Avraham ben Yaakov
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 43
"Then he brought me to the gate. and behold, the Glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east." (v 1). At the conclusion of Ezekiel's "virtual tour" around the Future Temple in order to learn its form and measurements, after completing measuring the Temple Mount, the angel who was his guide brought him back to the east gate of the Mount, where the prophet saw the Glory of God approaching in order to enter the completed Temple.
With this Ezekiel's prophecy has come full circle, because at the beginning of his ministry, he witnessed the Glory (chapter 1) only to see it depart from its place above the Ark in the First Temple and leave stage by stage until it ascended to Heaven for the duration of the exile (chapter 9 v 3ff). That was when Ezekiel prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem in the time of Tzedekiah (ibid. vv 1f).
Now, following all his intervening prophecies and after having seen the perfect form of the Future Temple in all its details, a spirit comes and lifts Ezekiel to the Inner Courtyard, where he sees that the Glory of HaShem fills the House again (v 5). God promises that this will be His dwelling place among the Children of Israel forever - for they will be fully rectified and will no longer engage in the abominations practiced in the time of the First Temple, when kings (Menasheh and Amon) were buried in the gardens of their palaces adjacent to the Temple, and idolatry was practiced at their tombs (vv 7-8, see Rashi, Metzudas David & RaDaK ad loc.). God promises that from now on they will reject their old pathways so that God will dwell among them forever (v 9).
TEACH THEM THE FORM OF THE HOUSE
"You, son of man, describe the House to the House of Israel that they may be ashamed of their iniquities. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the form of the House." (v 10). It is through Teshuvah - repentance - that Israel is worthy of seeing this Temple . Shame over one's improper behavior before God is the very root of true repentance. Thus the Hebrew letters of the first word of the Torah, BEREISHIS make up the words YOREI BOSHES, Awe and Shame (Tikuney Zohar). When Israel begin to glimpse the form of the Future Temple they will become ashamed of their deeds, and as their shame matures into ever deeper Teshuvah, they will be able to learn the form of the House in order to build it.
The Midrash tells: Ezekiel said to the Holy One blessed-be-He: "Master of the World: We are now in exile, and You tell me to go and inform the Jewish People about the plan of the Temple ? 'Write it before their eyes, and they will guard all its forms and all its laws and do them.' How can they 'do them'? Leave them until they go out of exile, and then I will tell them." The Holy One blessed-be-He said to Ezekiel: "Just because My children are in exile, does that mean the building of My House should be halted? Studying the plan of the Temple in the Torah is as great as actually building it. Go and tell them to make it their business to study the form of the Temple as explained in the Torah. As their reward for this study, I will give them credit as if they are actually building the Temple " (Midrash Tanchuma, Tzav #14).
Only after the completion of his main tour of the House and after witnessing the return of God's glory did Ezekiel see the form of the Altar. This is because the Altar is itself a manifestation of the Glory.
"The place of the Altar is most precisely aligned and its place may not be changed forever.. It was in this place in the Temple that Isaac our father was bound. It is a tradition in everyone's hand that the place where David and Solomon built the Altar in the threshing floor of Arava was the place where Abraham built the Altar and bound Isaac, and that is the place where Noah sacrificed when he came out of the Ark and this is the Altar upon which Cain and Abel offered and there Adam sacrificed after he was created and from there he was created. Our sages said that Adam was created at the place where he gains atonement. The dimensions of the Altar are very precisely aligned and its form is known by tradition from one man to another. The Altar that the returning Babylonian exiles built was in the form in which the Future Altar will be built, and it is not permitted to add to or subtract from its measurements" (Rambam, Laws of the Temple 2:1-3).
The form of the Altar is explained by Rambam (loc. cit.) on the basis of Mishneh Middos 3:1, and is discussed in relation to our present text in Talmud Eiruvin 4a and Menachos 97a.
In the words of Ramchal: "The Altar provides a place for all who need to ascend on it. The total height of the Altar is ten cubits built on three distinct levels. The height of the top level is four cubits as is that of the second [or middle] level, while the third [or bottom] level is two cubits high. This is because there is a place here for all the Palaces of the World of Beriyah according to their order of ascent. The top four cubits correspond to Keter , Chochmah and Binah in the Palace known as Holy of Holies, together with Desire [= Tiferet ], which ascends higher than all the others. The middle four cubits correspond to Chesed , Gevurah , Netzach and Hod . The bottom two cubits correspond to Yesod and Malchut , which join together in the Palace of Sapphire Stone . Know that the Supreme Wisdom [ Chochmah ] contains thirty-two pathways under which all things are subsumed: these are the ten Sefirot together with the twenty-two letters of the Aleph-Beit from top to bottom. Correspondingly the Lower Wisdom - Shechinah - is called "Glory" [ KaVoD = 32], because like the Upper Wisdom she too contains thirty-two pathways, only in this case they are ordered from the bottom upwards. Four lights descended from the Shechinah into the World of Beriyah . They are called Glory. When these lights reached their bottom level [i.e. the base ( Yesod ) of the Altar, which is thirty-two cubits square] all thirty-two appeared merged together in one place. (Ramchal).
In verses 15f the Altar hearth is called the HAR-EL (="Mount of God") and the ARI-EL (="Lion of God"), alluding to the shape of the crouching lion taken by the consuming Altar fire and to the likeness of the face of the lion (CHESSED) on the Chayos.
In verses 18-27 Ezekiel is instructed to consecrate the Altar in order to inaugurate it for daily service. RaDaK commenting on the word "and YOU shall put it" in verse 19, writes: "He is speaking to Ezekiel, who was a Cohen, saying that he should hand the offering to the priests to offer and he should sprinkle the blood and make atonement on the Altar. For in the future he will be the High Priest, even though Aaron will be there, or he will be his deputy, and this verse also teaches about the revival of the dead in the future."
The future Temple service is to be conducted by the line of Cohanim descended from Tzaddok (v 19). This is because he was the first High Priest in Solomon's Temple and he was descended from the sons of Elazar the Priest, because the covenant of the priesthood was given to Elazar's son Pinchas and his seed, while the sons of Ithamar went down on the scale of the priesthood on account of the curse of Eli (RaDaK on Ezekiel 40:48).
The ox to be offered as the inaugural sin offering (vv 19-21) parallels the sin offering of the ox at the original inauguration of Aaron and his sons (Menachos 45a) but the sin offering of goats from the second to the seventh day of the future inauguration services (vv 22-26) does not parallel anything at the time of the inauguration of the Sanctuary in the wilderness (Rashi on v 22) but is a new innovation.
* * * Ezekiel 43:10-27 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10), which tells how Aaron the High Priest and his sons were to be inaugurated into the priesthood. * * *
After teaching about the form of the Future Temple and its inauguration services, Ezekiel's prophecy now turns to detailing the regular functioning of the Temple and its ministering priests, the Cohanim.
Ezekiel's prophecies were arranged by the Men of the Great Assembly, but some of what he says, particularly in certain places later in the present chapter and in those that follow, raised concern among the sages because he appears to contradict what is written in the Five Books of Moses. They sought to hide away his prophesies - until a certain sage by the name of Hananyah ben Hizkiah hid himself away in an attic with three hundred barrels of oil for light by which to study, until he succeeded in understanding what Ezekiel was saying and how it fitted with what is written in the Torah (Hagigah 13a).
In verses 1-2 Ezekiel is set down by the east gate of the Temple building, adjacent to which he is shown the southern side-entrance by the main gate (Middos 4:2) where no man may enter - for the Glory of HaShem passes there - and which is to remain closed except when the NASI sits there to "eat bread", i.e. sacrificial portions. This NASI is "the Cohen Gadol, who because of his importance is permitted to eat the bread and meat of holy offerings in that gateway, which is opened for him when he eats" (Rashi on v 3). Metzudas David (on v 3) states that this NASI is Melech HaMashiach.
Ezekiel is then taken to the northern side-entrance, and he sees how the House is filled with the Glory of HaShem (v 4). In the ensuing prophecy in verses 5-8 God tells Ezekiel to take careful note of all the details of the Temple that he has been shown and to warn Israel against the rebellion and abominations that led to the destruction of the First Temple. The "strangers, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh" who had entered there and ministered had not been non-Israelites but rather, those who "made their deeds strange to their Father in Heaven" to the point that not only were they uncircumcised in heart but they did not even circumcise their flesh (see Rashi on v 7, Zevachim 22b).
Verses 10ff teach that "the Levites that went far away from Me when Israel went astray after what they went astray" - i.e. Cohanim who had practiced some kind of idolatry, the descendants of lines other than that of Tzaddok - will have only limited functions in the Future Temple. While they will be permitted to slaughter the sacrificial animals (v 11), this is because a ZAR (non-Cohen) is in any case permitted to carry out the SHECHITAH. However all the ensuing acts of priestly service following the SHECHITAH - receiving the blood, taking it to the Altar and sprinkling it in its proper place - will be barred to these "Levites" and permitted only to the descendants of Tzaddok (vv 15-16).
One of the apparent contradictions between Ezekiel and Exodus is that Ezekiel seems to say in verse 17 that "when they come within the gates of the Inner Courtyard, they shall wear garments of linen and no wool shall come upon them" whereas the garments of the High Priest and the ordinary priests as described in Exodus ch 28 specifically include certain mixtures of wool with linen that are otherwise forbidden to be worn (SHA'ATNEZ). The apparent contradiction is resolved the moment we realize that here in Ezekiel the "Inner Courtyard" alludes to the Holy of Holies, and that he is referring to the High Priest on Yom Kippur, who enters there dressed in garments of pure linen (Leviticus 16:4; see Rashi on Ezekiel v 17).
Verses 20ff teach special rules that apply to the Cohanim when they serve in the Temple , such as the way they are to cut their hair, the prohibition of consuming wine at the time of their service, and limitations on who they are permitted to marry. These compare with laws given in Parshas Emor (Leviticus 21:1ff etc.). A seeming inconsistency between verse 22 of our present chapter and Leviticus 21:7 & 14 as to whether a Cohen may marry a widow and whether she needs to be that of a Cohen is resolved through careful textual analysis (see Rashi on v 22).
Verses 28ff teach that the Cohanim will have no tribal portion in the Land of Israel among the other tribes. Instead they will receive their priestly gifts as taught in the Torah: the priests' share of the meal, sin and guilt offerings, the first fruits, Terumah (the first tithe), Challah (the first portion of the dough) and dedications (CHEREM).
Verse 31 stating that the priests may not eat any part of "that which dies of itself (NEVEILAH) or is torn (TEREIFAH), whether it is a bird or beast" could be taken to imply that Israelites who are not priests WILL be permitted to eat NEVEILAH and TEREIFAH - which would contradict the Torah. However, the true intent of the verse is to give a specific warning about this to the priests since in the Temple their way of slaughtering bird sacrifices is not with a knife (SHECHITAH) but with their thumb nail (MELIKAH), which is TREIF to a non-Cohen, and they might wrongly infer that this entitles the Cohanim to eat other kinds of TREIF as well (Menachos 45a). Let us not imagine we can understand everything. "Rabbi Yochanan said: This parshah will be explained by Elijah the Prophet" (ibid.).
* * * Ezekiel 44:15-31 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23), which begins with the laws that apply uniquely to the priests. * * *
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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