(Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18)
April 9, 2005
In this week\’s haftarah, the last of the special readings for the four special parshiyot which precede Pesach, the prophet Ezekiel outlines his vision of the special rites for the purification of the Temple during the first month of the year (Nisan). These ritual innovations include a special offering for the first and seventh days of the month: \”Thus said the Lord God: \’In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a young bull without blemishes and you shall purify the sanctuary. And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the house and upon the four corners of the ledge of the altar and to the doorposts of the gate of the inner court. You shall do the same on the seventh day of the month to purge the Temple from the uncleanness caused by unwitting (shogeh) or ignorant persons (umepeti).\’\” (Ezekiel 46:18-20)
These innovations, which have no precedent in the Torah, were meant to purify the Temple, the first to sanctify the inner precinct of the Temple while the second, was meant to sanctify the entrance to the Temple. The first atoned for the more serious category of intentional transgressions (meizid) while the second for less serious sins, namely, accidental sins (shogeg). Most interpreters (including Rashi and Rabbi David Kimche) see in these practices, Ezekiel\’s vision for the initiation ceremony for the future Temple.
Verse 20 which deals with accidental sins was interpreted quite differently by Rabbi Johanan in the following rabbinic tradition: \”You shall do the same on the seventh day of the month to purge the Temple from the uncleanness caused by unwitting (shogeh) or ignorant persons (umepeti). – \’Seven\’ says Rabbi Johanan, refers to a sin committed by seven tribes [a majority of the 12 tribes], even though they do not constitute the majority of the community [a minority of the people in these tribes]. \’New – hadash\’ [a play on the word \’hodesh – month\’ which has the same consonants.] – that is to say, they decided a new law that halev – forbidden fat is permitted for consumption. [It is really forbidden by the Torah – Lev. 7:25.] \’For everyone who erred and for him who is simple\’ – this teaches that they are liable only if the ruling [of the Beit Din was made] in ignorance and the transgression of the community was committed in error – namely, the people listened to the Beit Din and ate the forbidden fat. (Adapted from Menuhot 45a)
Rabbi Johanan\’s reinterpretation of this verse reframes its message as a contemporary one. He asserts that this verse boldly holds leaders accountable for any misguided rulings they may give which might mislead their clientele and cause them to unwittingly transgress. Mistakes made by leaders always calls for some sort of accommodation on their part and on the part of the community. The community cannot be made whole without it.
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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