Rabbi Berel WeinRabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history.
I am not usually given to interpreting prophecy or dealing with messianic and/or apocalyptic visions. However, I have recently been reviewing the book of the prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel) and could not help but think that many of the prophecies recorded in the middle section of the book are eerily similar to events that are occurring in our present day Middle Eastern part of the world.
The prophet describes the demise of Tyre and Sidon (Lebanon) through bloodshed, economic weakness and civil turmoil. He predicts an awful war of bloodshed in Syria, Babylonia (Iraq), Yemen and Arabia. Libya and Egypt will also be beset by civil war, much bloodshed and death, and economic deprivation.
At the same time, the Jewish people will continue to return home to the Land of Israel and the country will flourish and remain an island of stability in the midst of the raging sea of chaos that surrounds it.
That is a pretty accurate description of what is going on in the Middle East currently.
Iraq, after decades of war, internecine turmoil and senseless destruction of its own infrastructure is pretty much a basket case today, in spite of all American efforts to put Humpty-Dumpty back together through democratic elections.
From Pakistan in the east to the Maghreb in the west, the Middle East is busily engaged in murdering its own populations. The Sunni-Shiite split in the Moslem world has never been more violent and bitter than it is today.
The Kurds and the Alewives, as well as the Druze and Christians are struggling to survive in what is left of Syria. Turkey faces a Kurdish breakaway, Al Qaida has rejuvenated itself, Afghanistan is ungovernable, Egypt is torn asunder and financially bankrupt, Libya is very unstable, Jordan totters on its weak legs fearing a Palestinian takeover, Sudan and Eritrea are engaged in horrific civil wars – in short, the whole Middle East is one awful bloody volatile mess.
Except for our blessed Israel. And that is what Yechezkel said would happen when he prophetically peered far into the future times. Quite remarkable!
There are many frightening visions regarding the Jewish people and the Land of Israel that also appear in the book of Yechezkel. Though the prophet foresees eventual redemption and triumph, blessing and tranquility, there apparently is a dark passageway that must be traversed before emerging into the light.
The Talmud and Jewish tradition always portrayed the period preceding Israel’s complete redemption as being a difficult one. As such, many of the great rabbis of the Talmud expressed the hope that they would be living in a different generation and thus be spared witnessing the events of that time. We would certainly hope that the persecutions suffered by our people over the past two centuries, culminating in the horrors of the Holocaust and the wars that Israel has been forced to fight in order to prevent its annihilation, will have certainly fulfilled that prophecy of tragedy and terrible trial.
The Talmud and Jewish tradition always portrayed the period preceding Israel’s complete redemption as being a difficult one.
Yet, I still find the prophecies of Yechezkel very cryptic, mysterious and potentially disturbing. So my fall back position is the one expressed by Rambam - that one should not overly concentrate on interpreting such events and matters for they will eventually sort themselves out in God’s good time and manner.
The book of Yechezkel devotes a great deal of space to the description of the structure and service of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Most biblical commentators ascribe all of these descriptions and details to the forthcoming Third Temple. Therefore those prophecies also still await the actuality of their fulfillment. Nonetheless the certainty of Yechezkel’s prophecies and the details of his visionary descriptions give one confidence as to their accuracy and reality.
The aforementioned realization of his prophecies regarding what our current Middle East would look like certainly lends credence to the further prophecies regarding the Third Temple and its establishment. Jews have read these prophecies for centuries on end and cherished them and believed in them when there seemed to be no possible way that they could ever actually materialize.
In our time when so many of the prophecies of our holy prophets have been fulfilled in exactitude in our lives and in front of our eyes, there really should be little if any doubt left as to the veracity of the remaining prophecies currently yet unfulfilled.
Though the details of our future are shrouded from our gaze, the general outline of that future is discernible through the words of the prophets of Israel.