Since modern times, the message of the prophets has become associated with certain “handpicked” universal ethical messages found in their words which happen to be in sync with the current ethic. One can certainly find these ideas in the words of the prophets, but the prophets were also intimately involved with the fate of their own people. Nowhere is this idea clearer than in opening words of this week’s haftarah:
“Thus, said the Lord God: When I have gathered the House of Israel from the peoples among which they have been dispersed, and have shown Myself holy through them in the sight of the nations, they shall settle on their own soil, which I gave to My servant Jacob, and they shall dwell in it in security. They shall build houses and plant vineyards, and shall dwell in it in security, when I have meted out punishment to all those about them who despise them. And they shall know that I the Lord am their God.” (28:25-26)
Ezekiel considered Israel’s exile from its homeland a sign of shame and embarrassment for God. The exile may have been warranted by Israel’s behavior. It may even have been a curative for Israel’s social and religious ills. Still, Ezekiel deemed it not as a public relations disaster exclusively for Israel but even more so for God who would be viewed as incapable of caring for His people. Exile was a theologically irreconcilable option. God’s majesty could only be established through the restoration of God’s people to its land. Consequently, it was necessary to restore His people to their homeland even if they themselves were unworthy. In such a case, God would also have to personally cure them of their ills in order that redemption should be justified.
The prophets demanded moral and religious excellence from Israel but Ezekiel, at the very least, understood that the expectation of perfection from human beings was unrealistic without divine help. His was a holistic message. Moral life and being at home in one’s homeland are not at odds. They are a part of a normative package, albeit, with the help of God.
We are all, when push comes to shove, pickers and chooses when it comes to leading our Jewish lives. Still, that does not preclude a semblance of honesty when we make our choices. At least, it is clear where Ezekiel stood on these questions.