Haftarah Parshat Reeh – Shabbat Rosh Hodesh (Isaiah 66:1-24)
September 3, 2016 / 30 Av 5776
[This Shabbat, we have a very unusual situation where there are two possible haftarot. Normally, when Shabbat coincides with Rosh Hodesh, we read the last chapter of the book of Isaiah (chapter 66) which ends with a verse that mentions both Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh (66:23). This Shabbat also offers us another possibility, since it is also the third week of what would under normal circumstances be the “Shiva d’nehamta – the seven haftaroth of consolation” which follow Tisha b’Av. In this case, we would read Isaiah 54:11-55:5. Both traditions are rooted in the Talmud. Almost universally today, we read the special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh since it is possible to catch up with the other prescribed haftarah for today in two weeks (Parshat KI Tetzei) where it can be read it along with the first part of the chapter 54.]
In part, the decision to read the haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh on this Shabbat was taken because it too has prophetic elements which stress the idea of consolation. One of the most poignant metaphors used to express this idea imagines the redemption and return of the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem as the birthing of a child. Jerusalem is imagined to be the nursing mother through which God provides His people with its necessities in order to prosper: “Rejoice for Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her! Join in her jubilation, all you who mourned her, that you may suck from her breast consolation to the full, that you may draw from her bosom glory to your delight. For thus said the Lord: I will extend to her prosperity like a stream, the wealth of nations like a wadi in flood; and you shall nurse of it. You shall be carried on shoulders and dandled upon knees. As a mother comforts her son so I (God) will comfort you; You shall find comfort in Jerusalem.” (verse 10-13)
This image, where God maternally nurtures His people using Jerusalem as His surrogate speaks to the idea of consolation and comfort as no other. It was intended to bring strength and security to the returning community because no other image represents constant care and attention like this one.
Now with the entry of the month of Elul, the month where we begin our preparations for the upcoming Days of Awe, it is good to know that we have God’s attention and care so that we can invest ourselves in the task of turning ourselves around to be worthy of God’s presence.
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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