Haftarah Parshat Tetzaveh
February 12, 2011
8 Adar Aleph, 5771
In theme, this week’s parashah follows along the lines of last week’s parashah. Both lay out the plans for the mishkan – the sanctuary in the desert – and some of the requirements for those who will maintain it. Ezekiel’s message in this week’s haftarah follows a similar path, only that he lays out plans for the future Temple – one that will be built upon the final redemption. God introduces these plans with an unusual request: “[Now] you, 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 plans of the Temple and its layout, its exits and 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 all its laws.” (43:10-11)
This juxtaposition of chastisement with the detailed architectural plans has perplexed commentators, who have tried to discern a message in this combination. Targum Yonathan, the Aramaic translation of the prophets, asserts that seeing the future Temple will inspire contrition over past iniquities. Their penitence will, in turn, make it possible for them to see the actual plans and participate in its building. Rashi largely builds on the message of the Targum, but prefixes its message with a noteworthy
addition: “[God says:] When I show them My kindness, that I do not loath them on account of their sin.” Rashi wants to say that the sinner can only turn him or herself around when they have a sense that they are not abandoned on account of their wrongdoing. The redemption and rebuilding, according to Rashi, begins with God’s love.
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) approaches Ezekiel’s message differently: “Tell them that the Temple was destroyed on account of their sins. The next Temple will not be destroyed since they will not sin” (Abridged) According to Kimche, the prophet wants the people to be aware that the fate of the Temple is in their hands.
Rabbi Eliezer from Beaugency, who was noted for his search for the plain meaning of the text, drew the clearest message from Ezekiel’s message. He concluded that the people should know that God is far from them on account of their sins. “They should measure the distance” so that they will know and seek to restore their relationship with God.
What is clear from these three different approaches is that God seeks reconciliation with His people. Rashi tells us that God’s love is with us to give us strength but as these other interpreters also inform us, we must have the fortitude to mend ourselves so that we may be worthy to build God’s world and bring about its redemption.
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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