Background

As this Shabbat is Shabbat HaChodesh, the Sabbath before the Hebrew month of Nisan begins, a special Haftorah is read from the Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 45:16-25 and 46:1-18. Sephardim read Chapters 45:18-25 and 46:1-15, while Yemenite Jews read Chapters 45:9-25 and 46:1-11.



The prophet Ezekiel came from a priestly family and he prophesied around the time of the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. The Bible refers to Ezekiel as the son of ?Buzi? ? according to the Targum (cited by Radak in his commentary on Ezekiel 1:3), this is a reference to the prophet Jeremiah, who was scorned (bazu in Hebrew) by the people. Hence, Ezekiel was in fact the son of Jeremiah. Though he began to prophesy in the Land of Israel, most of his prophecies were delivered in the Exile of Babylon, to which the Jews were dispersed by the evil Nebuchadnezzar, after the capture of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple in 586 BCE. Ezekiel?s most well-known prophecies include his vision of the Merkavah, the Heavenly Chariot, and that of the dry bones restored to life in the valley of Dura. Ezekiel died in Babylonia, and his tomb is located in the village of Kefil, outside of Baghdad, Iraq. The Talmud in Tractate Baba Batra (14b) notes that the Book of Ezekiel begins by telling of destruction, but concludes with consolation.



Summary:

In the Haftorah, the prophet Ezekiel describes the sacrifices that will be offered at the dedication of the Third Temple. He also details some of the rules that will apply to people upon entering and leaving the Temple. The Haftorah closes with several laws regarding the Nassi (leader) of Israel and his property.



Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha:

Because it is Shabbat HaChodesh, an additional portion of the Torah is read from Exodus 12:1-20 after the reading of VaYakhel-Pekudei (the regularly scheduled section for this week) is concluded. In this additional portion, G-d tells Moses that the Hebrew month of Nisan would be the month in which the Jewish people would be redeemed from Egypt. G-d also instructed the Jews to prepare the Passover sacrifice and He detailed the laws of its offering. Similarly, the Haftorah describes the sacrifices that will be brought after the Third Temple is consecrated ? an event the prophet Ezekiel says will occur on the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. In addition, just as the additional reading from the Torah describes the Passover sacrifice, so too does the Haftorah ? making it a fitting section to be read before Nisan, for that is the month in which Passover is celebrated.



Clarity and Confusion



Much of the Haftorah is devoted to describing the particular sacrifices that will be offered as part of the consecration ceremony of the Third Temple, as well as those that will be offered on the festivals.



The Question:

In some cases, the sacrifices mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel seem to contradict those mentioned in the Torah. Thus, for example, the prophet states, ?In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a young bullock without blemish, and you shall offer it as a sin-offering in the sanctuary.? (Chap. 45, verse 18) The Torah, however, states (in Numbers 28:11) that the special sacrifice to be offered on the first day of a new Hebrew month is a burnt-offering, not a sin-offering. How can we explain this seeming contradiction?



The Answer:

The Talmud in Tractate Menahot (45a) discusses the apparent discrepancies, which were considered sufficiently troubling that the rabbis even considered not including the Book of Ezekiel in the Biblical canon. The Talmud there states, ?Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rav: That man is to be remembered for good, and Hananiah son of Hezekiah is his name. Were it not for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been suppressed, since its sayings contradicted the words of the Torah. What did he do? He took up with him three hundred barrels of oil [to serve for lighting] and remained there in the attic until he had explained away everything.? Those explanations obviously were persuasive, because in the end the Book of Ezekiel was included in the Biblical canon. However, the Talmud also records the opinion of Rabbi Yochanan, who says that only at the End of Days, once the prophet Elijah comes to herald the onset of the Messiah, will we then be able to resolve the contradiction, for ?This verse will be interpreted by Elijah in the future.?



The Lesson:

The world as we know it is laden with contradictions ? chief among them the fact that since returning to their Land and restoring their national sovereignty, the Jews of Israel have known no peace. Our enemies attack us with glee, they sit on mountains of oil and much of the world seeks to curry favor with them. Israel is now in its 18th straight month of Palestinian violence and terror, with no end in sight. In the past week alone, over two dozen Israelis were killed and hundreds injured in attacks that included suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Ariel, rocket assaults on Sderot, a shooting spree in Tel Aviv and the murder of an Israeli motorist near Efrat.



None of this makes sense ? after all that the Jewish people have suffered and sacrificed in the past century, how much more of this must we endure? That is precisely where the Haftorah comes in to play, for it reminds us of two crucial lessons: First, that there will be an end to our suffering ? it will not go on forever. The prophet Ezekiel foresees in exact detail the sacrificial ceremonies that will accompany the consecration of the Third Temple in Jerusalem. Whatever our fears might be regarding the future, Ezekiel?s prophecy reassures us that the Messiah will come, the Jewish people will be redeemed and the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. Second, though we may not always understand why our people continue to suffer, we can at least be confident that there is a reason behind it, that there is a logic to the Divine plan for history. Just as the apparent contradictions in the Book of Ezekiel will one day be resolved when Elijah comes, so too we will yet see that everything that occurs to us is in accordance with G-d?s plan.

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Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications and Policy Planning in the Prime Minister?s Office from 1996 to 1999.