Ezra – Chapter 9

This is How You Repay Me?

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

After taking care of the matters described at the end of the previous chapter, the leaders of the people approached Ezra and said that there was a rampant assimilation problem. Not only were the people copying the ways of the Canaanite nations, the Egyptians, and others, they were also permitting their sons to intermarry with the daughters of the other nations. This problem extended to the highest strata of society. Ezra’s immediate reaction was to tear his garment in grief and he even tore some hair out. (The Torah specifically prohibits this behavior as a sign of mourning for the dead, but apparently it would be permitted in other contexts.) Ezra sat, speechless.

All those who were zealous to keep G-d’s law gathered around Ezra, though he remained too stunned to speak for several hours. At the time of the afternoon sacrifice, he arose, even though he had been fasting all day. He fell to his knees and stretched his hands out to G-d. Ezra said that he was ashamed to approach G-d since the sin of the nation was so great. The nation has always been sinful, which is why they were exiled in the first place. Now, for a brief moment, G-d in His mercy has given them a great gift and returned them from exile – and this is what they do to repay Him? G-d commanded the people not to copy the ways of other nations and not to intermarry, so that they might enjoy a long, prosperous life in their homeland. After all the things that the people did before, G-d held back from punishing as much as they deserve. But if the people relapse into sinful behavior, as evidenced by the intermarriage, why shouldn’t He just wipe them all out? Ezra prayed to G-d for mercy, as there was no defending the people’s behavior.

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