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Ezekiel 44:15-31

Paralleling the Parashah’s commands relating to Aaron and his sons, the Haftarah delves into the role of the priests in a rebuilt Temple. This passage is part of the concluding chapters of Ezekiel which detail a rebuilt Temple and its procedures. In contrast with the First Temple’s corrupt end, the new Temple will stand as a bastion of justice, holiness, and purity. Most priestly families, who served idols during the First Temple, will be banished from priestly roles. Reprising their role during King David’s era, only the line of Tzadok, whose name is synonymous with righteousness, will officiate as priests at the Temple and among the people. The Haftarah details their duty to follow the Parashah’s priestly laws, and to serve as teachers and judges for the nation. In return, they are especially close to God, and the people sustain them from their sacrifices, tithes, and first fruits.

Some of these laws, such as a prohibition for a priest to marry an Israelite’s widow (Ezek. 44:22), differ from the Torah’s (Lev. 21:7). This led to Talmudic uncertainty about whether Ezekiel should be included in the Bible. Enigmatically, the Talmud recounts that these legal differences were resolved - but without stating the actual resolutions (see Connections below for one such resolution):

Shabbat 13b

Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: “Truly, that man is remembered for the good, and his name is Ḥananya ben Ḥizkiya, as if not for him, the book of Ezekiel would have been buried [and excluded from the Bible] since [some of] its words contradict the words of the Torah. What did [Ḥananya ben Ḥizkiya] do? They brought him three hundred jugs of oil [for light and food], and he sat in the upper story [of a building] and homiletically resolved the contradictions.

אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה אָמַר רַב: בְּרַם זָכוּר אוֹתוֹ הָאִישׁ לַטּוֹב וַחֲנַנְיָה בֶּן חִזְקִיָּה שְׁמוֹ, שֶׁאִלְמָלֵא הוּא נִגְנַז סֵפֶר יְחֶזְקֵאל, שֶׁהָיוּ דְּבָרָיו סוֹתְרִין דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה. מֶה עָשָׂה? — הֶעֱלוּ לוֹ שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת גַּרְבֵי שֶׁמֶן, וְיָשַׁב בַּעֲלִיָּיה וּדְרָשָׁן.

Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak), offers a non-Talmudic explanation of these stringencies; i.e, they reflect an additional level of sanctity befitting a Temple holier than the one it replaced.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 15-16: Only priests descended from Tzadok, who did not serve idols during the 1st Temple era, will serve God in the Temple.

Ezekiel 44:15

“The priestly Levites, descendants of Tzadok, who kept My sanctuary’s charge while the children of Israel strayed from Me, they shall come near to me to minister to me. They shall stand before Me to offer to me fat and blood,” says the Lord God.         וְהַכֹּהֲנִ֨ים הַלְוִיִּ֜ם בְּנֵ֣י צָד֗וֹק אֲשֶׁ֨ר שָׁמְר֜וּ אֶת־מִשְׁמֶ֤רֶת מִקְדָּשִׁי֙ בִּתְע֤וֹת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ מֵֽעָלַ֔י הֵ֛מָּה יִקְרְב֥וּ אֵלַ֖י לְשָֽׁרְתֵ֑נִי וְעָמְד֣וּ לְפָנַ֗י לְהַקְרִ֥יב לִי֙ חֵ֣לֶב וָדָ֔ם נְאֻ֖ם אֲדֹנָ֥י ה'׃

Verses 17-22: Laws regulating priestly garments, hair, wine consumption, and marriage.

Ezekiel 44:17

It shall be that upon their entering the inner court’s gates, they shall wear linen garments. Wool shall not come upon them during their ministrations at the inner court’s gates or within.

וְהָיָ֗ה בְּבוֹאָם֙ אֶֽל־שַׁעֲרֵי֙ הֶחָצֵ֣ר הַפְּנִימִ֔ית בִּגְדֵ֥י פִשְׁתִּ֖ים יִלְבָּ֑שׁוּ וְלֹֽא־יַעֲלֶ֤ה עֲלֵיהֶם֙ צֶ֔מֶר בְּשָֽׁרְתָ֗ם בְּשַׁעֲרֵ֛י הֶחָצֵ֥ר הַפְּנִימִ֖ית וָבָֽיְתָה

Verses 23-24: The priests will teach and judge God’s people, and ensure the sanctity of holy days.

Ezekiel 44:23

They shall instruct My people [to distinguish] between the sacred and the ordinary, and inform them [to distinguish] between the defiled and the pure.

וְאֶת־עַמִּ֣י יוֹר֔וּ בֵּ֥ין קֹ֖דֶשׁ לְחֹ֑ל וּבֵין־טָמֵ֥א לְטָה֖וֹר יוֹדִעֻֽם׃

Verses 25-27 : Laws governing priestly defilement due to contact with corpses.

Ezekiel 44:25

[The priest] shall come near no dead person to defile themselves - except they shall defile themselves for [their own] father, mother, son, daughter, brother, or for [their] never-married sister.

וְאֶל־מֵ֣ת אָדָ֔ם לֹ֥א יָב֖וֹא לְטָמְאָ֑ה כִּ֣י אִם־לְאָ֡ב וּ֠לְאֵם וּלְבֵ֨ן וּלְבַ֜ת לְאָ֗ח וּלְאָח֛וֹת אֲשֶֽׁר־לֹא־הָיְתָ֥ה לְאִ֖ישׁ יִטַּמָּֽאוּ׃

Verses 28-31: Unlike other Israelites, priests do not have ancestral property. God is their inheritance, providing for them by commanding Israelites to sustain them with sacrificial, agricultural, and other gifts.

Ezekiel 44:30

And the first of all the firstfruits of all things, and every heave-offering of all your heave offerings, shall belong to the priests: you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough, that he may cause a blessing to rest on your house.

וְרֵאשִׁית֩ כָּל־בִּכּ֨וּרֵי כֹ֜ל וְכָל־תְּר֣וּמַת כֹּ֗ל מִכֹּל֙ תְּרוּמ֣וֹתֵיכֶ֔ם לַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים יִֽהְיֶ֑ה וְרֵאשִׁ֤ית עֲרִסֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ תִּתְּנ֣וּ לַכֹּהֵ֔ן לְהָנִ֥יחַ בְּרָכָ֖ה אֶל־בֵּיתֶֽךָ׃

Connections

A Talmudic approach to understanding the Haftarah’s prohibition for priests to marry an Israelite widow; (see introduction, above.)

Kiddushin 78a-b

Rav Nahman said to Rava: The first clause [of Ezek. 44:22] pertains to a High Priest [who is prohibited from marrying a widow], and [its] latter clause pertains to a common priest [who may marry a widow]. Rava said to him: Yes[, I agree].

אמר ליה רב נחמן לרבא האי קרא רישא בכהן גדול וסיפא בכהן הדיוט אמר ליה אין

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email haftarahhelper@gmail.com.