Haftarah Parashat Re’eh
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
August 11, 2018 | 30 Av 5778
Isaiah 66:1-24, 23
This Shabbat is the third of seven Shabbatot of consolation which follow Tisha b’Av (Shiva d’Nehamta). Normally, the haftarot for these Shabbatot are set and represent the earliest known fixed haftarot in the tradition. (See Pesikta d’Rav Kahana) This Shabbat, however, we have a conflict since it is also Shabbat Rosh Hodesh which has its own fixed haftarah. How is this liturgical conflict to be resolved? On this question, see what I wrote a number of years ago – http://www.uscj.org.il/commentaries/reeh-5772/
As I noted there, the Ashkenazi tradition chose to read the haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh this Shabbat. In part, this choice was probably made because this chapter in Isaiah shares a similar message to the other haftarot for this period – God’s resounding participation in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation as well as its recognition by the nations. The universal enthusiasm for this idea is captured in this verse: “And out of all the nations, said the Lord, they shall bring all your brothers on horses, in chariots and drays, on mules and dromedaries, to Jerusalem My holy mountain as an offering to the Lord – just as the Israelites bring an offering in a pure vessel to the House of the Lord.” (verse 20)
Let’s take this verse apart. This verse paints a picture of the nations of the world bringing the Jewish exiles from all over the world to Jerusalem as if they were a Temple offering. The later part of this verse notes what is special about the Israelites’ Temple offerings. They were brought in a “kli tahor – a pure vessel” to “beit HaShem – to the House of the Lord”. This analogy is hard to imagine and therefore it is not surprising that some rabbinic sages took the later part of this verse in another direction: “[Said] Rabbi Pinhas in the name of Rabbi Hoshaya: ‘One who prays in the Beit Knesset (House of Assembly – a synagogue) it is as if s/he offered a pure minha offering. How do we know this? [It is written:] ‘Just as the Israelites bring an offering in a pure vessel to the House of the Lord.'” (Yerushalmi Berachot 5:1 8d)
This teaching comes in the midst of a discussion over the worth of praying as an individual versus as part of a community. Rabbi Hoshaya comes down strongly on the side of praying in community and brings the verse from the haftarah to prove it. This emphasis should not be surprising. This very idea is tied to the idea emphasized in this verse as a whole. Redemption is coming home to be a part of a greater whole. It is about thinking about something beyond self. It is a matter of creating an ideal community to which others might want to belong. This goes for a prayer community. This goes for nation building. This is the Jewish inspiration to which Isaiah wants all of us to aspire.