Haftarah Parshat Tetsaveh
February 8, 2014
8 Adar I 5774
Ezekiel’s prophecy is ostensibly a message of consolation which presents his people with plans for the building and inauguration of the future Temple. This being said, his opening message is a still a mixed one, combining both reproach and consolation: “[Now] you, O mortal, describe the Temple to the House of Israel, but let them be ashamed of their iniquities, and let them measure its design.” (43:10)
In order to understand this strange combination, it is necessary to refer back to the verses which immediately precede it: “O mortal, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people Israel forever. The House of Israel and their kings must not again defile My holy name by their apostasy and by the corpses of their kings at their death…” (43:7…) Ezekiel, the prophet who dwelled in Babylonian exile wanted to remind his fellow exiles that the destruction of the Temple had been brought about by the people’s disloyalty to God and, in particular, that of its leaders. His expectation was that in the future Temple, it was imperative that this behavior not recur.
The question before Ezekiel was how to affect a dramatic change in his nation’s behavior in order to prevent the reoccurrence of its negative deeds. His answer is found in the opening sentence of the haftarah cited above. He urged his followers to become integrally involved in the planning, building and operation of the Temple with the hope that their attention to its details would give them direction and serve as a palliative for the religious ills of the previous generation. This message was tempered by his reminder (midsentence) of the behavior which resulted in the destruction of the previous Temple and the distance that it created between God and His subjects. This combination of active participation in the nitty-gritty of the religious life of the nation coupled with consciousness and remorse over past wrong deeds was intended to shape the nation’s spiritual life.
Ezekiel has captured an essential Jewish message. A person’s deeds shape his or her identity. It was Ezekiel’s hope that through religious diligence, the nation’s religious life would be transformed and their loyalty to God renewed. It was his desire that this change would work from the ground up – that the people transformation would also revitalize its leadership making it possible for God once again to dwell amongst His people.
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.
The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .
Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: