Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
April 13, 2002
Both Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh mark special units of time in the Jewish tradition: Shabbat – the week, and Rosh Hodesh – the month. The function of Shabbat is to act as a constant reminder of our relationship with God as the Creator of the world. Each week we imitate God’s six days of creative activity followed by Shabbat – the day of rest. Months in the Jewish calendar are organized around the waxing and waning of the moon. This makes the period of time known as a month a symbol of the ebb and flow of life. Rosh Hodesh, which signals the beginning of each Hebrew month and the day of the new moon, serves then as an opportunity for rebirth and renewal. This idea is corroborated by the special maftir Torah reading for this Shabbat-Rosh Hodesh. Among the special sacrificial offerings for Rosh Hodesh we find the following anomaly: “and one male goat as a sin offering” (Numbers 28:15) If Rosh Hodesh is a festive day, then what reason could there be for a “sin offering”? This sacrifice introduces an aspect of Rosh Hodesh which is often neglected. Rosh Hodesh represents an opportunity, on a regular basis, to incorporate the lessons of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur into our lives. This monthly opportunity to cleanse ourselves allows us to renew ourselves spiritually on an ongoing basis.
Ostensibly, the connection between Shabbat-Rosh Hodesh and the haftarah selected for it is found in its penultimate verse: “And it shall come to pass that from one new moon to the other and from one Shabbat to the other all flesh shall come to worship before Me, said the Lord”. (Isaiah 66:23) (see Megillah 31a) The opening verses seem to offer an equally strong connection: “Thus said the Lord: ‘The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool, where could you build a house for Me? What place could serve as My abode. All this was made by My hand and thus it came into being’, declared the Lord. Yet to whom do I look: to the poor and the broken hearted who is concerned about My word. As for those who slaughter oxen [as sacrifices] and slay human beings; who sacrifice sheep as well as dogs; who present the blood of pigs as a sacrifice; who offer incense while worshipping false gods – just as they have chosen their ways and take pleasure in their abominations. So will I choose to mock them…” (Isaiah 66:1- 4)
The acknowledgment of God’s role as the transcendent Creator who is nevertheless intimately concerned with those who are faithful to Him is joined to a warning to those who have fallen pray to hypocrisy in their relationship with God. Rabbi David Kimche (Radak), the 12th-13th century Provencal Biblical interpreter, offers the following introduction to these verses: “[God says in these verses]: I did not command with regard to the Temple that I would dwell in it nor that I would consume the sacrifices; I only commanded that the people of Israel prepare their hearts to be loyal to me, and that they have a special place prepared that they might be able to worship Me; that they should stir their hearts to purge their evil thoughts and purify them like that which is offered up on the altar. If you do wrong things and still come to My house and make offerings before Me, you have lost the proper intention, have not performed My commandments nor done My will, rather the opposite, you have angered Me.” (adapted translation)
Isaiah offers us a valuable reminder that we should mend our relationship with God, our Creator. Sincerity and integrity are crucial to our relationship with God. Rosh Hodesh offers us a monthly reminder of both our need and our ability to achieve this goal.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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