Haftarah Parshat Emor (outside Israel)
May 12, 2012
20 Iyar 5772
Ezekiel’s prophecy sought to create a new religious political order – a religious elite which would govern and officiate over the religious life of the community on account of their proven loyalty to the tradition: “But the levitical priests descended from Zadok, who maintained the service of My sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from Me – they shall approach Me to minister to Me; they shall stand before Me to offer Me fat and blood, declared the Lord God.” (verse 15)
In the passage which precedes this verse, Ezekiel elaborated those who were rejected from this new order: “Thus said the Lord God: Let no alien, uncircumcised in heart and in flesh, enter My sanctuary – no alien whatsoever among the people of Israel… But the Levites who forsook Me when Israel went astray – straying from Me to serve their fetishes – shall suffer their punishment. They shall be servitors in My sanctuary… because they served the House of Israel in the presence of their fetishes and made them stumble into guilt, therefore, declares the Lord, I have sworn concerning them that they shall suffer their punishment. They shall not approach Me to serve Me as priests.” (44:9;12-13)
Ezekiel faced a dilemma not unlike that faced by the Jewish people in every generation. We are, after all, a minority people with a unique outlook, faced by an oceanic majority culture which has the potential to swallow up all that is special about Jewish culture. How does one protect and preserve the religious ideals of the Jewish people? Will padding the numbers do it, drawing in those on the periphery of Jewish life, or will battening down the hatches, preserving traditional practice and ideological purity do it?
It seems clear from Ezekiel’s choice to establish a religiously loyal elite and to banish those with syncretistic tendencies from Temple life that Ezekiel felt threatened by the very human tendency among a threatened minority people to assimilate outside practices. His response was to advocate a turn inward, to restore standards, and to influence those on the outside by revitalizing the core institutions.
Ezekiel’s choice was not a simple one. Advocates for accommodations to new conditions probably thought that they were Judaism’s true saviors and most certainly they had the ear of the masses. It seems that Ezekiel thought otherwise. The right leadership could rally the people, determine the course of events and challenge the situation which threatened the Jewish people.
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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