Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Emor 5766/ May 13, 2006

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

 

 

Priest as Pedagogue

 

Dr. Tova Ganzel

 

Midrashah for Women

 

This week’s haftarah, taken from Ezekiel  44:15-31, opens with an outline of the role of the priests in the Temple:

But the levitical priests descended from Zadok, who maintained the service of My Sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from Me – they shall approach Me to minister to Me; … they alone may enter My Sanctuary and they alone shall approach My table to minister to Me; and they shall keep My charge.

Further on, after detailing the instructions regarding the priestly garments, and laying down prohibitions against shaving their hair, drinking wine, and instructions about marriage for the priests, Ezekiel notes once more (44:23-24):

They shall declare to My people what is sacred and what is profane, and inform them what is clean and what is unclean.  In lawsuits, too, it is they who shall act as judges; they shall decide them in accordance with My rules.  They shall preserve My teachings and My laws regarding all My fixed occasions; and they shall maintain the sanctity of My Sabbaths.

In this brief prophetic passage Ezekiel repeatedly stresses that the priests were the ones who kept the Lord’s charge in the past, and they will be given the task of keeping it in the future as well.  Why did Ezekiel give the priests all these leadership roles and not turn to any other bodies of leadership?  Moreover, why does he give central importance in the tasks of the priests to their role of educating the people, instead of their role in the Temple service?

The answer to these questions explains the relationship between chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel, in which the prophet Ezekiel describes his vision regarding the future Temple, and his prophecies of admonishment.  The future Temple, in Ezekiel’s vision, is different from the one that existed during the time he prophesied.  The differences are both in external form and in the essence of the Temple, in the degree of access the people had to the Temple, and especially in the distribution of tasks among various leadership bodies and the extent to which they are connected to the Temple.  The acts of the people and their leaders in the present serve as the criterion for the degree of their future involvement in the Temple in Ezekiel’s vision.

The grave misdeeds committed in Ezekiel’s time were actions that led to uncleanness.  Those responsible were the people of Israel (whom Ezekiel calls “the House of Israel”) and the kings of Israel:  “The House of Israel and their kings must not again defile My holy name by their apostasy and by the corpses of their kings at their death…  they would defile My holy name by the abominations that they committed” (Ezek. 43:7-8).  As a result of the sins committed by the people and their leaders, sins that defiled the land of Israel and the Temple, and profaned the name of the Lord, the people would be denied all access to the future Temple, even for offering sacrifices, and the kings of Israel, as well, would have no role in this Temple.  In the future the leadership role of the king would be taken over by the prince (Heb. nasi), whose role in the Temple would be to continue the bond between the Lord and His people by means of his dwelling within the Temple precinct, offering sacrifices, etc. (see Ezek. 46). [1]  The role of the Levites in the future Temple would change, as well.  Ezekiel blamed the Levites for leading the people astray, ministering for people who came to the Temple to worship their fetishes (44:12-13):

Because they served the House of Israel in the presence of their fetishes and made them stumble into guilt, therefore … I have sworn concerning them that they shall suffer their punishment.  They shall not approach Me to serve Me as priests, to come near any of My sacred offerings, the most holy things.  They shall bear their shame for the abominations that they committed.

Since the Levites, notwithstanding their status and office, did not act responsibly towards the people, they would indeed minister in the Temple but they would have no part in the authority given the priests: “I will make them watchmen of the Temple, to perform all its chores, everything that needs to be done in it” (44:14).

The priests, as well, betrayed their office.  The role of the priests, in addition to serving in the Temple, is to teach the people the ways of the Torah in times of crisis.  The actions of the priests in Ezekiel’s time, however, are described by the prophet: 

Her priests have violated My Teaching:  they have profaned what is sacred to Me, they have not distinguished between the sacred and the profane, they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have closed their eyes to My Sabbaths.  I am profaned in their midst (22:26).

 Those priests who betrayed their office, not having the good sense to instruct the people in their time of trouble (although he does not accuse them of leading the people astray), would not receive any role in the future Temple. Apparently this referred to the priests descended from Itamar.  Only priests descended from Zadok, who had proved themselves faithful to the House of David and had followed the ways of the Lord even in times of crisis, would have the privilege of ministering in the future Temple that Ezekiel foresaw in his vision:  “But the levitical priests descended from Zadok, who maintained the service of My Sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from Me – they shall approach Me to minister to Me” (Ezek. 44:15).  Thus the Temple of the future would be protected against the defilement that in Ezekiel’s day had led to the destruction of the Temple.

Ezekiel stresses that the most important role of the priests in the future, as in the past and present, would be to instruct the people to follow the ways of the Lord.  It is not surprising that Ezekiel, himself a priest who was sent into exile and was prevented from serving in the Temple, ascribes supreme importance to the priest’s role as instructor of the people, a role that he, Ezekiel, also fulfilled in exile.  The role of the priests to direct the people, teaching them to discern between good and bad, takes precedence over performing rituals.  The Temple was not destroyed because of a lack of rituals, rather because of the people’s lack of basic understanding of the worship of the Lord and their obligations towards His Teaching.  Therefore, Ezekiel repeatedly emphasizes that the priests are to instruct the people, “what is sacred and what is profane … They shall preserve My teachings and My laws regarding all My fixed occasions; and they shall maintain the sanctity of My Sabbaths” (Ezek. 44:23-24).

                                                                                                                                         



[1] Ezekiel also accuses the false prophets of causing the people to be defiled:  “And if a prophet is seduced and does speak a word … so that the House of Israel may never again stray from Me and defile itself with all its transgressions” (Ezek. 14:9-11), and therefore he prophesies:  “My hand will be against the prophets who prophesy falsehood and utter lying divination.  They shall not remain in the assembly of My people and they shall not be inscribed in the lists of the House of Israel, and they shall not come back to the land of Israel” (Ezek. 13:9).  In addition, Ezekiel does not foresee the prophets taking a part in the future leadership of the people, as can be seen from the fact that the words “prophets,” “prophecy,” and “vision” are mentioned in Ezekiel only up to chapter 39, and do not occur in chapters 40-48.  Also, the word “prophecy,” which recurs frequently in chapters 1-39, denoting the words of Ezekiel himself that are uttered as G-d’s emissary to His people or to other nations, is absent from chapters 40-48.  Apparently Ezekiel’s abstention from using any words derived from the root n-b-a – to prophesy – in his vision of the future is intended to reinforce the sense that prophecy, in its current form, would have no place in the future.