|Rav Yosef Breuer: Sefer Yechezkel|
The 3rd of Iyar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yosef Breuer (1882-1980). Born to Sophie Breuer, youngest daughter of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and Rav Salomon Breuer, then rabbi of Papa, Hungary. Rav Hirsch died in 1888 in Frankfurt, and in 1890, when Rabbi Salomon Breuer was chosen to succeed him, the family moved to Frankfurt. Joseph became his father's talmid and was ordained by him in 1903. He attended the universities of Giessen and Strasbourg, earning his Ph.D. in philosophy and political economy in 1905. In 1911, Rabbi Breuer married Rika Eisenmann of Antwerp. He assumed his first rabbinical position in 1919 when he was appointed rabbi of Frankfurt's Klaus Shul. Following Kristallnacht in November 1938, Rabbi Breuer and his family emigrated to Antwerp, and then to the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.
The Book of Yechezkel must be studied in conjunction with the Book of Jeremiah. These great messengers of God were faced with the task of helping the people overcome a tragic period of national disintegration and decay. Living in the land, citizen of the Jewish state, Jeremiah's powerful voice is heard in the streets of Jerusalem and in the chambers of the Sanctuary. His strenuous efforts to extricate his people from the clutches of its seducers are in vain. In desperation he focuses on the Sanctuary and the royal fortress which had been transformed into tragic symbols of the hypocrisy and treachery prevalent in the Jewish state. His only hope for a possible cure of the national cancer lies with the exile in Babylon to which King Yechonia and the leaders of the Jewish people had been exiled eleven years before the final collapse of the Jewish state. Jeremiah foresees the return to the land of Israel after a passage of seventy years.
Yechezkel, his great contemporary in the Babylonian exile, alerts his people to the dangerous influence emanating from the homeland. He describes the frightening extent of its social and political demoralization which threatens to spread over the land of the exiled. Only total spiritual isolation from these influences could save the diaspora from a similar fate. To this task Yechezkel devotes his unflagging energy as he proclaims the ultimate return of all of Israel to its God and the simultaneous gradual elevation of all of mankind to its God willed destiny.
At the same time that Jeremiah prepares the foundation for the reconstruction of the Jewish state even as it crumbles (Jeremiah, Chapter 32), Yechezkel's spiritual eye views the eternal Sanctuary of God, the eternal city of God, the eternal state of God.
That the Book of Yechezkel can be understood only in its interrelation with the Book of Jeremiah, whose life work he perpetuated, is borne out by the absence of any reference to the redemption predicted after the passage of seventy years; nor is there any mention of the ultimate fate of the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah records his prophetic pronouncement of the coming redemption in a special book that he sent from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylonia (Jeremiah, Chapter 29). In this book he also outlines the tasks facing the diaspora in Babylonia, such as the obligation to further the welfare of the Babylonian state despite its ill treatment of the Jewish population.
While any mention by Yechezkel, living as he did in the midst of the diaspora, of the ultimate downfall of the Babylonian state would have violated the spirit of, “search out the peace of the city,” he considered the strengthening of a redemption awareness among the exiles his foremost task. The success of this task would determine whether the return to the Holy Land would be a temporary sojourn in preparation for the great wandering through “the desert of nations,” or the fulfillment of the prophet's promise of the final ingathering of his people.
His success would also determine if the Sanctuary, which was to be erected after seventy years, would be the “Eternal Sanctuary” viewed by his prophetic eye (Chapters 40–48).
This vision of the future Sanctuary posed the question: Was possible that the end of days, which is inherent in the course of Jewish history, could come about as early as after the downfall of Babylon and the ingathering of Israel on its native soil? Or would the fulfillment of the hopes made manifest by our Prophet for Israel and mankind remain for a distant future?
The answer lay within the Jewish people. Alas, the reality was that the reconstructed Sanctuary contained only fragments of the prophet's visionary ground plan (See Introduction of Tosafot Yom Tov to Masechet Midot)