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   by Jacob Solomon

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(G-d says to Ezekiel) 'Tell… Israel about the Temple (of the future)… but let them be ashamed of their iniquities… When they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the plan of the Temple'. (Ezekiel 43:9-10)

Guided Tour

The prophet Ezekiel himself was a Kohen - a priest who spent his earlier life in the Holy Land. His period of recorded prophecy, however, took place after his enforced exile to Babylon - during the period before and after the Destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. His Divine communications were addressed to both those Jews already exiled in Babylonia, and to the people of Jerusalem.

The Book of Ezekiel begins in drama, and climaxes to crescendo. It is a long message with powerful, vivid, and ultra-brilliant images. It starts with the excitement of storms, lightening and fire - the heavens open, and Ezekiel dramatically experiences G-d's words and power. The Almighty calls on him to be a prophet to carry His message to the people through communications emanating from the celestial mobile angelic composition of His throne. The prophecy continues to warn the Jews in the darkest terms of His judgment on them, as a consequence of their having abandoned Torah teachings and basic morality, preferring false prophets, and an idolatrous and grossly self-indulgent lifestyle. It then leaves the Israelites, removing its focus to the doom of the various nations that misled them. By the time the prophecies of Ezekiel return to the Jews, they become warmer and more kindly. Words of threat are replaced with words of comfort and hope: promising a brighter future for the Israelites and their revival and unification within the Holy Land, with, after the defeat of the nation of Gog, a fully restored Temple and nation.

The Haftara itself continues Ezekiel's vision of the Temple. It opens with a general exhortation for the Israelites to be 'ashamed for all they have done' in the past, and only then 'make known to them the plan of the Temple (Ez. 43:11). From then on, the Haftara focuses on two main items - the large altar (with its parallel in the previous Parasha), and the details of the consecration ceremony, which were to take a total of eight days - as with the Tabernacle (Ex. 29:37, Lev. 8:33 and 9:1). The description of the altar in Ezekiel's vision appears to be twice the size of that of the Tabernacle, and layered, instead of straight-edged. Ezekiel's vision contained a triple layered structure - each story stepping inward from the next by one cubit (Ez. 43:16-17).

To which Temple does the passage refer to? It cannot refer to the First Temple that was consecrated some four centuries before Ezekiel's lifetime. It cannot refer to the Second Temple, because its consecration sin offering involved the male goat (Ezra 6:17), not the bull stated here (43:19). Thus R. Samson Raphael Hirsch expounds the view that the Haftara details the permanent Third Temple, which will be built in future Messianic times.

Hirsch, in his commentary on Tetzaveh's sister Haftara, read on Parashat Hachodesh, explains why Ezekiel describes the construction and working of the Third Temple in such great detail. He states that it is 'to ban even the slightest doubt as to the reality of that future (of redemption), and to make our confidence as firm as a rock in the absolute certainty that the Almighty Director of the history of the world will ultimately bring about the attainment. Thus every year on the Sabbath before Nissan, (we read) the word of the prophet Ezekiel, and (it) gives us Divine instruction of the service of the consecration of the Temple on that day. Even if there is much in those words that is beyond our present understanding and, according to the Sages, must wait for the arrival of Elijah, what is most important is that these words are given. The thought of it revives our courage and gives us fresh strength to make our efforts even more energetic to bring that distant day nearer.'

May that day approach soon, and in our times.

D'var Torah

(G-d says to Ezekiel) 'Tell… Israel about the Temple (of the future)… but let them be ashamed of their iniquities… When they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the plan of the Temple'. (Ezekiel 43:9-10)

Several commentators puzzle over this part of G-d's communication to Ezekiel. What, indeed, is the connection between the sins of the Israelites, and the plans of the Temple of the future?

The Radak explains that the Temple plan would serve as a reminder of their former sinful lifestyle (described most graphically in Ez., Chapters 16 and 23) that was the spiritual cause of the Destruction of the First Temple. Moreover, it would reassure the Israelites that the future Temple would be permanent if they lived up to the standards it stood for. Indeed Hirsch expounds on Ezekiel's vision of the Temple serving as a sign and concrete expression of holiness and purity in contrast to human weakness and sin. It brings home to the Israelites the gulf between the reality of what they are, and what they ought to be. The Temple represents an ideal after which humanity should strive.

However (following Rashi to Ex. 32:1) the plans for the Tabernacle that form the subject of the Parasha came absolutely - without conditions. Although the Israelites sinned with the Golden Calf, and displayed lack of faith and ugly ingratitude in the Desert of Zin (16:3), and Refidim (17:3,7), they received the Tabernacle unconditionally - with 'no strings attached'. They are not recorded to have shown mass remorse for their former conduct. G-d put these matters into the past, and let the Israelites get on with their future spiritual lives that would focus around the Tabernacle.

As the Parasha records: G-d states 'I shall sanctify the Tent of Meeting… and I will dwell amongst the Israelites' (Ex. 29:44-5) - it would appear, unconditionally. Yet the Haftara, in stating: 'When they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the plan of the Temple' (Ez. 43:9-10) makes the Temple of the Future contingent on good behavior. Why do the conditions for the building of the Temple of the Future seem more stringent than those for the Temple of the Past?

A possible reason would be as follows. Not having a Temple is not merely a punishment for not keeping onto the Torah path. It is because the Temple houses the Divine Presence, and a person today, even more than in the time of Ezekiel, is further away from being able to receive the intense Presence of G-d. The Israelites sinned in the Exodus, but, comparatively speaking, they had G-d at their shoulder - exemplified by the Crossing of the Red Sea ('They believed in G-d and in Moses His Servant': Ex. 14:34), and in the Revelation at Mount Sinai ('Let G-d not speak to us, lest we will die': Ex. 20:19). They sinned as people on a very high spiritual level; but with that same high degree of spirituality they obtained from their recent experiences, they were able to relate to the Intense Divine Presence in the Tabernacle.

By contrast, the Jews in the time of Ezekiel (and a fortiori, today) were not on the same spiritual plane: in their sinful state, they would not appreciate holiness, even if it was standing right in front of them. In Ezekiel's day, the appropriate frame of mind would be achieved by being 'ashamed of all they have done'. That was sufficient - as they were historically much closer to Mount Sinai that we are to day, and in addition they still had indirect access to G-d Himself through the Prophets. Today, mere shame and regret for the past is not sufficient. Deep Torah learning, commitment to its precepts, and genuine efforts to come close to Him form the route for G-d to 'restore His Presence to Zion' though His sanctioning the building of the Temple, currently in the future.

In short, in the past, the Temple came to the people. Now the people must go to the Temple. And the path today is not an easy one…

Reference: Jacobs J.: A Haftara Companion, 1998.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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