May 6, 2023 | 15 Iyyar 5783
Torah: Leviticus 21:1-24:23 Triennial: Leviticu
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31
Hope is in the Details
Not all prophecies of a future redemption are equal. Isaiah speaks eloquently of the desert blooming, of the miraculous road back from captivity and diaspora (chapter 35). Elsewhere, he speaks of a redemption that dwarfs the Exodus from Egypt (chapter 10). Ezekiel, whose words we read this Shabbat, speaks of the future redemption in terms of the Temple, in minute details that seem utterly irrelevant for us today, but are spoken with great concern and love.
Ezekiel was taken into exile in Babylon in the first group that was exiled from Jerusalem. In the year 597 BCE the Babylonians removed from Jerusalem most people who might cause unrest, as well as the artisans that could do work needed for preparing arms. This group settled in Babylon and, like many groups of immigrants, remained closely tuned to what was going on back in Jerusalem. If there was a hope of a speedy return to the good old life, it was shattered when the news arrived that the city of Jerusalem had been sacked and the Temple burned.
From that point on, redemption for Ezekiel takes on the form of rebuilding the Temple. For about eight chapters Ezekiel describes the structure, the practices, and all the surroundings of the future Temple. His descriptions are not a recall of the Temple that was, but rather a new Temple with some different rules and features that will be built in the future. He does not capture the imagination with a beautiful building but rather labors on the details. In this haftarah, matching the topic that the parashah opened with, Ezekiel dwells on some of the laws pertaining to the kohanim, and in the process introduces several new restrictions that do not appear in the Torah.
Redemption, apparently, is not only a return to the old days. The new that is built on the concept familiar from the past will be a little different, it will be perceived as improved in some ways. Isaiah speaks of the desert, but it will be enhanced by the water that will spring there and the blooming that will take place. Ezekiel speaks of the Temple, but as Radak comments on v. 22 the rules stated, “will be for added holiness in the future.” These are not the laws of kohanim that are stated by the Torah, nor the laws that were practiced in the Second Temple period. Ezekiel’s Temple is an idealized creation, where every detail reflects thought, hope and longing.
Reading Ezekiel’s apparently irrelevant details we understand what redemption is about. Seeing every detail is believing that the vision will happen, it will not remain a dream. If it is to be real, we need real instructions. Ezekiel tries to provide all the instructions for the next Temple. For him, it is real. When our dreams are significant and real enough to occupy all our attention, we plan in detail.