Haftarah Parashat Vayikra
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
March 17, 2018 | 1 Nisan 5778
The second part of this week’s special haftarah for Shabbat HaHodesh, the last of the four special maftir readings leading up to Pesach, reads like the stage directions for special events. It tells us which of the gates to the Temple should be opened or closed for a particular special day, whether Shabbat or festival, and it coordinates pedestrian traffic patterns in the Temple for those days as well. No detail seems too trivial for mention as we note in the following regulation: “But on the festivals, when the common people come before the Lord, whoever enters by the north gate to bow low shall leave by the south gate and whoever enters by the south gate shall leave by the north gate.” (46:9)
Seemingly, Ezekiel’s purpose, in this innovation, was to keep the mass of attendants moving in an orderly fashion so that the Temple would not become snarled by the large turnout of pilgrims. Rashi (France, 1040-1105 CE) alludes to another possible reason. He asserts that since it was a mitzvah on the pilgrimage festivals to be seen in the Temple, Ezekiel’s ruling allowed for maximizing people’s participation in this Temple ritual.
The Talmud builds on this later rationale when it applies this idea to synagogue life: Said Rabbi Helbo said Rav Huna: “One who enters a synagogue to pray is permitted to make it a kapandaria, as it says: ‘But on the festivals, when the common people come before the Lord'” (Berachot 62b). A “kapandaria” is a shortcut or a way of traversing from one place to another. In other words, Rabbi Helbo teaches that if one goes to pray in a shul, it can be used as a means for getting from one place to another.
The Talmudist Rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi’s (Algeria, 1013-1103 CE) had a version of the Talmud text that read that it is even “obligatory” to make the synagogue a “kapandaria”. Why? According to Rabbi Nissim Gerondi (Barcelona, 1320-1376) since it extends one’s stay in the synagogue, it shows how much the person loves being there.
There is much to be said for this idea. Loving being Jewish is not an instant experience. It takes investment. One of the best ways to “invest” is to spend time in shul – as an individual, as a family – the more time spent, the greater the inspiration, the greater the familiarity and sense of feeling at home, the greater the love.
For Discussion: What is your relationship with synagogue? Is it a place you try to spend a lot of time, or a little? How can we make our kehilot places that people love to be, so much so that they would just pass through on their way someplace else?