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(G-d says to Ezekiel to convey to the Israelites) "I shall give you a new heart, and I shall put a new spirit within you. I shall remove the heart of stone from within you flesh, and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26)
The prophet Ezekiel 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 (the subject of the Haftara), 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 anticipates the scene of Ezekiel's famous vision of the resurrection of the Israelites in the Promised Land - the vision of the valley where the dry bones gain flesh and come to life. The prophet states in G-d's name that the people of Israel were scattered among the nations because they had defiled the land through idolatry. They had thus spiritually contaminated their own Land. And even in exile, the House of Israel continued to conduct themselves in such ways at to bring G-d's name into disrepute. However, the time would come where G-d would clear His own name, as it were, in the eyes of the nations - even though His people had been poor ambassadors for Him. In pursuit of that aim, he would cleanse His people Israel - however unworthy they were.
Ezekiel compares G-d's rejection of Israel with a husband distancing himself from intimacy with his wife during her period. The comparison is significant. Such separation is only temporary, the relationship being restored after her ritual bathing (Lev. 15:28). Similarly, G-d will separate Himself from Israel for a limited period, after which He would return them to their Land, and metaphorically purify them by 'sprinkling' on them 'pure water'. Moreover, He would make the Israelites more receptive to His teachings - replacing their 'hearts of stone' with 'hearts of flesh'. That would lead to the final covenant between G-d and Israel. Israel, in its own land and well-populated rebuilt cities, would be a people to G-d, and He would be G-d to that people.
Ezekiel did not give a date for when this prophecy would come to pass. However the Talmud, in writing on the Prophets in general, records the following tradition:
Many prophets arose in Israel, twice as many as the Israelites who left Egypt. [Why then are so few prophecies recorded in the Bible?] Only those prophecies necessary for future generations were written down; those unnecessary for future generations were not written down (Megilla 14a).
Although there was a partial return to the Promised Land less than a century after Ezekiel's prophecy, it would appear that much of the content of the Haftara refers to the final Messianic redemption of the Israelites - may that become the living reality of our own time.
In the physical and spiritual redemption described above, G-d would make the Israelites more receptive to His teachings - replacing their 'hearts of stone' with 'hearts of flesh'. That would lead to the final covenant between G-d and Israel.
These metaphors create problems. Had Ezekiel spoken about giving new heart to the Israelites, his message would be easy to understand. But what does he wish to convey by changing the hearts' composition from stone to flesh? Stone represents strength; flesh is weak. Stone denotes resilience and resistance; flesh is like clay in the hands of the potter. Furthermore, flesh can easily become corrupted. When the Torah describes the generation of the Flood, it states: 'for all flesh on Earth had perverted its ways' (Gen. 6:12). Ezekiel's vision of the final redemption seems to be a weakened rather than a strengthened Israel.
The following may serve as an illumination to Ezekiel's message.
A teenager of a mixed religious background told me today that he was an agnostic. 'Can you prove that G-d exists?' he asked. ' Have you met Him? Have you ever seen any miracles?'
I understood that his real complaint was that he was spiritually tone deaf. I suggested that he should work towards developing spiritual sensitivity.
No, I told him, I had not seen G-d in person - although I have seen the tracks He leaves behind. And so could he, if he cared to take a look.
I cannot pick up radio waves, but I can listen to the radio, and accept that the radio can sense and pick up things that I cannot.
However, spiritual sensitivity is not something that always comes naturally: Saadia Gaon, the Rambam, and many other leading sages throughout the generations write extensively on the means to achieve this quality.
Said the mathematician: 'I could prove G-d statistically. Take the human body alone - the chance that all the functions of the individual would happen by chance would be a computational monstrosity.'
On the other side of the fence, a scientist declared, 'I have swept the universe with my telescope and I did not find G-d.' The spiritually sensitive person replied, 'That would be as unreasonable as for me to say that I have taken a violin apart, examined every piece with a microscope, and found no music.'
Indeed, the world of biochemistry agrees that the workings of the simplest cell - even today not fully understood - are far more complex than the most sophisticated computer. Saying that the cell came by chance is like leaving monkeys on a typewriter and finding that they keyed in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
My kindly and helpful non-religious Ulpan (Hebrew Language school) teacher made the following comment after the Gulf War:
I know that thirty-nine lethal scud missiles fell on densely populated areas within Israel's coastal cities, and yet virtually nobody was killed. Those religious Jews - you know - perhaps they are right. But I can't say that…
The above could illustrate the difference between the heart of stone and the heart of flesh. Stone is strong, but unbending and relatively insensitive. Flesh is live and responsive. G-d is in effect saying that in giving people hearts of flesh, He will make it easier for people to sense Him, relate to Him, and thus serve Him.
G-d then is purifying the Israelites by heightening their spiritual sensitivities. The maxim of Talmud: 'He that comes to purify himself is assured of help from Heaven' (Shabbat 104a), will become all the more important in the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land.
QUESTIONS ON THE CONTENT AND COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT TZAV
From where may the following be learnt?
1. One should change to one's best clothes in honor of Shabbat - after having worn more ordinary clothes in preparing for Shabbat.
2. Vessels can absorb particles which forbid their use.
3. The importance of expressing thanks to G-d - especially on surviving a life-threatening crisis.
4. The importance of having suitable thoughts when performing Mitzvot.
5. The Torah's forbidding certain foods to be eaten does not necessarily mean that they may not be used for other purposes.
6. Studying the laws of the offerings today is regarded as meritorious as being directly involved in them during Temple times.
7. A public servant must take pains to demonstrate to his community that he is serving them for their benefit, and not for his own gain.
8. The High Priest must be separated from the people and involved in suitable preparatory activities, seven days before performing the sacred service on Yom Kippur (as in Yoma 1:1).
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE CONTENT AND COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT TZAV
1. The Torah states that when the Priest performs the very dusty task of removing the ashes of the offerings from holy precincts, he must change into 'other garments' (6:4). As the Rabbis put it: a servant should not wear the same clothing in the kitchen as for pouring wine for his master. This principle may be applied to wearing plainer clothes when preparing the Shabbat food, changing into superior ones for welcoming the Shabbat.
2. The text (6:21) states that if the sin offering is cooked in an earthenware vessel (which absorbs elements of the offering), it must be burnt, but if that vessel is made of copper, it may be purged in water - as metal does not absorb (Pesachim 30b). Thus vessels can absorb particles which forbid their use. The forbidden factor in this case are actual particles of the sin offering which turn into 'notar' - Torah-forbidden left-overs from the offering (Avodah Zarah 76a). 3. This may be deduced from the Torah's specifying a type of 'shelamim' - peace offering called a 'todah' - thanksgiving offering (7:11-20). The actual circumstances warranting that offering are recounted in a tradition recorded in Berachot 54b - based on Psalm 107. They are: after successfully crossing a desert, emerging from imprisonment, recovering from a serious illness, and safe arrival after a voyage.
4. Based on 7:18, if the offering is brought in such a way that 'it is not thought correctly on his behalf', it has the status of 'pigul' - loosely translated as 'rejected offering'. The Talmud (Zevachim 29a) brings the tradition that 'it is not thought correctly on his behalf' means it is offered with the intention of consuming it outside the time allotted to it by the Torah - a very serious offence. From there may be learnt the wider principle of the importance of carrying out the Mitzvot with appropriate intentions.
5. This principle may be illustrated by the following. The Torah explicitly forbids the eating of 'cheilev' - forbidden fats (7:23). However it also states explicitly that it may be used for 'any type of work' (7:24) - thus it is permitted to have benefit from it.
6. Studying the laws of the offerings today is regarded as meritorious as being directly involved in them during Temple times may be derived from the following. The words 'zot Hatorah' - 'this is the Torah' (7:37) - applied to the various offerings detailed by the Torah - hints at the tradition in the Talmud (Menachot 110a), that a person who makes the offerings 'his Torah' - his topic of Torah learning, is accredited as though he was personally involved in them.
7. The grandiose and elaborate inaugurations ceremonies for the consecration of the Tabernacle had to make the right impression on the Israelites. That is why Moses stressed the words 'this is what G-d commanded' (8:5) - as Rashi explains, this was to impress on the congregation that all was being done at G-d's behest and not for Moses' own glory. From this may be learnt that a public servant must take pains to demonstrate to his community that he is serving them for their benefit, and not for his own gain.
8. The Torah records that Moses instructed Aaron and his sons to remain within the sanctuary for seven days (8:33) - before the spirit of G-d would descend on the Tabernacle. However, the seemingly superfluous words 'to atone for you' (8:34) are understood by both the Sifra and the Talmud to allude to a practice then in the future - namely that the High Priest must be separated from the people and involved in suitable prepartory activities, seven days before performing the sacred service on Yom Kippur (as in Yoma 1:1).
ADDITIONAL ISSUES TO LOOK AT ON PARASHAT TZAV
Regarding the prohibitions of cheilev and blood (7:22 ff.)
1. What special qualities do cheilev and blood have, for which the Torah gives them the status of forbidden foods?
2. Cheilev and blood were both burnt on the Altar during Tabernacle and later Temple times. Yet the Torah explicitly states that the prohibition of eating cheilev applies to oxen, sheep, and goats only. It does not include species of animal that are ineligible for Temple offerings - such as the deer. In contrast, the Torah expressly forbids the consumption of blood from all animals and birds. Why does the Torah make that distinction?
My efforts at tackling the issue raised above may be found on the Shema Yisrael website for Parashat Tzav for 5762.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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