March 13, 2010
27 Adar 5770
This special haftarah for the Shabbat preceding Nisan, the month of the Pesah celebration, is chock full of details about Temple rites which either contradict earlier teachings or present Temple procedures unknown in the Torah. Some sages mulled over Ezekiel\’s prescriptions, seeking accommodations with previous traditions; others presume that Ezekiel records a prophecy of the future Temple; while still others seek the hidden religious message found in the details that Ezekiel recounts.
One of these details records an otherwise innocuous detail about the schedule of one of the gates of the Temple: \”But on the Sabbath it will be open; and on the day of the new moon it will be open.\’ (46:1) This regulation seems to deal with the east gate which was normally closed on weekdays but on Shabbat and on Rosh Hodesh was opened so that the Nasi (the King) and the people could pass through. (Rimon Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L\’Yisrael, p. 895)
In the following midrash, this technical detail served to provide evidence for a significant religious message: \”Is there anyone more humble than the Holy One Blessed be He? Said Rabbi Abba bar Aha: \’It is customary for one to sit before one\’s teacher and wait for his teacher. [The teacher does not wait for the student. Nevertheless,] the Holy One Blessed Be He said to Ezekiel: \’Arise, go out to the plain and there I will speak with you. I (Ezekiel) got up and went out to the plain and behold, the glory of God stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river Chebar and I fell on my face.\’ (Ezekiel 3:22-23) This comes to teach that the Holy One Blessed be He preceded Ezekiel to the plain. Is there humility greater than this? Similarly: And the Lord said to me: \’This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter in by it, for the Lord, God of Israel has entered in by it; therefore it shall be shut.\’ (Ibid. 44:2) But on the Sabbath it will be open; and on the day of the new moon it will be open.\’ (Ibid. 46:1) Kings of flesh and blood consider it honorable to enter through the big entrance; would such a king ever consider entering through the small (less impressive) entrance? Yet, the Holy One Blessed be He enters through the smaller entrance.\” (Adapted from Tanhuma Ki Tisa 15)
The sages understood the closed gate to refer to a small gate that remained closed in normal times but that in the future would be opened to allow God\’s indwelling presence – the Shechina to enter. In the meantime, earthly kings enter through the much larger gate.
The larger message of this midrash, though, is that God, who is great, and therefore has no reason to be humble, nevertheless acts with humility. This midrash teaches us God\’s virtues, not simply as a lesson in God\’s nature. Its expectation is that we, as human beings, should emulate this divine quality in our lives as a basis for truly living out what it means to be created in God\’s image.
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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