Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 35
The previous prophecy ended with consolations to Israel about the future restoration under Melech HaMashiach, directing our attention to the end of days, which has become the main underlying theme in these later chapters of Ezekiel. The coming chapters will bring us prophesies about how the Land of Israel will flourish at the end of days (ch 36), and about the spiritual rebirth of the "dry bones" - the souls of Israel (37). Interwoven with these prophesies are prophesies about the judgment of Israel 's persecutors at the end of days. Thus prior to the prophecy of the Future Temple and the Final Settlement (chs 40-48), chapters 38-9 deal with the war of Gog and Magog, while our present chapter (Ez. 35) foretells the future destruction of Edom , the offspring of Esau, who was the embodiment of the primordial serpent and chief adversary of Israel 's founding father Jacob. In the words of RaDaK on v 1 of our present chapter: "The prophecy of the fall of Mount Seir follows immediately after the prophecy of the salvation of Israel because the downfall of Edom will come about at the time of the redemption, 'and saviors will ascend Mt Zion to judge the mountain of Esau' (Obadiah 1:21)".
"Son of man: set your face against Mount Seir ." (v 2). "For as an inheritance to Esau have I given Mount Seir " (Deut. 2:5). Mount Seir is the rugged mountainous region south east of the Dead Sea in the south of present day Jordan , which was originally allotted to Esau and his descendants. RaDaK (on Obadiah 1:1) writes that "the land of Edom does not belong today to the descendants of Edom because the nations became mixed up and most of them are of either the Christian or Moslem faith and it is impossible to recognize which of them is from Edom, Moab, Ammon or any of the other nations because they were all exiled from their lands and became mixed among the nations. But Rome was initially mainly composed of the descendants of Edom , and where the prophets speak about the destruction of Edom they are speaking about the end of days - for when Rome is destroyed Israel will be redeemed".
In the time when RaDaK - Rabbi David Kimche, 1160-1235 - was alive eight hundred years ago, the city of Rome was indeed the spiritual capital of European civilization. Since then the influence of Rome-Edom has spread all over the world, whether directly or indirectly through such later "garbs" as Britain , Spain , Germany , America etc. Given the prophecies of bloodshed and devastation contained in our present chapter, it is noteworthy that although the last half century was relatively peaceful in Europe, its history in general in the two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Temple has been one of repeated warfare, death and destruction. It may be added that even without the physical destruction of the great cities of western civilization, many of them are today "desolate" in the sense that extensive areas are effectively no-go areas for peaceable citizens (unless they speed through in fast cars) owing to the danger and violence, and wide sections of their populations have lapsed into ever deeper moral depravity.
The prophet explains the underlying reason for the destruction of Edom 's cities and their devastation: "Because you have had a perpetual hatred and have hurled the children of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity" (v 5). Again and again this prophecy emphasizes that God's retribution against Edom is strictly "measure for measure". The first expression of this comes in verse 6: "Surely you have hated blood - and blood shall pursue you" (v 6). If Edom unleashed the sword against Israel (v 5), in what sense can it be said that they "hated blood"? Rashi (on v 6) gives three explanations: "(1) You despised the right of the firstborn, to whom My service was entrusted, but you did not want to dirty yourself with the blood of the sacrifices of which My service consists - therefore the blood of the slain shall pursue you. (2) Like all men, you fear killers, but killers will pursue you. (3) You hated blood - you hated your brother, who is your own flesh and blood".
A second expression of the principle of "measure for measure" is in vv 9-10, which explain that the reason for the devastation of Edom is "because you have said, These two nations and these two countries shall be mine and we shall possess it" (v 10). In explaining this verse, Rashi (ad loc.) says that the simple meaning is that Esau wanted to inherit both Israel (the Ten Tribes) and Judah . However, Rashi also brings an interesting midrash of R. Tanchuma explaining that Esau went to marry Ishmael's daughter (Gen. 28:9) in order to rouse him to challenge Isaac over the inheritance of Abraham so that Ishmael would kill Isaac, leaving Esau as the "redeemer" of his father's blood so that he would have the right to kill Ishmael, and this way Esau would inherit both Isaac and Ishmael. This midrash is of particular interest given the present war of the "West" (Esau) against Ishmael (Islam).
A third expression of the principle of "measure for measure" in the punishment of Edom comes in verse 11: "Therefore I shall do according to your anger and according to your envy." Yet another expression of the same principle comes in verse 15: "Just as you rejoiced at the inheritance of the house of Israel , because it was desolate, so will I do to you: you shall be desolate, Mount Seir, and all of Edom , all of it, and they shall know that I am HaShem."
"And you, son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel ." (v 1). "After speaking of the retribution against Mount Seir , he now speaks consolation to the mountains of Israel " (RaDaK ad loc.). Today's Edomites, scattered across the whole earth, show not the least interest in their ancestral territories in the rocky mountains of Seir in S. Jordan . But for two thousand years Jews have thought about their land and mentioned it in their prayers many times every day, and not one of them has the least doubt that their country is the same mountainous strip of land that everyone in the world knows as Israel.
The other nations have always wanted unjustly to take the promised inheritance of Israel , children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for themselves. "Because the enemy has said against you, Ahah, the eternal high places are an inheritance FOR US!!!" (v 2). The mountains of Israel are called BAMOS OLAM, 'the high places of the world', because the Land of Israel is higher than all the other lands" (RaDaK ad loc.). These "high places" are "on the lips of talkers and the gossip of the people" (v 3). Never has this been more apparent than today, when Israel is the talk of the entire world - in the United Nations etc. and the world media. Every day the "Palestinians" and their backers, most notably President Ahmadinejad of Iran , declare that Israel must be "wiped off the map" and the land snatched from its rightful owners.
"Measure for measure" God swears that he will judge all the residue of the nations and Edom with the fire of His jealousy "because they have appointed My land to themselves for a possession with the joy of all their heart, with disdainful minds, to cast it out for a prey" (v 5). Things will turn out the very opposite of what Israel 's enemies imagine. "Surely the nations that are about you shall bear their own shame" (v 7) - as when the Arab armies that vowed the destruction of Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973 were roundly defeated. On the contrary, "You O mountains of Israel shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people of Israel , for they will soon be coming" (v 8). "When the land of Israel will give forth its fruits generously, that is when the end will be close - for throughout the Bible you have no more clearly revealed end than in this verse" (Sanhedrin 98a). The last century has witnessed the miraculous revival of agriculture in Israel after two thousand years of desolation!
"And I will multiply ADAM upon you, all the House of Israel ." (v 10). Once again in this verse and the two verses that follow it, Ezekiel - who is himself repeatedly called BEN ADAM, "the son of ADAM" - refers to Israel as ADAM, as he did in Chapter 34, when he said, "And you, My flock. are ADAM". Israel have the form of ADAM (the Tzelem Elokim) when they follow the Torah of ADAM (Numbers 19:14).
"Because they say to you, You are a land that devours men" (v 13). This was the complaint of the Ten Spies, who gave a false report about the Land as "a land that eats up its inhabitants" (Numbers 13:32). Likewise Israel 's enemies say that "this land is accustomed to destroy her inhabitants: the Emorites were consumed there and the Jews were consumed their" (Rashi on Ezekiel 13). But God promises that the Land of Israel "shall not devour men any more nor any more bereave your nations" (v 14). Surely this can be taken as a promise that contrary to the hopes of Israel 's enemies, THERE WILL NOT BE ANOTHER EXILE.
Introducing the theme that at the end of days Israel will be purified of their sins, in verses 16-21 the prophet recounts the history of Israel after they first took possession of the land, when "they defiled it through their way and their deeds - like the impurity of the menstruous woman (NIDDAH) was their way before Me" (v 17). "Because the Assembly of Israel is metaphorically called God's 'wife' while He is her 'husband', when she sins she is compared to a NIDDAH whose husband distances himself from her throughout the time of her period but draws near to her after her purification. Likewise God 'distanced' Israel and exiled them to the lands of the nations because of their sins, but He will restore them after they return to Him and become purified of their sins" (RaDaK on v 17).
Israel 's ignominious exile and degradation in the lands of the nations is CHILUL HASHEM, a desecration of God's name (v 20). Conversely, the ingathering of Israel before the very eyes of their enemies is the sanctification of His name, for they will know that God rules (v 23).
"And I shall take you from the nations and gather you in from all the lands and I will bring you to your land. And I shall sprinkle upon you pure waters and you shall be purified from all your impurities, and I shall purify you from all your idols" (vv 24-25). "Just as a defiled person is purified through the water in which he immerses and through the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer, so he who is defiled with sins is purified through atonement" (Metzudas David on v 25). The ORDER of the promises in the above-quoted two verses is surely significant: the ingathering of the exiles takes place BEFORE their purification. This should give us hope that even though many of the ingathered Jewish inhabitants of the land are still far from the Torah, if God has fulfilled His promise to bring them back physically, He will in the end surely fulfill His promise to bring them back spiritually.
"And I shall sprinkle upon you pure waters" (v 25) - "Rabbi Akiva said, Happy are you O Israel: Before Whom are you purified? Who purifies you? Your Father in heaven!" (Yoma 86a).
"And I shall give you a new heart and I shall put a new spirit within you and I shall remove the heart of stone from your flesh and I shall give you a heart of flesh" (v 26). The "heart of stone" refers to man's evil inclination. The Talmud teaches: "The evil inclination is called by seven names. God calls it 'evil' (Gen. 8:21). Moses called it 'uncircumcised' (Deut. 10:16). David called it 'impure', asking for a pure heart (Psalms 51:12). Solomon called it an 'enemy' (Proverbs 25:21). Isaiah called it a 'stumbling block' (Isaiah 57:14). Ezekiel called it 'stone' (as in our verse, Ez. 36:26), while Joel called it the 'northern' (or 'hidden') one (Joel 2:20)" (Succah 52a).
A "heart of flesh" is "a heart that heeds and a spirit that is ready to receive the words of God with love" (RaDaK on Ez. 36:26). Rabbi Nachman pointed out that the letters of the name of his chosen city of residence, BReSLoV, are the same as in the phrase LeV BaSaR, "a heart of flesh", saying that his followers would always be called the Breslov Chassidim - because his pathways have the power to turn our hearts into hearts of flesh!
After the restoration at the end of days, Israel will not sit in the land arrogantly eating their reward. Rather, they will be full of contrition and remorse, having learned and internalized the harsh lessons of their history (v 31). Then the desolate land will be like the very Garden of Eden and its cities will be inhabited again (v 35) - a promise that in the last hundred years has begun to be realized before the eyes of the whole world. Israel will be "like the flock of sacrifices, like the flock of Jerusalem in her appointed times" (v 38) - "That is to say, their sins will no longer be remembered against them" (Rashi ad loc.)
* * * Verses 16-38 of this chapter speaking of the sprinkling of the waters of purification upon Israel to purify them of their sins make up the Haftara read on Shabbos Parshas Parah (after Purim) when in preparation for the coming festival of Pesach, the weekly Torah portion is followed by an additional Torah reading about the purification from defilement from the dead through the ashes of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:1-22). * * *
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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