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Haftarah Parshat Emor

Haftarah Parshat Emor (Ezekiel 44:15-31) – Outside of Israel
May 21, 2016 / 13 Iyar 5776

Ezekiel and Jeremiah lived in tragic times. Both were prophets of the destruction of the First Temple, Jeremiah in Judea and Ezekiel in Babylonia. Jeremiah focused on the reasons for the destruction and on its inevitability while Ezekiel took lessons from its root causes in order to replace the Temple leadership which to his mind had broken down and caused the tragedy.

This perhaps explains the strictures Ezekiel sought to impose upon the Temple leadership in the redeemed Temple: “But the Levitical priests descended from Zadok, who maintained the service of My sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray (be’tot) from Me, they shall approach Me to minister to Me…” (44:15) The people’s sins were described in many of Ezekiel’s earlier prophecies. Many of the them referenced the failings of the people’s leadership, whether they be the political leadership, false prophets or disloyal priests. From Ezekiel’s vantage point, the priests who were descendants of Zadok were alone in their loyalty to God: “nd the chamber that faces north is for the priests who perform the duties of the altar, they are descendants of Zadok, who alone of the descendants of Levi may approach the Lord to minister to Him.” (40:46)

This point resonated with Rabbi David Kimche who attempted to establish a proper pedigree for these priests: “Remember Zadok, for he was the High Priest at the beginning when Solomon built the Temple… and he was from the sons of Elazar the Priest (son of Aaron) and to Pinchas his son and his descendants was given the priestly covenant. And the descendants of Ithamar were tainted by the curse of Eli the priest.” (40:46)

One sees a very interesting phenomenon in Ezekiel’s choice. If Kimche is right, then Ezekiel’s assessment is, in a sense, shaped by nostalgia. He turns to a family which represented past loyalty to God to ensure the future. It is not uncommon for people to reminisce about an ideal past to shape future events. This same mentality shapes the Jewish belief in the Messiah. It is also what shapes our ritual life since it links us to posterity.

Ezekiel’s legislation, however, goes one step further. His nostalgia brings him to outdo the past since his rulings regarding who can serve in the Temple are strictures which did not exist in the past. In essence, he seeks to outdo the past.

This behavior might be an interesting guide to what could happen in some of our modern moral debates where radical swings in societal behavior might cause radical swings in the opposite direction at some future point.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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