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Haftarah The First Day of Shavuot

Haftarah The First Day of Shavuot (Ezekiel 1:1-28;3:12)
May 24, 2015 / 6 Sivan, 5775

There were two prophets of the period of the destruction of the First Temple, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jeremiah experienced the destruction and prophesied while dwelling in the land of Israel. Ezekiel, in contrast, lived in the land, experienced the exile but prophesied while living in the Babylonian exile. He was the only “exilic” prophet. The Talmud characterized him in these words: Ezekiel commenced with destruction and ended with consolation. (Bava Batra 14b) In other words, his experiences and his prophecies encapsulate something intrinsic to the Jewish experience which no other prophet captured.

The second Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Yehuda Arye Leib Alter, known by the name of his most famous work as the “Sfat Emet” (Poland 19th-20th century), saw in Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the chariot a message of comfort for all Jews in exile (living outside of the homeland) and expressed it in these words: “And like the Holy One Blessed be He showed Ezekiel: ‘And the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel’ (1:3) – to comfort the children of Israel in exile. And this is intended to be testimony for the entire exile that despite there not being any more prophets, Ezekiel was exceptional among the prophets, [and therefore appropriate]  to serve as a paradigm for all of the prophets. This is why we read of the vision of the chariot on Shavuot to remind us of the eternal strength of ‘Anochi’ for Israel, as we learn from the verse: ‘And I will not forget you’. (Isaiah 49:15) (Sfat Emet Moedim 2, Or Etzion ed. pp. 348-9)

What about this mystical vision inspired the Sfat Emet as a message of comfort? He links Ezekiel’s prophecy with a question asked about an anomalous verse describing the revelation at Sinai: “And all of the people saw the thunder” (Exodus 29:15) This verse, he explains, has to be understood using the legal concept coined to describe how a blind person is capable of recognizing his or her spouse – “Teviot eina d’kala – recognition of the voice” [literally: sight perception of the voice]. (See Gittin 23a) Something in us intuitively discerns the voice of God. Why should we have particular affinity to Ezekiel’s message? There is solace in his message since his exilic experience most directly reflects our own experience. When we hear his prophecy, we know that God has not forgotten us and we become aware that the path back to God is still retrievable.

No message could be more valuable as we stand before God to receive the Torah on Shavuot.

About This Commentary

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:

  • Underwriters:  Rabbi Michael and Erica Schwab.
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