January 28, 2006
Ezekiel\’s harsh indictment of Egypt is prompted by Egypt\’s tremendous sway over Judea in the years leading up to the destruction of the First Temple. Judea, trapped between the two competing world powers of the time, Egypt and Babylonia, doomed itself by taking the side of what would become the losing power. Ezekiel was among the prophets who realized Judea\’s precarious position and its injudicious choice to ally itself with Egypt. Ezekiel\’s message is captured poignantly in these words: \”It [Egypt] shall be the lowliest of all the kingdoms, and shall not lord it over the nations again. I will reduce the Egyptians, so that they will have no dominion over the nations. Never again (lo yehyeh od) shall they be the trust of the House of Israel, recalling its guilt (mazkeer avon) in having turned to them. And they shall know that I am the Lord God.\” (Ezekiel 29:15-16)
According to this prophecy, Egypt\’s demise served two purposes. Egypt\’s reduced status as a world power ensured that Israel would never again trust in it as a political asset. In addition, Egypt\’s diminished position would not remind God or the nation of Judea\’s past sinful alliance with it and their lack of faith in God and His prophetic message. (see Rabbi Joseph Kara\’s comments and those of Rimon Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra l\’Yisrael, p. 575)
This very idea of God\’s desire not to \”recall previous guilt – mazkeer avon\” was adopted in the following midrash as representative of God\’s manifest mercy: Rabbi Yaakov bar Zavdi opened his drashah with a verse from Ezekiel: \”Never again shall they be the trust of the House of Israel, recalling its guilt in having turned to them.\” [The midrash illustrated this verse with a number of examples: In a description of the Divine throne room, the prophet Isaiah states: \”Seraphim stood in attendance on Him [God]. Each of them had six wings: With two he covered his face, with two he covered his legs, and with two he would fly. (6:2) \”With two he would fly\” – to praise God; \”With two he would cover his face\” – so as not to look at God\’s presence (the Shechina); \”and with two he covered his legs\” – so that the Shechina should not see them. [Why should this be? Scripture describes the feet of the seraphim in these words:] \”And the feet of each was like a single calf\’s hoof.\” (Ezekiel 1:7) [Since this was the case, the sight of the feet of the seraphim would remind God of Israel\’s most grievous sin: \”And they made for themselves a molten calf.\” (Exodus 32:8) [This is a reference to the sin of the golden calf.] … Similarly, the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 3:2) teaches: \”All shofarot (animal horns of kosher animals) are acceptable for use of Rosh Hashanah except for that of a cow.\” Why exclude the horn of a cow? Certainly the reason is because it is the horn of a calf, as it is written: \”And they made for themselves a molten calf.\” This is what Scripture means when it says: \”Never again shall they be the trust of the House of Israel, recalling its guilt.\” (adapted from Leviticus Rabbah 27:3 Margolioth ed. pp. 725-7)
The message of this midrash seems to be that God has an abiding interest in allowing those who repent (teshuvah), to get on with their lives. Consequently, He has no interest in being reminded of people\’s sins after they are no longer an issue. Similarly, it is wise advice for those who have left behind sinful ways to avoid the temptations of the past, lest they fall prey to them.
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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