Ezekiel and Moses
In this week’s parasha and haftarah, both Moses and Ezekiel provide detailed descriptions of how to sanctify a dwelling place for God. Moses is describing the mishkan, the tabernacle, which will accompany the Israelites on their way to the land of Israel.
Ezekiel is describing beit hamikdash, the Temple to be rebuilt when the people return from exile. The First Temple has been destroyed and he describes the Temple which will replace it. Even more so, just as God traveled with the Israelites out of Egypt, God has traveled with us into exile.
Earlier in the Book of Ezekiel, we read God explain that because the people have been scattered through the nations, God will be for us a mikdash me’at, a little temple or a temple for a little while.
Ezekiel and Moses also never get to Israel. Moses leads the people there but does not enter. Ezekiel, having been exiled, never returns.
Man is mortal
Indeed, the way God addresses Ezekiel throughout the entire book emphasizes this fragility. God calls him “ben adam.” This translates literally as “son of man.” Many modern translations say “mortal.” The Targum Jonathan, an early Aramaic translation of Nevi’im, the Book of Prophets, translates it as “son of Adam.” As Abarbanel notes, all of the prophets were sons of men, all of the prophets were mortal. Yet it is only Ezekiel who is constantly referred to using this title. The term does appear in the Book of Isaiah.
There we read, as translated by Robert Alter:
“I, I am He Who comforts you. What troubles you that you should fear man who dies and the son of man who is no more than grass, and you forget the LORD your Maker, who stretches out the heavens and founds the earth.”
The rendering of the term as mortal makes sense in this context. Human transience is contrasted with the might and eternity of God.
So, what is it about Ezekiel that he should be constantly reminded of his own mortality? Why, even as he is relaying messages of hope and renewal for Israel, is he made aware that he will not see the Temple rebuilt?
Perhaps it is only through an acceptance of his mortality that Ezekiel is able to deliver such a message. In order to imagine a better future, a time of near perfection, it is necessary for Ezekiel to remove his ego from the equation.
Rather than focusing on his own experience as located in a particular time and space, Ezekiel is free to be conduit for the totality of the Jewish people, which is not mortal, which does not have an end date.
See more: Parashat Tetzaveh
Originally posted as part of the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center’s Torah Sparks. Support Torah learning from the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center/Conservative Yeshiva for leaders and seekers around the world here.