Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Heshvan
October 13, 2007
This special haftarah which is recited when Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh coincide comes from the last chapter of the book of Isaiah. At the end of this prophecy, Isaiah describes the ultimate acknowledgement and worship of God by all of the nations of the world (verses 18-21): \”[The time] has come to gather all the nations and tongues; they shall come and behold My glory. 19 I will set a sign among them, and send from them survivors to the nations: to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud — that draw the bow — to Tubal, Javan, and the distant coasts, that have never heard My fame nor beheld My glory. They shall declare My glory among these nations. 20 And out of all 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. 21 And from them likewise I will take some to be levitical priests (lacohanim laliviim), said the Lord.\” (NJPS translation)
The last verse of this prophecy makes a curious pronouncement. It seems to state that non-Jews will be taken by God to serve as \”levitical priests\”. Since these particular positions require a particular lineage, what could this verse be talking about? The pshat or plain meaning of this verse would seem to be that since the nations of the world have come bringing offering before God whom they newly recognize, God will graciously accept their offerings as if they were levitical priests since even born Jews who do not have priestly status could not bring their own offerings before the altar. (A. Hahkam, Isaiah, Daat Mikra, p. 696) This attitude is corroborated by a midrash from the period of the Mishnah: \”Blessed are the gerim (converts) for in many places in Scripture, they are likened to Israel. Israelites are called \’servants\’; so are gerim…The Israelites are often called \’ministers\’; so, too, the gerim\’ are called \’ministers\’. (Adapted from Michilta d\’Rabbi Ishmael Mishpatim 18, Horowitz Rabin ed. p. 311-312)
Another interpretation of this verse can be found in a later midrash: \”[When the Messiah comes,] the nations of the world will bring the children of Israel [to Jerusalem along with them] in honor. When the nations take their leave, they will say of the Jews that they brought: \’This one is a priest; this one is a levi; this one is a yisrael. Why will the nations make these announcements? Because these Jews had been sold into slavery and their identity had been forgotten because of the exile and under duress were forced to become non-Jews. Accordingly, Rabbi Elazar interpreted \’And of them I will take for priests and Levites, said the Lord\’ as meaning that from among the non-Jews who will be brought before the King Messiah, God will single out from among them who is a priest; who is a Levite and who is a yisrael from among the non-Jews. I [God] will single out those who are fit for serving as priests and Levites to serve Me. (Adapted from Midrash Tehillim 87:6 Buber ed. p. 379)
In this midrash, God will recover the lost souls from among those who were forcibly taken from the Jewish people throughout the ages and restore them to their proper service of God. According to Rabbi Elazar, these will make up the ranks of the \’non-Jewish\’ priests and Levites who will make offerings before God.
*Dedicated to the precious work of my friend and student, Juan Mejia, on behalf of the Spanish speaking Anusim.
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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