Haftarah Parshat Vaera – Shabbat Rosh Hodesh (Isaiah 66:1-24)
January 28, 2017 / Rosh Hodesh Shevat
This special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh is linked to these special days on account of its prophecy of redemption, found in its penultimate verse, where there would be universal recognition of God especially on Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh (verse 23). Earlier in the haftarah, though, the situation described is not as rosy. One particularly difficult verse seemingly describes a serious dispute among the members of the community after the Jews returned from Babylonian exile. The voices heard in the following verse indicate a debate over who were the authentic representatives of God: “Hear the word of the Lord, you who are concerned about His word! Your kinsmen who hate you, who spurn you because of My name, are saying, ‘Let the Lord manifest His Presence, so that we may look upon your joy.’ But theirs shall be the shame” (verse 5 according to the NJPS translation)
While today it is impossible to put a finger on exactly who these parties were, it is clear that there were some serious ideological differences in the community and that these differences had become adversarial. Each party claimed for itself the truth and God’s ear while demonizing the other. Both sought power spurning their opponents. According to one commentator, this acrimony can be discerned in the above verse which should probably be read as a dialogue between the warring parties. The prophet urges those who are loyal to his viewpoint to adhere to God’s words while the prophet’s adversaries scoff at the claim of the prophet’s followers to a special relationship with God, claiming that relationship for themselves. The prophet, in turn, responds to this challenge with the pronouncement that it is his followers who will rejoice while the adversaries will be shamed. (Metzudat David)
Deeply held debates over how a community should conduct itself are apparently not a new phenomenon. They have a long history of tearing apart the social fabric of societies. It is unlikely that disparate points of view will disappear any time soon. Still, in order to live together a modus vivendi must be found. Taken as a whole, this may be an important take away from this special haftarah. Most of its prophecy is taken up with the contentious disputes which overtook the prophet’s fledgling community. It ultimately ends with a message of hope and a dream for communal unity founded on the acknowledgment of 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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