Disoriented (Place of God) Behind Me (Ezekiel 3:12)

ezekiel-2The hatarah reading for the first day of Shavuot does something strange to Ezekiel’s vision of God’s simulacral appearance (“the appearance of the likeness of the Glory of YHWH”). After finishing all of chapter 1, the liturgical-reading jumps straight to 3:12, which reads “Then a spirit carried me away, and behind me I heard a great roaring sound: ‘Blessed is the Glory of YHWH in His place.'” (“Glory” is the blinding bright nimbus that surrounds the figure at the center of the vision)

This is something that liturgy does. By fragmenting the body of the text, the liturgical gesture allows you to see things differently, in this case, the text and its vision of theophany. By jumping straight to chapter 3, the liturgical-reading picks out, isolates, and accentuates two interesting points that might otherwise have been obscured by a straight-reading through of the text. Both have to do with the position of the vision, it spatial orientation.

The first point is that, in the eye of the priestly-prophetic author, God, or rather the appearance of God, has a place in the world. The second point is that this place occupies a definite location. It’s presumed that the point of view of the vision in chapter 1 is frontal. That’s how one would expect to “see” God. But in chapter 3 the place of God is situated “behind me,” behind the prophet in an aural encounter. To see God, the prophet would have had to turn around, except he has been seized by a spirit or wind (ruah), and carried away in great bitterness and fury. God’s strong hand has left him stunned by the Chebar Canal for seven days.

Outside the synagogue and its liturgy, I’m not sure where else I would have seen this as clearly. The passage stood out at shul, but when I went home to look it up in a Bible, I was unable to find the mention of the sound that appears “behind” the prophet. I went straight to chapter 2, where I assumed I’d find the verse. But it wasn’t there. Only after re-consulting the Torah and Haftarah readings for the synagogue did I realize what just happened, that this more sudden re-appearance of the place of God behind the prophet appears, not immediately in the Bible, but in its liturgical re-constitution that abruptly jumps the unsuspecting reader one chapter ahead in the text, without his or having noticed it.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish though and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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