Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Shabbat Hazon- Parashat Devarim 5767/ July 21, 2007

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

Deuteronomy and Ezekiel

 

Dr. Tovah Ganzel

 

Midrasha for Women and Department of Bible

 

In chapter 4 of this week’s reading, Moses repeatedly warns the people, admonishing them that they must follow the ways of the Lord.  This chapter can also provide an important vantage point for understanding the causes of the destruction of the First Temple, as reflected in the book of Ezekiel.

In his vision, the Lord takes Ezekiel by the hand and brings him to Jerusalem.   There Ezekiel is exposed to the abominations that the people of Israel were performing in the Temple, and from this he comes to the inevitable conclusion that the Temple will soon be destroyed because its inner essence has already been violated by the people of Israel by their own hands, so that burning it down is simply a technical matter.   Ezekiel describes to us in many and varied terms the idolatry that the people were practicing.

In Ezekiel chapter 8, in the context of his voyage to Jerusalem, the prophet beholds the infuriating image, the detestable form of creeping things and beasts, fetishes, bewailing Tammuz and worshipping the sun.   All these manners of idolatry are familiar to us from Deuteronomy alone.  Comparing chapter 8 of Ezekiel to Deuteronomy indicates that the prophecy in Deuteronomy was a warning that, to our great dismay, came to pass at the end of First Temple period.   The connection between the books gives redoubled importance to the prophecies of Ezekiel.

The infuriating image (Heb. semel ha-kin’ah) is the first item of the idolatrous worship that Ezekiel sees in chapter 8.   In the Torah the word semel appears only once, in Deuteronomy 4:16 (rendered here as “form”):  “not to act wickedly and make for yourselves a sculptured image in any likeness whatever:  the form of a man or a woman.”  It appears that this term means an idol, like the word tzelem, or image.   In Ezekiel semel appears in conjunction with the word kin’ah, commonly meaning jealousy.   The meaning of this combination is not unequivocal; here it seems to refer to the fact that the idol arouses the jealousy and fury of G-d, as it says in the poem Ha’azinu (Deut. 32:16):  “They incensed (yakni’uhu—same root as kin’ah) Him with alien things, vexed him with abominations.”

The second sight, described by the phrase “form of creeping things” (tavnit kol remes), also appears in chapter 4 of Deuteronomy.  This is another form of pagan worship which was explicitly forbidden and which appeared in the Temple (probably under the influence of Egyptian or Assyrian cultic practices):   “and there all detestable forms of creeping things and beasts and all the fetishes of the house of Israel were depicted over the entire wall.”

Also the fourth sight described in Ezekiel, of people bowing to the sun with their backs to the Temple, is related to a warning which appears but once, in Deuteronomy, chapter 4:   “and when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or serving them” (v. 19).

These words of caution against pagan worship in Deuteronomy are given in the context of G-d’s command to the people to perform the Lord’s commandments without changing a thing, a command which is repeated several times at the beginning of this chapter (verses 1-15):

And now, O Israel, give heed to the laws and rules that I am instructing you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the G-d of your fathers, is giving you.  You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your G-d that I enjoin upon you… while you, who held fast to the Lord, your G-d, are all alive today.   See, I have imparted to you laws and rules, as the Lord my G-d has commanded me, for you to abide by in the land that you are about to enter and occupy.  Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws … But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live.  And make them known to your children and to your children’s children…   For your own sake, therefore, be most careful – since you saw no shape when the Lord your G-d spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire.

When we see how the Israelites ignored this warning, undoubtedly the destruction of the Temple takes on broader significance, emphasizing the connection between the warning, the sin, and the punishment.

Further on in this chapter, after these verses and after the words of warning not to engage in idolatry, the covenant between G-d and the people is also mentioned, followed by a description of the punishment that will be given those who “forget the covenant” (verses 25-28):

When you have begotten children and children’s children and are long established in the land, should you act wickedly and make for yourselves a sculptured image in any likeness, causing the Lord your G-d displeasure and vexation, I call heaven and earth this day to witness against you that you shall soon perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess; you shall not long endure in it, but shall be utterly wiped out.  The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a scant few of you shall be left among the nations to which the Lord will drive you.   There you will serve man-made gods of wood and stone that cannot see or hear or eat or smell.

Wishing to give his prophetic message increased force, Ezekiel mentions the factors that caused Jerusalem to be destroyed and the people exiled, not only explicitly through his prophecy, but also obliquely, through the comparison with the deeds of the people as he perceives them acting in his day, despite the repeated warnings they were given in this week’s reading not to behave in that manner.

It is evident that the entire book of Deuteronomy, not only the above examples, was in Ezekiel’s mind as he prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem.   For example: [1]

1)      His reference to detestable things (Ez. 8:10, sheqetz):   “and you have seen the detestable things (shiqqutzehem) and the fetishes of wood and stone, silver and gold, that they keep” (Deut. 29:16).  This verse appears in Deuteronomy in the context of the covenant made on the plains of Moab.   Moses takes this opportunity to stress that the covenant between the Lord and the people is also valid for coming generations, including the terms of the covenant and the punishments for those who do not keep it.

2)      Passing one’s children through fire:   “Let no one be found among you who consigns his son or daughter to the fire, or who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer” (Deut. 18:10).  This warning appears as part of the commandments given the people not to participate in the abhorrent practices of the gentiles, stressing:   “for anyone who does such things is abhorrent to the Lord, and it is because of these abhorrent things that the Lord our G-d is dispossessing them before you” (Deut. 18:12).  Therefore, the result of these actions described by Ezekiel – “and if to this very day you defile yourselves in the presentation of your gifts by making your children pass through the fire to all your fetishes” (Ezek. 20:31) – is perceived as inevitable. [2]

Now we can conclude that Ezekiel deliberately chose to base his terminology describing all the varieties of idolatry practiced by the people on the terminology used in Deuteronomy, in the commandments and warnings to the people not to go in the ways of the other nations and not to worship their gods.  Thus Ezekiel’s prophecies, both concerning the sinfulness of the people actions, and also primarily concerning the punishment the Lord will mete out to them, have redoubled force.  We can now see that exiling the people from their land and dispersing them among the nations was a direct result of their forms of worship, in which they persisted exactly in the manner that they were cautioned against.  In addition, Ezekiel chose to emphasize the magnitude of the people’s sin by a sweeping generalization of all types of idolatry, listing them together in chapter 8.  Thus the prophet sharpened the prophetic message that he transmitted to the people: the people’s sins included all the sorts of idolatry listed throughout the entire book of Deuteronomy, justifying the destruction and exile that lay in store for them.

                                                                                                                                         



[1] We decided to make do with a representative example, other one could point to other terms, as well.

[2] In using this particular phrase Ezekiel is clearly giving preference to the passing of children through fire that is mentioned in Deuteronomy over the giving of children to Molech that is mentioned in Leviticus.