Haftarah Parshat Noah
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
October 29, 2011
1 Heshvan 5772
The biblical tradition seems to have postulated a correspondence between the divinely created world and the humanly established Sanctuary or Temple. It has been noted that the language used to describe the building of the Sanctuary in Exodus 40 parallels that used to describe the creation of the world at the beginning of the book of Genesis. In a sense, then, the Sanctuary or Temple was intended to be a microcosm of the larger cosmos or world. (J. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil – The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence, pp. 85-8)
This representation made the Temple into the sacred center of the Jewish people and gave it paramount religious significance, as the Psalmist relates: “He built His sanctuary like the heavens, like the earth that He established forever.” (Psalm 78:69) In the special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh, this parallel is reversed. The Temple is not described as the human representation of the world, rather the world is described as God’s Temple: “Thus said the Lord: The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Who could build a house for Me? What place could serve as My abode? All this was made by My hand and thus it came into being – declares the Lord.” (66:1-2)
Is this declaration a denial of the importance of building a Temple for God here on earth as contended by some liberal Bible scholars in the 19th and early 20th century? The prophetic admonition needs to be seen in its historical context. This prophecy was intended for those who had returned to the land after the Babylonian exile in order to rebuild the land and the Temple that had been destroyed. As one can imagine, the population lived in desperate conditions. Human needs were great and there was a tremendous need to establish priorities. Buildings or people? Human beings are not always wise enough to make the proper choice. What was the prophet’s response? He tells us in the continuation of His prophecy: “Yet to such a one I (God) look – to the poor and brokenhearted, who is concerned with My word.” (66:2) The prophet’s answer is clear. The investment in people’s wellbeing is God’s first priority.
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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