torah, the nations shall rule over them, but if they practice the Torah, lamentations, mourning and woe shall depart from them."
Our present chapter opens with God's command to Ezekiel to "eat this scroll" - to imbibe and internalize its message of rebuke so as to ready himself for his mission to the House of Israel.
In vv 4-10 God fortifies Ezekiel in preparation for his mission, warning him that whereas any other people would heed God's rebukes, Israel are brazen and hard-hearted - but reassuring him that God has made him even stronger than them, like the slender Shamir worm, which has the power to eat through stone (v 9).
Following the vision of the Chariot with which Ezekiel opened (Ez. 1:1ff) and his appointment as prophet (2:1-3:10), God now tells him in verse 11 of our present chapter to return to the main body of exiles in Babylon from which he had become separated when he began to prophecy by the river Kvar.
"Then a spirit took me up and I heard behind me a voice of great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of HaShem from His place" (v 12). In the words of Rashi (ad loc.), "After He completed giving His instructions, He commanded the wind to carry him to the place where the exiles were." Metzudas David (ad loc.) explains: "It is as if He was saying to the prophet, Do not think that now that the Shechinah is leaving its place in the Temple Holy of Holies the Glory of HaShem will not be blessed and praised as it was when it was in its place in the Holy of Holies. For even though it will have left its place, He is still blessed and praised" - i.e. His true glory transcends any possible earthly revelation of it, since nobody can know His place (cf. Chagigah 13b). The phrase "Blessed be the glory. from His place" is the second response in the KEDUSHAH (Sanctification) recited by the prayer leader and congregation as the high point of the communal repetition of the daily morning and afternoon AMIDAH and Shabbos and festival Mussaf prayers immediately following the joint response of "Holy! Holy! Holy!..." (Isaiah 6:3). The verse here in Ezekiel 3:12 is also recited in KEDUSHAH D'SIDRA (the prayer "Uva LeTziyon.") after the daily morning Amidah and at Minchah on Shabbos and festivals and on Saturday nights.
Ezekiel could still hear the awesome sound of the wings of the Chayos and the noise of the Ophanim as the spirit carried him away from the "place" of his vision back to the exiles in Babylon (vv 13-14).
"Then I came to the exiles in Tel Aviv." (v 15). A TEL is a hill or mound, while AVIV refers to ripe barley, which in Israel is the sign of SPRING (Ex. 9:31 & 13:4 etc.). It is indeed after the name of the Jewish place of exile in Babylon mentioned in our present verse that the modern Israeli city of Tel Aviv was named when it was founded in 1909 to serve as a residential suburb of the ancient port city of Yafo ( Jaffa ). The name had been used by the author Nachum Sokolow as the title of his Hebrew translation of Theodore Herzel's " Old New Land " to symbolize the spring-like rebirth of a new state on the mound remaining from a much earlier state.
Ezekiel spent seven days in a state of total shock following his return from the exalted world of prophetic vision to the bustling center of the Babylonian exiles from Judah , until God spoke to him again with further teaching about the nature of his mission (vv 15-16). The prophet was obliged to address both the wicked and the righteous. He was to warn the wicked to turn from their evil ways, and he was to warn the righteous not to allow themselves to lapse. If the prophet failed to rebuke them he would bear responsibility for their evil deeds and lapses, but as long as he discharged his duty he would be "clean" and they alone would bear the consequences of their evil.
"And when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, I will lay a stumbling block before him and he will die." (v 20). "If the righteous man makes the mistake of thinking that on account of his having been righteous for a long time God will forgive him for the evil he now commits, I will prepare a stumbling block for him" (Metzudas David ad loc.). "The stumbling block will be that he will succeed in all his affairs in this world, because he will eat in this world the fruits of the righteousness he was intended to eat in the world to come, 'and his righteousness that he did will not be remembered' i.e. in the world to come" (RaDaK ad loc.).
"And He said to me, Arise, go out to the plain (BIK'AH)." (v 22). "He instructed him to go out to the plain where He showed him the Glory as He had showed him by the River Kvar, for the plain was a place of greater purity than Tel Aviv, which was a human habitation. He sent him this vision time after time in order to deepen his understanding of God's providence and His way of governing the creation. Moreover that plain (BIK'AH) was the same plain in which the original Tower of Babylon had been built (Gen. 11:2), and He began showing him His providence over His creatures when he mixed up their language and thwarted their intention" (RaDaK on v 22).
In the plain God gave Ezekiel further instructions and a series of prophecies that are contained in the coming chapters (chs 4-7). From now on the prophet was to shut himself up in his house as if imprisoned and not to speak to the people except when God opened his mouth in prophecy, for the people would not listen to him. The reason was - in the words of the repeated refrain (ch 2 vv 5, 6 & 7; ch 3 vv 26 & 27) - "FOR THEY ARE A REBELLIOUS HOUSE".
SIGNS AND SYMBOLS
At various junctures, certain prophets were instructed to carry out symbolic actions as a way of vividly dramatizing their message. In the present chapter Ezekiel (still in the "plain" receiving the series of prophecies that began in v 23 of the previous chapter) is given three sets of instructions.
1: THE BRICK (vv 1-3)
Ezekiel was to take a large building block and carve on it a representation of the city of Jerusalem , which he was to surround with siege towers, siege mounds, army camps and battering rams symbolizing the coming Babylonian assault. "And take for yourself an iron pan and set it as a wall of iron between you and the city" (v 3) - "From the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, a wall of iron stands between Israel and their Father in heaven, as it says, 'Take for yourself an iron pan.'" (Berachos 32b).
2: LYING ON HIS SIDE (vv 4-8)
The "brick" would be positioned where the prophet could gaze upon it before him (see v 7) while lying immobilized on one side for extended periods. "Lying on one side for a long time without being able to turn onto the other side is extremely hard" (RaDaK on v 4). Rashi explains that Ezekiel was to endure this pain and suffering for a specific number of days corresponding to the number of years that Israel had vexed God with their defiance, "and you will atone for their sins since the punishments I have said I will bring upon them are harsh in your eyes. I have made it easier for you to bear the pain I have suffered for the total number of years they have sinned before Me by turning them into the corresponding number of days" (Rashi on vv 4-5). "Through this pain the sins of Israel would be atoned without their being utterly destroyed on account of their sins" (Metzudas David on v 4). "When a king of flesh and blood wants to punish a rebellious province, if he is cruel he kills them all. If he is kind, he kills half of them. But if he is overflowing with kindness, he chastises their leaders. Similarly the Holy One blessed be He chastised Ezekiel in order to cleanse Israel of their sins" (Sanhedrin 39a).
The prophet was to lie on his left side to atone for the sins of the House of Israel - the Ten Tribes - whose kingdom was centered to the "left" (=North) of Judah (see Ezekiel 16:46; Metzudas David on v 4). Rashi (on v 5) gives an exact account of how all the years in which Israel sinned from the period of the first Judges until the exile of the Ten Tribes by Sennacherib add up to a total of 390. Likewise in his comment on v 6, Rashi gives an account of the 40 years in which Judah sinned from the time of the exile of the Ten Tribes until the year of Ezekiel's present prophecy five years after the exile of King Yeho-yachin (see Ez. 1:2) i.e. in the fifth year of King Tzedekiah.
"Behold, I will lay cords upon you" (v 8): "You shall feel the stringency of My decree of instructions as if you were bound by thick ropes so that you are incapable of turning from side to side" (Rashi ad loc.).
3: FAMINE RATIONS (vv 9-17)
"And take for yourself wheat and barley etc." (v 9). During these extended periods of lying on one side, Ezekiel was to eat in the same way as people facing famine under siege. Barley is normally animal feed: people only make bread of wheat mixed with inferior grains when supplies are scarce, and they then permit themselves only minimal rations for fear of being left with nothing (vv 9-11). The most repulsive aspect of the prophet's diet was that the fuel for baking his crude loaves would be dried human excrement (v 12). This would symbolize how "the children of Israel will eat their bread unclean among the nations to which I shall drive them" (v 13). This decree so appalled Ezekiel - a priest who had eaten only kosher, ritually pure food from his youth - that he cried out bitterly in horror (v 14): "I have never eaten an animal that died of itself or was torn by beasts." - "not even a dying animal that was slaughtered hurriedly to permit it consumption"; ".nor did loathsome meat ever enter my mouth" - "not even from an animal over which a sage had to issue a ruling because of a question over its fitness for consumption. not even an animal from which the priestly portions had not been duly separated" (Talmud Chullin 37b).
Because of Ezekiel's plea for mercy, God softened the decree, permitting him to use animal droppings as fuel to bake his bread instead of human excrement. Even so, it was impossible to avert the coming famine in Jerusalem in which the people would waste away because of their sins (v 17).
May HaShem turn our hearts to Him and bring us to complete TESHUVAH! Amen!
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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