10 Adar I 5768
February 16, 2008
When God commanded Ezekiel to show the children of Israel a vision of the plans for His ideal Temple, He commanded him to preface the vision with a message which blended both hope and despair: \”[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…\” (Verses 10-1)
The combination of these two ideas in a single message led the sages and later commentators to ponder the significance of the odd pairing. Rabbi David Kimche (13 th century Provence) asserts that God showed them the design to remind them that their sins caused the destruction of the First Temple so that they will be ashamed and not repeat their sins when the Temple is rebuilt. Rabbi Eliezer from Beaugency (13th century France) thought that by presenting the people with the image of the Temple at a distance, the people would be reminded that the Temple was distant from them because of their sins and would turn to repentance. Similarly, Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel (15th century Spain) concluded that it was the sins of Ezekiel\’s generation, who lived in Babylonian exile, which were the aim of this message. He wanted them to desist from their idolatrous behavior and return to the worship of the God of Israel. He thought that showing them the plans for the Temple in Jerusalem would return them to their loyalty to God.
A late midrash, Tanna deBei Eliyahu, offers up Ezekiel\’s message from God\’s vantage point: \”The [following] vision later appeared to Ezekiel. And He said unto me… Now you, O mortal, for My own glory I raised Israel above all of the nations of the world. Is this not My glory and the House which I have built for you? As it is written: \’Show the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed… Make known to them the form of the Temple, etc. (Ezek. 43:10-11) Lest you say that I am lacking someone who will worship Me, isn\’t it well known that six hundred thousand four hundred and ninety six ministering angels stand and sanctify My great name every day from when the sun rises until it goes down, saying: \’Holy, holy, holy\’, and from the setting of the sun until it rises, saying: \’Blessed is the lord\’s glory from His place\’. So then, why are your ways loathsome and your words inappropriate? And you scorn the afflictions that come upon you. But what should I [God] do? I must redeem you for the sake of My great name, by which you have been designated, as it is said, \’But I will do for My name\’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, among whom they were’ (Ezekiel 20:14) (adapted from Eliyahu Rabba 6, Ish Shalom ed. p. 34)
In Ezekiel\’s spirit, this midrash informs Israel of God\’s enormous disappointment and attempts to shame Israel into proper behavior by noting that God really is not in need of our praise. Our relationship with Him is to our advantage. He will redeem us and restore us for His own sake. The rest is up to us.
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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