June 2, 2007
The middle prophecy of this week\’s haftarah (chapter 3) contains a scene in which the high priest, Joshua ben Yehotzadak, is confronted by Satan, in his role as prosecuting attorney, for apparent sins, both his own and those of the people. God Himself defends Joshua against Satan\’s accusations. Joshua, who is dressed in filthy clothing, meant to symbolize the sins he is being held accountable for by Satan, is then dressed in clean clothing to symbolize his spiritual purification. God\’s angel then charges Joshua with these words: \”Thus said the Lord of Hosts: \’If you walk in My paths and keep My charge, you in turn will rule My House and guard my courts, and I will permit you to move about among these attendants.\’\” (Verse 7)
Targum Yonathan, the Aramaic translation of the prophetic books, reads the angel\’s words to Joshua as a promise of earthly leadership and a reward in the world to come for proper behavior in this world: \”If you walk in the good path before Me and if you keep the charge of My words and so will you judge those who serve in My Temple and guard My courts and be revived in the resurrection of the dead and I will permit you to walk among the fiery angels.\” This translation assumes, along with most commentators both past and present, that the \”attendants\” mentioned in this verse are not Joshua\’s fellow Temple priests but rather the angels in attendance at his trial.
For Rabbi Joseph Albo, the Spanish sage and philosopher (15th century), this verse caps off his argument asserting that actual physical service and bodily actions are the only normative way of serving and knowing God. He makes this claim because he feels that deeds are the most meaningful common denominator for all human beings since not all people have equal mental faculties. God, according to Albo, expects all people to use their mental faculties to direct their actions toward God and, he affirms, it is these properly directed actions that transform the human relationship with God, not disembodied ideas or beliefs. Albo uses the meaning of this verse as interpreted by the Targum but gives it a different nuance. He does not view the world to come in the conventional sense as a reward for earthly service. Rather, it is the culmination of the process of the human attempt to know God. The commandments are the tools in this process and the world to come represents ultimate knowledge and unity with God. (Sefer Haikkarim 3:5)
*This drasha is dedicated to the memory of my beloved sister-in-law, Moriah Libson, whose life was dedicated to Torah and Mitzvot, and who is now united with God.
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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