Introduction to Sefer Yechezkel

Yechezkel the prophet

Yechezkel began his ‘prophetic career’ just before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. His contemporaries were Tzefaniah, Yirmiya, and Uriah. The Radak (1:3) cites that Yechezkel was actually Yirmiya’s son (with the name ‘son of Buzi’ merely conveying the fact that Yechezkel was disparaged by the people due to his descending from Rachav. Thus, Buzi is from the word bizayon). Other sources seem to disagree with this Radak.[1]  The Abarbanel explains that the name ‘Yechezkel’ is derived from the words ‘strength of God’ (chozek El), because of his prophecies concerning the redemption which express Hashem’s might.

Yechezkel was a student of Yeshaya the prophet. According to many authorities, he began his prophecy in Eretz Yisrael, in the fifth year of Yehoyachin, king of Yehuda (the Radak 1:3 disagrees with this). Yechezkel was among the first people to be exiled by the Babylonians. The Gemara[2] tells us that Yechezkel maintained his strict adherence to Kashrus, never eating any questionable meat. He brought great comfort to the exiled Jews; he was a symbol that Hashem had not forsaken them (‘a prophet still exists in galus’).

Yechezkel lived through Ezra’s return to Eretz Yisrael, and according to most opinions, Yechezkel died in Bavel. In fact, the Abarbanel describes the magnificent edifice which houses the tomb of Yechezkel, together with its beautiful surrounding vineyards and elegant towers, citing that it is near the Euphrates river. Interestingly, the Abarbanel writes that it used to be a widespread custom for people to pray at Yechezkel’s tomb between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, for he died during these ten days. Today the tomb is assumed to be in the Iraqi town of Al-Kifli – at the turn of the 21st century, the Iraqis were planning to build a mosque over the tomb and erase all the Hebrew engravings. The Radak (43:19) posits that Yechezkel might have actually moved to Eretz Yisrael towards the end of his life, while the Smag maintains that his final burial place was somewhere in Eretz Yisrael.

Yechezkel the Book of Prophecy

The Gemara[3] tells us that the Anshei Kenesses Hagedolah (i.e. Mordechai, Ezra, Chagai, Zechariah and their compatriots) committed the prophecies of Yechezkel to writing. There is some discussion why Yechezkel did not write the prophecies himself. In Eretz Yisrael, Yechezkel prophesied about the future destruction of the Beis Hamidkash (see Rashi 1:3 regarding whether perek 2 or perek 17 is the chronological beginning of Yechezkel’s prophecies). In exile, he prophesied about other nations and the future redemption, including the war of Gog and Magog and the dimensions of the future Beis Hamidkash. The Abarbanel relates that Hashem did not transmit to Yechezkel prophecies concerning the downfall of Bavel to protect Yechezkel, lest someone report Yechezkel to the authorities in Bavel. The Abarbanel splits up the 48 chapters of Yechezkel into 21 prophecies.

[1] Midrash Rus Rabbah 2:1, according to Rashash

[2] Chullin 44b

[3] Bava Basra 15a