February 19, 2005
Ezekiel\’s messages of consolation are always an admixture of both solace and reproof. His message that the Temple would be rebuilt was combined together with an adjuration that the plans for the Temple would somehow inspire the people to repent: \”[Now] you, O mortal, describe the Temple to the House of Israel, and let them measure its design. But let them be ashamed of their iniquities: When they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the plan of the Temple and its layout, its exits and its entrances- its entire plan, and all the laws and instructions pertaining to its entire plan. Write it down before their eyes, that they may faithfully follow its entire plan and its laws. (Ezekiel 43:10-11)
What is unclear in this passage is how the details of the construction of the Temple might inspire the people to repent? Rabbi David Kimche (Provance 12th century) claimed that the plans for the future Temple would remind the people that the First Temple was destroyed because of their sins. This recognition would hopefully arouse the people to repent in order to avoid future tragedy and prompt the Divine redemption. Rabbi Eliezer of Beaugency (N. France 12th century) asserted that the plans for the Temple would remind the people to recognize their alienation from the Temple which served as God\’s throne room on earth. Their desire to regain intimacy with God would help them repair their ways.
Rabbi Yitzchak Abrabanel (Spain 15th century) took issue with these interpretations, claiming that this prophecy was meant to contend with an immediate problem found among Ezekiel\’s fellow exiles in Babylonia. According to Abrabanel, Ezekiel sought to combat the idolatrous tendency to worship the sun and the moon. (See Ezekiel 8:16) The prophecy of the details of the plans for the future was intended to provide the people with a spiritual-practical diversion from their religious errors. If they focused their energies on the details of God\’s \”dwelling place\” on earth, they would again focus their attention on God and would be weaned of their idolatrous practices.
Abrabanel then spells out his educational strategy in doing this. He claims that human focus on the positive act of building the Temple involved the use of the use of the senses. This perception, in turn, would activate the intellect to recall the claims of the tradition. The awareness of the claims of the tradition would ultimately lead to a renewed awareness of God.
Abrabanel\’s educational philosophy makes sense. It is the embodiment of the rabbinic understanding of the people\’s response to God\’s revelation at Sinai: \”naaseh v\’nishma – we will do and we will understand\” – a person\’s active behavior will ultimately inspire his or her beliefs.
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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