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Haftarah Tetzaveh: The Shame of It

Ezekiel 43:10-27: “You, Son of Man, Tell the House of Israel of the Temple and let them be ashamed of their sins; and measure the design. And if they are ashamed of all they did – the form of the Temple and its design; its exits and entrances with all its forms…make known to them and write down before their eyes, that they remember all its form and all its decrees and perform them.”

“Come and see: When the Holy One, Blessed is He, showed Yechezkail a vision of the Beit Hamikdash, what does He say? ‘Tell the House of Israel about the Beit Hamikdash and let them be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them calculate its design.’ Yechezkail responded to the Holy One, Blessed is He, ‘Master of the Universe! Until now we have been placed in exile in the land of our enemies, and yet You are telling me to go and Inform Israel of the dimensions of the Beit Hamikdash, and write it down before their eyes so that they may safeguard its entire form and all its rules and perform them. Can they possibly fulfill this? Let them be until they come up from exile, and then I will go and inform them.’ The Holy One, Blessed is He, then said to Yechezkail, ‘Just because My children are in exile, should the building of the Beit Hamikdash be idle? The reading about it in the Torah is as great as actually building it. Go and tell them to become involved with reading about its dimensions. As a reward, I consider it as though they are actually involved in building the Beit Hamikdash!’” (Tanchumah, Tzav #14)

The Midrash does not seem to address the more glaring problem of, “And let them be ashamed of their sins,” and, “if they are ashamed of all they did.” Why was their shame important for building the Temple, or, when studying the Torah texts that describe its construction? Why must the prophet first, “Tell the House of Israel of the Temple,” and only if their response to hearing of the Beit Hamikdash is, “let them be ashamed of their sins,” may Yechezkail lay out its design?

There is another question whose answer may be the key to understanding this prophecy: Why is this prophecy chosen as the Haftarah of the portion that teaches us the laws of the Bigdei Kehunah (Priestly Garments)?

Clothes are associated by the Talmud with a person’s dignity. The Cohen’s garments bring him, “Dignity and beauty,” which cannot be his unless he has his own dignity and beauty before he dons his holy garments. This is why the portion begins with the Mitzvah of the Menorah, which demands the Cohen’s active role, before teaching about the garments. The Cohen must perceive himself as an active participant in the Mishkan, having an important role in the Beit Hamikdash, before he can dress himself in clothes of dignity and beauty.

God is teaching Yechezkail that the same is true of the entire House of Israel: In order to have this House of Dignity and Beauty, they must perceive themselves as deserving. They must understand that they are less because they lack a Beit Hamikdash in which to actively influence all of creation.

The prophet must first introduce the idea of the Beit Hamikdash and inform them of the possibilities of life. When they are ashamed of living as less than they can be, and only when they experience the loss of living with such dignity, Yechezkail can teach them about the Beit Hamikdash.

In fact, teaches our Midrash, if the people understand the personal loss of dignity because there is no Beit Hamikdash, they can study the Torah texts, and receive the same merit as if they actually built it. They can recapture that dignity from studying about the Beit Hamikdash as long as they study with the awareness of how much dignity and beauty can be theirs by living with the drive to achieve that important role in God’s creation.

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