Parshat Korah/Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
June 12, 2010
30 Sivan 5770
This Shabbat coincides with Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the new month. When this happens, the last chapter of the book of Isaiah is read. This chapter consists of four separate prophecies. The first prophecy has two themes. The first is a polemic against the idea that in building the Second Temple, human beings will have created a home for God who is the Creator of heaven and earth, since it is clear that the God who created the world most certainly transcends it. The second theme maintains that despite God\’s transcendence, He still has intimate concern for the world, caring for the weak and neglected and bringing justice to those who mock Him.
Who are those who mock God? Isaiah gives a detailed list: \”As for those who slay oxen and slay humans, who sacrifice sheep and immolate dogs. Who present as oblation the blood of swine; who offer incense and worship false gods – just as they have taken pleasure in their abominations, so will I choose to mock them…\” (66:3-4 NJPS)
The traditional understanding of this verse, as found in the Aramaic translation of the prophets, Targum Yonathan, renders each of these pairs as a comparative: \”Those who slaughter oxen [as a sacrifice to God] are like those who slay humans, those who sacrifice sheep are like those who immolate dogs\” and so on. What here is the sin? Rashi explains: \”He struck the owner [of the ox] and stole it from him [and then offered it up].\” Sacrificing such an animal is an abomination before God like slaying a human [or at least like beating a human. – See the commentary of Rabbi David Kimche.]
Modern commentators explain this verse without the comparative, as found in the JPS translation cited above. What is the sin then? This is seen as an indictment against sinful priests (kohanim), who offer sacrifices to God while also being involved in violent acts like murder. Others are involved in making offerings to God while also participating in idolatrous worship. (S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66. Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 558-9)
According to this understanding, human disloyalty is not the only thing that disturbs God; hypocrisy outrages Him as well. People have a hard time being consistent, but there are some things in life where choices must be made, where it is not enough to hedge or be syncretistic. You can\’t always do it all.
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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