Ezekiel – Chapter 20

"I'm Not Talking to You."

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Once again, elders of the people came to Ezekiel to seek advice from G-d. This time we are told the date. It was the tenth day of the fifth month, which is Tisha B’Av. (Four years later on that date, the Temple would be destroyed.) G-d said to Ezekiel, “Tell the elders who have come to inquire of Me that I will not be sought by the likes of them.” G-d then told Ezekiel to tell the elders about the sins of their ancestors.

When G-d chose Israel (900 years earlier), He made himself known to them in Egypt. He told them to throw away their idols and not continue worshipping false “gods.” They refused to listen to Him and to get rid of them. G-d was inclined to destroy them but He refrained from doing so, so that His name would not be desecrated in front of the nations. (Compare this with Moses’ prayer following the incident with the spies in Numbers chapter 14.) So G-d brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness, where He gave them the Torah and the mitzvos (commandments). He gave them Shabbos to be a sign between Him and them. But the people refused to follow G-d’s laws and they violated His Shabbos. So He was once again inclined to destroy them, but He refrained for the sake of His name. However, He did not permit that generation to enter the land of Israel because they did not follow His ways.

G-d said to the next generation, “Do not follow your parents’ ways and do not defile yourselves with idols. Keep My Torah and mitzvos and observe My Shabbos so that you will know that I am G-d.” But the next generation also rebelled against G-d. They did not keep His laws, which if performed would cause a person to live. Once again, G-d was inclined to destroy them but He refrained from doing so, although He did resolve to scatter them among the nations.

G-d allowed the people to be defiled by the very gifts He gave them. For example, every first born is supposed to be consecrated to G-d. He allowed them instead to fall prey to the temptation of the idol Molech, which involved sacrificing those same children. (In a sense, G-d “gave them enough rope to hang themselves.”)

G-d told Ezekiel to speak to the people and tell them that their ancestors commited blasphemy with the way they treated Him. He brought them to the land of Israel and when they saw every hill and tree, they used them for altars to their idols. G-d disparagingly called these altars bamos, meaning “high places.” (People also used bamos to sacrifice to G-d, which was prohibited once the Temple was built.)

G-d asked the people through Ezekiel, “Are you continuing to go astray in the manner of your ancestors?” The people take their first-borns, who should be sanctified to G-d and pass them through fire as a form of idol worship. Therefore, G-d says, “I will not be sought by the likes of these men.” They want to be like the other nations serving idols of wood and stone, but G-d will rule over them. G-d will remove them from among the nations where they live and whose idols they have been worshipping. Before returning them to Israel, He will bring them back to the wilderness as they were when they left Egypt and there will be there a reckoning for their actions. G-d will remove those who rebel against him and they will not return to the land of Israel. G-d says the people might as well worship their idols because they are not worshipping Him. They can’t have it both ways, serving idols and coming to inquire to G-d through his prophet. Right now, G-d doesn’t want their gifts, but when He returns them from exile and the Temple is rebuilt, then He will accept them. When the people are exiled they will think about their actions and come to regret them. They will come to know G-d when he punishes them for their evil ways.

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