In the previous chapter Ezekiel was commanded to carry out a series of symbolic actions alluding to the coming Babylonian siege against the city of Jerusalem , represented by a large builder's brick. Now God commands him to take "a sharp sword, a barber's razor" and shave the hair of his head and beard, which he is to weigh out carefully into three equal portions (v 1 of our present chapter). He is to burn a third on top of the "city" carved into the brick; he is to smite a third with a sword round about the "city", and he is to take the last third and scatter it to the winds (v 2).

The meaning of these symbolic actions is specified later in the chapter in verse 12: a third of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were to die under siege through the burning "fire" of plague and famine; a third would be cut down by the sword while trying to escape the Babylonians, while a third would be scattered in every direction in exile, and even there the sword would chase after them.

The only consolation in all of this was God's instruction to Ezekiel in verse 3: "You shall also take from these a small number and bind them in the corners of your garment." - "These are the few people who would go into exile to Babylon and live" (Rashi ad loc.). Yet even some of these would be burned in the fire that was to ravage the House of Israel (v 4). The saving of the remnant through being bound in the corners of Ezekiel's garments suggests that these were the people who "took hold of the Tzitzis" of the Tzaddik, i.e. followed his advice (see Likutey Moharan I, 7) and that they were saved in his merit.

In verses 5-10 The prophet set's forth God's "case" against the sinners of Jerusalem, on account of which He was to unleash the terrible retribution alluded to in Ezekiel's signs. "Thus says the Lord God: This is Jerusalem , I have set her in the midst of the nations and countries are round about her" (v 5). "I put her inhabitants there for their own good, because she is the choicest of all lands, 'fairest of sites, the joy of all the earth' (Psalms 48:3). For she is in the center of the world, and therefore her air and climate are better than those of all other lands. Her inhabitants should have followed the straight path and carried out my good statutes. But instead they changed them, and did greater evil than all the nations around them" (RaDaK on v 5).

".nor have you done according to the practices of the nations around you" (v 7) - "For the nations never exchanged their gods even though they have no godly power, whereas you have exchanged My glory for that which is of no benefit. You have not followed the practices of those who are well ordered, but instead you have followed the practices of those who are corrupt" (Rashi ad loc.; Sanhedrin 39b).

"Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold I, even I am against you." (v 8) - "You have betrayed Me, so I too am against you" (Rashi). Verses 9ff specify the retribution that God was to send against Jerusalem . Only thus "shall my anger spend itself and I will relieve my fury" (v 13). In the Hebrew text, the word rendered "I will relieve" is VA-HANICHOSI. In a play on this word, the Talmud teaches that when Israel suffers at the hands of the nations, God HEAVES A DEEP SIGH (ANACHAH)!!!" (Berachos 59a).

Because of her abuse of her privileged status, the desolate Jerusalem would become the reproach of all the surrounding nations (vv 14-15).


In continuation of the prophecy of the coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem , Ezekiel - located in Babylon - is now commanded to turn his face in the direction of the hills of Israel and to prophecy against them. This was because the favored locations for the people's idolatrous altars and cult centers were on the tops of hills, which were not only places of outstanding natural beauty but also afforded spectacular skyscapes of all the planets, stars and constellations they worshiped.

Later on in Ezekiel ch 8 we will be shown an intimate picture of how even the most respected dignitaries of the people perpetrated the most abominable forms of idolatry in the very Temple itself. In our present chapter we hear of the retribution God was to send against this idolatry, which was evidently rampant throughout Judah and practiced on all its hilltops: not only their altars and sun-images but their very cities would be destroyed, and the bodies of the guilty would fall dead before their worthless idols (vv 3-7).

".and you shall know that I am HaShem" (v 7): the whole purpose of this retribution was to teach the people what they refused to learn the gentle way - that God has complete power and will not overlook the flouting of His will. Broken-hearted in exile, the remnant would understand the evil of their ways and repent (vv 7-10).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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