Ezekiel – Chapter 33

Music to His Ears

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

G-d told Ezekiel to speak to the Jews and to tell them that when G-d brings the invaders upon them, the people will appoint one of their own as a lookout. This man will see the army approaching and sound the alarm. Whoever hears the warning and does not react to it will be destroyed by the enemy. They will be held accountable for their own deaths since, had they responded to the alarm, they would have survived. And what if the watchman neglects to sound the alarm that warns the people? Then the deaths will be the lookout’s fault, for neglecting his duty.

And what of Ezekiel? G-d has appointed him the watchman over Israel. It’s his job to warn them and their job to listen. If they don’t listen, what happens is their fault. But if Ezekiel doesn’t warn them, it’s his fault!

Next, G-d instructed Ezekiel to speak to the Jews about their sins. The people think their repentance wouldn’t be accepted, so why bother? Ezekiel is to inform them that G-d doesn’t want evil people to perish; He wants them to return to Him and live! (Again, this is part of the High Holiday service.) Why die? Repent, instead!

Ezekiel was to further tell the people that the deeds of the righteous will not be sufficient to save them from the consequences of their sins. Similarly, the deeds of the wicked will not impede them from returning to G-d if they so will it. The righteous cannot “coast” on the strength of their good deeds and allow themselves to “slack off.” If they do, their earlier good deeds will be forgotten in favor of their later evil. And, if the evil man repents, his earlier bad deeds will be forgotten in favor of his later good. If people think this system is unfair, it’s because they just don’t get it.

In the twelfth year of the Babylonian exile (of which Ezekiel was a part – go back to the first sentence of chapter 1 if you’ve forgotten), a fugitive came from Jerusalem and told them how it was destroyed. G-d had appeared to Ezekiel the night before this man’s arrival and restored Ezekiel’s voice (which had been taken away – see the end of chapter 3!). G-d’s message came to Ezekiel and he spoke, saying that the people reason as follows: “Abraham had only one commandment to observe (circumcision) and he was given the land of Israel. Certainly we, who have many commandments to observe, deserve the land all the more!” (There are other interpretations, including “Abraham was one person and we are many people” and “Abraham worshipped one G-d and we worship many gods!” That last argument, of course, is not particularly compelling.) G-d replied to that claim that they eat blood, worship idols and commit murder and adultery – they don’t deserve the land! G-d promises that these refugees will fall before enemy soldiers, wild animals and plague. The land will become a ruin, without residents. Those who mock Ezekiel will come and hear his words, but not observe them. Instead, they will crack jokes and make light of them. Ezekiel should consider this scorn like music to his ears. When the impending evil befalls the scoffers, everyone will know that there is a prophet of G-d among them.

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