Haftarah Parshat Titzaveh (Ezekiel 43:10-23)
February 20, 2016 / 11 Adar A, 5776
Two prophets served the Jewish nation at the time of the destruction of the First Temple, Jeremiah in Judea and Ezekiel in Babylonia. God invested Ezekiel with exact plans for rebuilding the Temple. These plans were detailed and significantly different from the structure of the First Temple. In addition, when these plans were revealed, it did not seem at all likely that the Temple would be rebuilt any time soon. For this reason, the following words struck many a reader as problematic: “You, O mortal, show the house (The Temple) to the children of Israel, that they may ashamed of their sins; and let them measure accurately…” (43:10) The intent of this passage was for the people to rebuild the Temple, show remorse over their sin which had caused the destruction of the previous Temple and rectify their behavior.
The dissonance caused by this prophecy provided grounds for a careful reevaluation of the significance of this prophecy in order for its message to have any significance. The following midrash provides one of the classic rabbinic responses to this problem: When the Holy One Blessed be He revealed Himself and showed Ezekiel the structure of the Temple, He said to Ezekiel: “Show the House to the children of Israel” (43:10). Ezekiel said to Him: “My Master, are they going to build it now as you told them, ‘that they guard its form…and do them’ (43:11)?” God responded: “No, even though they will not build it now, let them read about the structure of the Temple and I will account it to them as if they busied themselves in building it.” (Yalkut Shimoni Ezekiel 247)
This midrash reflects the idea that in lieu of certain obligatory actions which historical exigencies have rendered impossible to carry out, a Jew can study about them and that these studies are accounted as if the person actually performed them. Rabbinic Judaism has so taken ownership of this idea that one might say that Torah study, even of those subjects which are of no practical application, has become emblematic of Jewish identity and religion. The late Professor Gerson Cohen has identified this idea as one of Judaism’s most revolutionary contributions to religion in particular and to Western Civilization in general.
Torah study is one of Judaism’s means for developing a relationship with God. It is not seen as a passive activity. It is seen as dynamic and vital and without it the questions raised by Ezekiel’s prophecy would only lead to despair.
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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