Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
EZEKIEL CHAPTER 9
"And He cried in my ears with a loud voice saying." (v 1). In the last verse of the previous chapter (from which the present verse follows with no section break in the Hebrew text), God had said that He would have no mercy on the people of Jerusalem because of their sins, "and though they CRY IN MY EARS WITH A LOUD VOICE, I will not hear them" (Ezekiel 8:18). The opening verse of the present chapter directly echoes this phrase, and now God "cries out with a loud voice" ordering "those that have charge of the city" to draw close with their weapons of destruction in their hands (v 1 of our present chapter).
Ezekiel, who in his prophetic vision was standing in the Temple courtyard, now saw "six men coming by way of the Upper Gate" (v 2) together with a seventh wearing linen with a scribe's equipment at his side. RaDaK states that according to the plain meaning of the text, Ezekiel prophetically saw the ministers of Nebuchadnezzar who were to enter Jerusalem when the city walls were breached six years after this prophecy (Jeremiah 39:3, see RaDaK on v 2 of our present chapter). On the level of Drash, the sages of the Talmud stated that the first six men were destructive angels, KETZEF, AF, CHEIMAH, MASHKHEES, MESHABER and MEKHALEH - "Rage, Anger, Fury, Spoiler, Smasher and Destroyer" - while the King's "scribe" dressed in linen who later cast fire upon the city was the angel Gabriel (Shabbos 55a, Rashi & RaDaK ad loc.). The "brazen altar" by the side of which they stood to receive their orders was the name given to King Solomon's stone altar, which replaced the brazen altar for animal offerings that Moses had made for the Sanctuary in the wilderness. The stone altar stood in the AZARAH, the main Temple courtyard (as opposed to the golden incense altar, which stood inside the Temple sanctuary in between the Menorah and the Showbread Table).
"And the glory of the God of Israel ascended from the cherub upon which it rested to the threshold of the House." (v 3). Since the inauguration of the Temple by King Solomon, the Shechinah (the Divine Presence="the glory") had rested in the Temple Holy of Holies over the KAPORES, the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, in between the cherubs that stood upon it. This "point" was the interface between our material world and the spiritual world that governs it. Our present chapter and the next describe how, simultaneously with ordering the destruction of Jerusalem , the Divine Presence ascended from its place and stage by stage left first the Temple and finally the city.
"We learn from our texts that the Shechinah made ten journeys . from the Altar cover (KAPORES) to the cherub, from one cherub to the other, from the cherub to the threshold, from the threshold to the courtyard, from the courtyard to the altar, from the altar to the roof, from the roof to the wall, from the wall to the city, from the city to the mountain and from the mountain to the wilderness, and from the wilderness she ascended and dwelled in her place, as it says, 'I shall go and return to My place'" (Hosea 5:15; Rosh Hashanah 31a; cf. the princess's journey in her carriage in Rabbi Nachman's story of The Lost Princess).
As the glory ascended from the cherub, HaShem called to the "scribe" to place marks on the heads of all the remaining tzaddikim in Jerusalem - those who sighed over the abominations practiced in her midst. These were to be a sign for the angels of destruction to spare them when they came to slaughter the wicked. These marks were akin to the marks daubed with the blood of the paschal lamb on the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt to save them from the angels who came to destroy the Egyptians (RaDaK on v 4).
However, the sages of the Talmud taught that even though there were indeed still some tzaddikim in Jerusalem who were pained by these abominations, the "scribe" could find nobody who was free of all guilt. "There was never an occasion when goodness came forth from the mouth of the Holy One blessed be He and He afterwards relented so that it turned into bad except in this case. God told Gabriel to go and mark the foreheads of the tzaddikim with ink so that the destructive angels would have no power over them, while placing a mark of blood on the foreheads of the wicked so that the destructive angels would have power over them. But the Attribute of Justice said: Master of the World, what is the difference between these and those? He said: These are complete tzaddikim while those are completely wicked. Justice said: They had the power to protest but they did not. He said: It is revealed and known before Me that if they had protested, the wicked would not have listened. But Justice replied: 'Master of the World, to You it may have been revealed, but they did not know (and they ought to have protested)'. Thus the verse says, 'Slay the old, the young men and girls, the children and the women. but do not come near any man who has upon him the mark'. But immediately after this, the same verse continues, '.and BEGIN at My sanctuary (MIKDASHI)' and it goes on to say, 'and they BEGAN with the elders who were before the House' (v 6). Do not read the word as MIKDASHI but rather as MEKUDASHAI, 'My sanctified ones' - these are the men who kept the Torah from Aleph to Tav" (Shabbos 55a). We may learn from this that it is not sufficient to practice the Torah ourselves: we are also obliged to protest against the wicked who violate it.
Verse 7 describes how God gave instructions to the destroyers to go into action. "And it came to pass as they were slaying them that I was left" (v 8) - Ezekiel realized that he alone was left, because the scribe did not inscribe the mark of life on the foreheads of anyone else since he could not find anyone who was a complete tzaddik owing to their failure to protest against the abominations (Metzudas David ad loc.). Ezekiel screams out begging for mercy, but God answers that the sin of Jerusalem was too great, because they had said that God had "abandoned" the earth - i.e. that there was no such thing as divine providence or judgment, and they were therefore free to do as they pleased - and now He would show them His providential hand of judgment (vv 8-9).
"And behold the man clothed in linen. reported saying, I have done according to all that You commanded me" (v 11) - "For you only commanded me to make a mark on the foreheads of the righteous and not anyone else, and so have I done, because I did not mark the foreheads of anyone else since I did not find any tzaddikim" (Metzudas David ad loc.).
In the opening chapter of the book, Ezekiel described his first vision of the Divine Glory "riding" upon the "Chariot" - the apparatus of Chayos and Ophanim through which God providentially governs the world. In his vision in the present chapter, which directly continues the narrative in the previous chapter about how God commanded the agents of destruction to destroy Jerusalem, Ezekiel tells HOW the "apparatus" he had seen in the earlier vision now began to OPERATE, in this case in order to cast the fire of destruction upon the city as demanded by the divine Attribute of Justice.
Whereas in chapter 1 Ezekiel called the "beasts" drawing the chariot CHAYOS, he now calls them KERUVIM, "cherubs", (for the reason discussed in the commentary on chapter 1; see also the comment on v 20 of the present chapter). Looking towards the "throne" or "seat" of the "chariot" over the firmament above the heads of these "cherubs", the prophet hears the divine voice commanding the "man dressed in linen" - the angel Gabriel - to go between the "wheels" below the cherubs and fill his hands with coals of fire to cast all over the city (v 2).
While Ezekiel, looking prophetically at the very roots of God's providence, saw everything happening almost simultaneously, the actual events took time to unfold in This World. Thus verse 2 states: "And He said (VAYOMER) to the man dressed in linen, and he said (VAYOMER)." Rashi comments: "Wherever the text says VAYOMER. VAYOMER. this is only in order to darshen. The Holy One blessed be He spoke to Gabriel, and Gabriel in turn spoke to the cherub requesting that he GIVE him the coals (instead of Gabriel's filling his own hands with them directly) in order that the coals should be cooled so as to lighten the decree. Thus it says later, 'and he took it and gave it into the hands of the one dressed in linen' (v 7). .And even though the one dressed in linen received them, he did not throw them immediately but only six years after the time he received them, so that the coals should become dimmed in his hand all those six years. The proof is that this prophecy was given to Ezekiel in the sixth year of Tzedekiah's reign (see Ezekiel 8:1) while the city was destroyed in the eleventh year" (Rashi on v 2).
"Then the Glory of HaShem went up from the cherub to the threshold of the House" (v 4). Rashi states that this ascent of the Shechinah is the same as described in the previous chapter (Ezekiel 9:3). The narrative in the present chapter complements that in the previous chapter. Perhaps in his vision the prophet saw everything in one simultaneous flash, but when it came to telling what he saw, he had to go back and forth to describe different aspects.
"And the sound of the wings of the cherubs was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when He speaks" (v 5). The "outer court" is the rest of the Temple Mount outside of the inner courtyard. "Could it be that the voice only reached there because it was low? No - for the verse says that it was 'like the voice of God Almighty when He speaks' (i.e. the great voice in which He spoke at Mt Sinai, Deut. 5:19). But when it reached the outer courtyard, it stopped and went no further (see Rashi on v 5; see. Metzudas David ad loc.; cf. Rashi on Leviticus 1:1). A screen of TZIMTZUM (limitation, contraction) intervenes, preventing all who are unworthy from hearing the inner voice of God's providence.
In vv 6-7 Ezekiel sees how the cherub puts coals into the hand of the one dressed in linen.
IN vv 8ff the prophet gives further description of the cherubs - the chayos he saw in the vision in chapter 1 - and the ophanim, describing again how the ophanim, the omni-directional wheels of the "chariot", "automatically" went wherever the "head" - the cherub, the "beast" drawing it - went.
"And every one [of the cherubs/chayos] had four faces. The first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle" (v 14). Ezekiel himself tells us in verse 20 that the cherubs he saw in the present vision were themselves the chayos he saw in his vision at the River Kvar (Ezekiel 1:5ff). The only difference is that in the present vision he saw the face of a cherub instead of the face of the ox that he had seen at the River Kvar. Our sages opened a tiny chink into the mystery of the reason for this change when they said that Ezekiel begged God to have mercy, asking how the "accuser" (the golden calf - an "ox") could become a "defender" (one of the drawers of the Divine Chariot; Talmud Chagigah 13a).
With Ezekiel watching, the Divine Chariot makes successive "journeys" out from the Temple . As long as the Temple stood, it was at the very center of everything: all the lines of God's providence radiated outwards from there to the entire world. Even today, God's providence remains at the center of everything, but from the time of the destruction of the Temple it ascended from there and can no longer be seen to be manifestly radiating from Jerusalem . It continues to govern the world, but it does so from a place of mystery. "Blessed be the glory of HaShem FROM HIS PLACE" (Ez. 3:12; Kedushah).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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