(Ezekiel 44:15 – 31)
May 12, 2001
The Talmud records the following controversy concerning the book of Ezekiel.
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: In truth, that man, whose name is Hananiah ben Hezekiah, should be remembered for a blessing, for if it were not for him, the Book of Ezekiel would not have been included in the canon of the Bible, since its words contradict the Torah. What did he do? … He sat in the upper chambers and reconciled the contradictions. (adapted from the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 13b).
Parshat Emor and its Haftarah ostensibly deal with the laws which govern the lives of the Kohanim – the priests, who served as the religious leadership of the Jewish people in Temple times. Parshat Emor sets down the standards which were to govern the lives of the priests both in their personal lives and in their ritual roles. Ezekiel’s prophecy concerns itself with the priesthood in the Temple in Messianic times.
When we compare Ezekiel’s standards for the priesthood with those of the Torah, we note a number of differences which bothered the rabbis. On a number of issues, Ezekiel seems to mandate a standard which is stricter than that of the Torah. Ezekiel’s rulings are more demanding with regard to the length of the priests’ hair (verse 20), marriage prohibitions (verse 22), and handling the dead (verse 25). Similarly, while the Torah prohibits participation in Temple rituals only to those Kohanim who have certain specific physical deformities, Ezekiel limits the future priestly role only to a select family of priests who have never played a role in idolatrous practices. Ezekiel is as concerned with the spiritual purity of the priests as he is with their physical state.
How do we explain the discrepancies between the laws and standards as found in the Torah and as we find them in Ezekiel’s prophecy? Can it be that Ezekiel was unaware of the Torah’s standards? It is possible that he wanted to create more exacting standards for Israel’s future religious leadership. He hoped that by elevating the regulations which govern their appearance, beliefs and behavior they would serve as more effective role models. Perhaps this explains why Ezekiel details the priests’ most important roles as teachers, judges, and legislators only after he has established the standards which will make them worthy of these positions. (verse 23-24).
Only when our leaders will be worthy of serving as role models will we be able to achieve God’s will on earth.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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