Ezekiel’s picturesque and provocative prophecies

Chaverim,

The last few weeks, we have studied the book of Ezekiel in our breakfast study every Shabbat. This Shabbat we conclude our studies on Ezekiel and therefore it is a wonderful coincidence that the Haftarah is of the same last chapters of this, perhaps the most unusual book of the Bible.

The Visionary Ezekiel Temple plan drawn by the 19th century French architect and Bible scholar Charles Chipiez.

 

Aside from Ezekiel’s picturesque and provocative prophecies, his book is well known for its discrepancies with the normative law that preceded it. One such variance is found in his description of the Temple rites for Rosh Chodesh Nisan: “Thus said the Lord God: In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a young bull without blemish and you shall purify the sanctuary.” (45:18)

This detail seems innocuous to us but it introduced a previously unknown rite to the sacrificial order already fixed in the Torah. This divergence from the previously established procedure obviously bothered the sages and therefore required explanation. The Talmud took up this question, prompting the following debate: “A sin-offering’? But surely it is a burnt-offering? … This was taught: Rabbi Judah says: This passage will be interpreted by Elijah in the future. But Rabbi Yose said to him: [It refers to] the consecration-offering offered in the time of Ezra, just as it was offered in the time of Moses. He replied, May your mind be at ease for you have set mine at ease.” (bT Menachot 45a) This Talmudic reconciliation does not really quiet the discussion on this and similar passages since Ezekiel’s prophecies preceded the the Second Temple and were only partially realised.

This prophecy still raised questions. It is well known that Maimonides devised a series of creedal statements which some took to define basic Jewish beliefs. Among those statements was an affirmation of prophetic truth. So how is one to treat a complicated situation where there are contradictions not only between different prophecies but also conflicting ideas over how a prophecy should be understood?

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein offers the following idea: “It means that their words and visions should act as a prism through which we can see their world, and that they become a part of our lives and our debates [when we interpret our world]… framed by loyalty, respect and love.”

Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell

 

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