Ezekiel – Chapter 16

Ezekiel Doesn't Mince Words

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

G-d now gives Ezekiel a very long and surprisingly graphic parable about Israel. This parable is so harsh that the Talmud (Shabbos 129b) calls it “the chapter of rebuke” and, according to one opinion, it should not be read publicly (Megilla 25a). In it, Israel is an abandoned baby girl and G-d is her Benefactor. G-d starts the parable by saying that the parents of Israel are the Canaanite nations. (These nations inhabited the land while Israel was in Egypt and they defiled it.) Then, Israel was “born.”

The baby representing Israel was abandoned – nobody washed it or cut the umbilical cord. It was left there to die, lying in a pool of its own blood and filth. Then G-d “passed by” and took pity where no one else would, saying “In your blood, you shall live.” (This verse may be familiar to you from the Passover Haggadah. In its simplest meaning, the verse says that Israel will live despite her wretched state. Another explanation is that Israel endures because of the blood of circumcision, the sign of our covenant with G-d.) Israel grew like the plants of the field; she matured and became beautiful, but she was still naked, so G-d washed her, covered her and adorned her with ornaments (Torah and mitzvos). Israel adorned herself with silver and gold, silks and fine embroidery, and ate the finest foods, like a queen. Then she went out among the nations and committed adultery (referring to idolatry).

Israel committed acts of adultery with everyone who passed by. She used her fine clothes as a futon on which to have relations with strangers. She took the gold and silver she got from her “Husband” (G-d) and made phallic shapes out of them (see Radak on verse 17). Then she took the children of her marriage and slaughtered them (referring to the idolatry of Molech). Committing all of these horrible acts, Israel did not remember her younger days, when G-d rescued her from her miserable state and her doomed fate. Instead, she set herself up a roadside stand where she used her beauty to perform horrible acts. She would spread her legs (G-d’s words) for everyone who passed by. (Radak says this means that they were receptive to any idol that came their way.)

Israel “committed adultery” with Egypt, whose land was especially full of idols. Because Israel provoked G-d, He reduced her food allowance (i.e., sent a famine) and delivered them into the hands of the Philistines (in the time of Samson), but even the Philistines were embarrassed by Israel’s behavior. They continued to commit unspeakable acts. Egypt couldn’t satisfy them, so they “cheated” with Assyria. That still didn’t satisfy them, so they cheated with Chaldea and the Canaanite nations.

Israel isn’t even a prostitute; she’s just a harlot. Prostitutes get paid, but Israel gave gifts to her many lovers to encourage them. There never was a harlot so big! Because Israel revealed herself to anyone and everyone, as well as the idols and bloodshed, G-d will punish her. He will gather all of her lovers around her and expose her to them, in order to embarrass her. Then, G-d will judge Israel as the murderer and adulterer she is. Her former lovers will tear down her structures, strip her and take her ornaments. They will pelt her with rocks and poke her with swords, then burn her house down (clearly alluding to the destruction of the Temple). Other women (meaning nations) will see what happened and they will think twice before being unfaithful! Furthermore, Israel will be so degraded that no lover would have her. After all of this happens, G-d’s anger will pass. He did all this because she did not remember the kindnesses He did for her in her youth.

There’s a saying, “Like mother, like daughter.” As we said, Israel’s “mother” was the idolatrous Canaanite nation that used to live there. She is her mother’s daughter! She also has two sisters: her little sister is Sodom and her big sister is Samaria (the capital of the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes). It would have been bad enough if she had matched the actions of her sisters, but she surpassed them! (Judah had the advantage of seeing what happened to Sodom and to the Northern Kingdom, but they still persisted in their evil ways.) “Compared with you,” G-d says, “your sisters are virtuous!” But the remnants of Sodom and Samaria will eventually return, along with the exiles of Judah. (We see from here that there were survivors of Sodom other than Lot and his daughters.)

The adulterous woman of our parable will be exiled in order to be disgraced, as she has earned. When she slipped into this deplorable state, she gave an excuse to the rest of the world for their behavior. Sodom used to be the model for the ones not to emulate, but now everyone knows how degenerate Israel is. She will pay the price for her actions. Israel broke the covenant forged at Sinai, but G-d will remember and renew it, never again to be broken. When they repent, they will be embarrassed about the way they treated G-d. When G-d forgives them, there will be no more excuses for acting that way ever again.

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