The Haftarah of the first day of Shavuot is taken from chapter one of Ezekiel. As is usual on Shabbat and festivals when a Haftarah is read, there is a connection and similarity between the reading from the Torah and the reading from the Prophets.
The reading from the Torah on the first day of Shavuot is about the revelation on Mount Sinai and the Giving of the Torah. G-d descended on the mountain accompanied by His Heavenly Chariot and Heavenly Court. It was an awe inspiring moment when Israel received the Torah and was consecrated as a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation," a
light upon the nations of the world.
In the Haftarah, the prophet Ezekiel tells us how he was consecrated as a prophet. In a prophetic vision he saw a Divine revelation:
"Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of G-d."
Ezekiel describes the Heavenly Chariot and the visions which he saw when the heavens opened to him. It was then that G-d made him a prophet and ordered him to carry the message of G-d to the people. Whether the people listened to him or not, even if they placed obstacles in his way, the prophet was to carry out his mission without fear.
When the spirit of the prophecy came upon Ezekiel, he was standing by the river Chebar, a tributary of the Euphrates in Babylon. It was in the fifth year of the Babylonian Exile.
Ezekiel was born in Jerusalem to a priestly family. His father's name was Buzi. When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, carried off King
Jehoiachin into exile in Babylon, Ezekiel was among them.
In Jerusalem Nebuchadnezzar set up Zedekiah on the throne, and made him swear
allegiance to Babylon.
The first exiles in Babylon settled down to a new life in captivity. Ezekiel kept the spirit of Judaism alive among them. But the practices of idolatry that had proved Judah's undoing were deeply rooted among the exiles. The widespread idol worship of their conquerors was about to engulf them. Some of the exiles thought that G-d had sold them out to the Babylonians and that there was no longer any sense in keeping up the Torah.
Ezekiel had a difficult task in convincing his fellow exiles that the captivity was but temporary punishment for their disloyalty to G-d. He warned them that if they abandoned their faith, they would be committing national suicide. He sternly rebuked them and constantly reminded them that their fellow Jews in Judah would share their fate for the same reason that had brought disaster upon them. Many scoffed at him.
Then one day Ezekiel received the sad prophecy he dreaded so. It was on the tenth day of the month of Tevet, in the ninth year of the Babylonian Exile. Many miles away, in the land of Judah, Nevuzaradan, the general of the Babylonian armies, began his siege of the Holy City. At that very moment Ezekiel was informed of the calamity in a prophetic vision, and was ordered to record the date and the event, and to bring the sad news to his fellow exiles. The sad news was confirmed, and the Jews in Babylon realized that Ezekiel the priest was truly a prophet of G-d.
The sad news of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beth Hamikdash reached the exiles in Babylon, and before long scores of thousands of Jews joined their brethren in the Babylonian exile.
When everything seemed lost, Ezekiel saved the day. He was no longer the stern preacher, but a consoling father full of courage and hope. He turned his harsh words against the cruel neighbors of Judah who rejoiced and gloated over Judah's downfall. He foretold their doom but assured his brethren that the Jewish people would survive all their enemies.
Ezekiel's strongest prophecy at this time was undoubtedly his prophecy in the
Valley of the Dry Bones. The prophet found himself in a valley where dry bones
were strewn all about. He was to prophecy that the dry bones would be
resurrected. Soon an amazing sight evolved before his eyes. A storm broke out
and caused the bones to join limb to limb until they became skeletons.
Presently the skeletons were clothed with flesh and skin. The dead bodies were revived by the spirit of G-d, and a mighty host rose on its feet before the prophet's eyes.
In this way the prophet told his fellow exiles that the Jewish people were to be revived to new life and glory.
Ezekiel prophesied that the breach between the Kingdom of Judah and that of
Ephraim (the Ten Tribes) would be healed. There would be one united nation, restored to its land. The Holy Temple would be rebuilt, and Israel would enjoy unity with G-d as never before.
The prophet described in detail the new Jerusalem, the new Temple and the new priesthood which would eventually flourish under the reign of the House of David.
But what were Jews to do in the meantime?
Ezekiel was a great teacher. He taught that the revival of the whole nation could come only through the revival of each individual. Every Jew individually was responsible for his life and conduct and had at the same time a responsibility towards the entire nation. The secret of Redemption lay in absolute loyalty to G-d and His Torah. G-d is always ready to forgive the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.
"I delight not in the death of the wicked, says the L-rd, but that he return from his evil way and live," Ezekiel taught again and again.
Under Ezekiel's influence, the exiles built synagogues and houses of Torah study in Babylon, and the spirit of Judaism was kept alive. When Ezekiel died, he was sadly mourned by all Jews, but his prophecies remained to inspire them forever.
After Nebuchadnezzar's death, his son Evill Merodach ascended the throne of the mighty Babylonian empire. He released King
Jehoiachin from prison and treated him kindly.
Jehoiachin remembered the prophet Ezekiel who was buried between the rivers Chebar and Euphrates. Accompanied by scores of thousands of Jews,
Jehoiachin went to his grave. There he built a tomb, and nearby a synagogue.
From far and near Jews made an annual pilgrimage to Ezekiel's tomb and prayed at his grave. The synagogue was always full of worshippers and students of the Torah. It was known as the Synagogue of Ezekiel and
Jehoiachin. Every year on the Day of Atonement a special scroll of the Torah, written by the prophet's own hand, was taken from the Ark in that synagogue and read, and a perpetual light was kept burning there for many, many years.