Ezekiel: The Man on the Throne

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			The Bible is filled with physical sounding references to God. It is impossible to avoid these ‎allusions no matter how hard we try. God has a face, eyes, arms, hands, a mouth, nostrils to ‎flair in anger, fingers to write with, and loins to gird. Man is in the image of God, which gives ‎us a pretty good, if misleading idea of what God looks like. Moses sees God from the back. ‎Isaiah sees God on a throne surrounded by angels (Isaiah 6:1). The Israelites see God and ‎with what looks like sapphire under his feet (Exodus 24:10). Rabbinic descriptions only ‎augment the physical images. There are tresses on His head which is crowned with a tallit and ‎Tefillin. God appears as a man dressed in white in the temple. God appears in dreams, in ‎visions, in clouds, and in fire. ‎
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Perhaps the most vivid of the physical images is found in the first chapter of the book of ‎Ezekiel. ‘On the 15th of the month, which was during the 5th year of the exile of ‎King Yoyachin; the word of Hashem came to Ezekiel the son of Buzi, the Priest, in the land ‎of the Kasdim (Babylonians) on the river Kevar, and the hand of Hashem fell upon him there. ‎And I saw, and behold, a storm wind came from the north in a great cloud, inflamed with fire ‎and glowing all around, and from its midst something like the hashmal (some sort of glow) ‎from the fire. And from its midst the image of four living creatures, and this was their ‎appearance – they had the look of a man. There were four faces to each one, and four wings ‎to each. Their legs were straight and the soles of their feet were like the hoof of a calf, with ‎sparks like glowing copper’ (v. 2-7). ‎
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It goes on like this for another 18 verses. The living creatures are described in great detail – ‎they have the faces of a man and a lion on the right side, and an ox on the left, and an eagle ‎somewhere else. They glow like coals, lightning sparks around them; there are wheels reaching ‎to the earth, and wheels within wheels. The sky above them looks like awesome ice. Ezekiel ‎hears a sound like crashing waves. In verse 26 we read what was beyond even that: ‘Above ‎the sky that was above their heads was the appearance of a throne that looked like sapphire, ‎and on the image of the throne was the image of the appearance of a man on it from above. ‎And I saw something like hashmal that appeared like fire surrounding it from the appearance ‎of his loins and above, and from the appearance of his loins and below I saw the appearance ‎of fire and glow around it. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was ‎the appearance of the glow around him, it was the appearance of the image of the glory of ‎Hashem; and I saw and I fell on my face and I heard a voice speaking…’ (v.26-28). This ‎chapter ends right here and stands apart virtually by itself in this book. In fact it is unique in ‎all of the Tanakh. ‎
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Analysis ‎
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This chapter is traditionally known as the ‘Work of the Chariot’, even though there is no ‎chariot in the vision. It has become the prototype for most mystical speculation in Judaism. ‎Virtually any Jewish mystical journey will in some way point back to the ‘Chariot’ vision as ‎its template. Maimonides used it as the general term for his understanding of the interaction ‎between angels and the physical world. It would be impossible to over-emphasize the ‎importance of this vision to future Jewish thought, in spite of the fact that nobody really ‎claims to understand it. ‎
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There is a lot to examine here, but we are going to concentrate on one thing only – the image ‎of God that emerges from all this. The first verse describes this as ‘visions of Elohim’, so it ‎makes sense that it should present an image of God. But what is the image? The final verses ‎of the chapter are the most vivid, but also the most perplexing. Verse 26 introduces the ‎sapphire-looking throne into the vision. It also is the single place where the ‘image of the ‎likeness of a man’ is stated. Verse 27 has the hashmal above his waist and fire glowing ‎below it. Then verse 28 seems to clarify what this ‘man’ was: ‘Like the appearance of a ‎rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the glow around him, and the ‎appearance of the image of the glory of Hashem’. What does this verse mean? Could it mean ‎like it seems to mean, even though it smacks of heresy? ‎
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Interpreting these verses must be done with great trepidation and hesitation. Indeed the ‎Talmud (Hagiga 13a) states that permission was not given to speak about the matters above ‎the ‘sky’ (verses 26-28). Rashi, the greatest of the medieval commentators writes that we ‎cannot even contemplate it. But as we all know, the best way to get something read is to ban ‎it. The best way to inspire thinking about a difficult idea is to state that it is forbidden to ‎contemplate. We’re going to contemplate it. ‎
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These ‘living creatures’, these angels, carried Ezekiel’s vision up through the heavens until he ‎was able to see above the heavens. He saw the vision of the throne. Then he saw this ‘image ‎of the likeness of a man’ on the throne from above. He didn’t actually see a physical man. In ‎fact, he didn’t even see a physical throne. In fact, it isn’t clear that he saw anything in ‎between when he hears the sound of the wings and when he sees the hashmal surrounding the ‎throne. It was all images and likenesses and appearances. But it did have at least an image of ‎a likeness. And that image of a likeness was of a man. ‎
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This is also the case for the glow that was surrounding the throne. It was visible but not quite ‎real. At this point the punch line kicks in: ‘It was the appearance of the image of the glory of ‎Hashem’. What he saw, or imagined, was three levels removed from actuality. ‘Appearance’, ‎‎‘image’, ‘glory’ – the vision seems to go out of its way to describe something that wasn’t ‎‎‘real’ in the normal sense. But what was it then? ‎
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So the ‘man on the throne’ is now the ‘Man on the throne’. That man had the ‘appearance of ‎the image of the glory of Hashem’. To old Chumash prose this might seem like small ‎potatoes. We’ve discussed the shechina, God’s glory, God’s holiness, angels that take on ‎some godly appearance, a burning bush that God appeared in, and a few other things that ‎might make Ezekiel’s vision seem distant and blurred. But none of them, not Moshe ‎seeing God’s back, the Israelites seeing God, Isaiah seeing God on a throne, various people ‎seeing God’s glory or angels, and the shechina making token appearances throughout Jewish ‎history, actually go far as to describe the image as that of a man. This is the radical step of ‎Ezekiel’s vision of the Chariot. ‎
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Is he just imagining this whole thing? Is this just the way he would have wanted to ‘image’ ‎God, based on his own impressions and what he was familiar with from the Torah (man ‎created in the image of God)? Or was this a real image that was presented to him through the ‎vision of prophecy. We are going to take the second side – that he saw this image through ‎prophetic insight. It still means that Hashem either created this image and presented it to him, ‎or Hashem assumes this image. It wasn’t a photograph of God. ‎
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But this was the vision that Ezekiel was presented with. This tells us a great deal. When God ‎allows a human being to envision what God ‘looks like’, the image is one of a man. This is not ‎God that the person is envisioning. It is the glory of God. It isn’t even the unadulterated ‎glory of God, but the image of the glory of God. It isn’t even the direct image of the glory of ‎God, but the appearance of the image of the glory of God. But after cutting through all that, ‎it is still in the image of a person. In some manner, in some mystical, insightful, prophetic ‎manner, when we experience this image, we see a reflection of ourselves. We, in some way, ‎are a reflection of God. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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Before anybody gets up in arms with accusations of heresy or Christianity, it would be wise ‎to remember that in Genesis it does say quite explicitly that man was created in the image of ‎Elohim. This means something. It may not mean that God has two hands, two feet and a ‎Jewish nose, but it does mean that man’s image reflects the image of God in some way. ‎Maybe it means that man creates just as God creates. Or maybe it means that man has free ‎will like God has free will. At the very least, it means that there is a resemblance on some ‎level. ‎
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This image here is the appearance of the image of the glory of Hashem. We are a reflection of ‎the image of the glory of Hashem. Perhaps we alone can see this image, being as we are ‎human beings. Perhaps other sentient beings would see their own image reflected. But we see ‎our image. We see God’s glory reflected in us. This does not mean that God’s glory is found ‎among all the warts and quirks found in our personalities. Nothing could be farther from the ‎truth. But it does mean that there is some higher element of the human conscience, ‘above the ‎sky’, surrounded by a fiery glow, sitting on a clear blue throne, that does indeed reflect God’s ‎glory. ‎
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Ezekiel does give us clues as to where we might look for this reflection. The path to get to it ‎will be dramatic, filled with fiery glow and sparks of lightning. It will have these wheels ‎within wheels, reaching from the earth to up above, wheels that turn and move from here to ‎there. It is not static. When the sky is finally reached, when the highest level is achieved, one ‎has to go even higher. The throne is all the majesty and dignity of the human conscience – its ‎greatest potential and its noblest aspirations. On that throne is the person. Perhaps that person ‎is you. ‎
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There is one other factor in seeing this image. Upon seeing it, you will have to experience a ‎spontaneous yearning to fall on your face in awe. This is not something that can be planned in ‎advance. It cannot be faked. It is not some perfunctory religious ritual. Perhaps the actual ‎falling on the face isn’t necessary, but the impulse to do so is imperative. If this is lacking it is ‎the tell-tale symptom that pay dirt was not hit. Perhaps you are just looking at yourself ‎through some internal mirror. But you are not looking at any reflection of God. The ‎difference is as obvious as the difference between feeding the ego and experiencing wonder ‎at being human. One is the feeling of pride, the other is feeling of awe. To gaze at the spiritual ‎potential within is to gaze at the reflection of the glory of God. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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There is an obvious danger in this image. The reflection of God’s glory may be found deep in ‎the human conscience, but there is a lot of other stuff lying in their also. How does one find ‎the image of God and not the image of man? ‎
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