Parshat Korah – Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
June 24, 2017 / Rosh Hodesh Tammuz
Those who expect a monolithic theological picture in the Tanakh are in for a surprise. The Jewish Bible is chock full of conflicting views of the divine reality. This is to be expected from a work which spans ages and voices, each trying to come to terms with God’s role in the world. This is one of the fascinating aspects of the Tanakh (the Bible), the canonized sacred text of the Jews. This diversity is reflected when we contrast the opening verse of this special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh with other ideas found in the Tanakh.
The prophet reflects on the idea that no house could possibly contain God: “Thus said the Lord: ‘The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool: Where could you build a house for Me? What place could serve as my abode?” (66:1) This verse differs, however, from King Solomon’s dedication prayer for the Temple: “I (Solomon) have now built for You (God) a stately House, a place where You may dwell forever.” (1 Kings 8:13) The idea that God was contained in “His” house seems to have been a firmly entrenched idea in some circles, as is indicated by the following verse from Psalms: “Let us enter His (God’s) abode, bow at His footstool.” (132:7) (See S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 556-7)
What are we to make of this debate? Who is right and how can we have both views in the book which purports to represent religious truth? The answer to these questions seems to be a matter of religious perspective. It seems to me that these questions need to be redirected. The question we should really be asking is what brings the different authors of these statements to their given perspectives?
I would suggest that both Solomon and the pilgrim who composed Psalm 132 sought out intimacy with God in the same way that we do in visiting a synagogue. Having God’s immanent presence in the midst of the community also provided security and national cohesiveness. The prophetic message expressed in our haftarah is more abstract. It expresses a sense of God’s majesty and transcendence over the whole world.
Which one is right? Each answer is a matter of perspective, experience and of the moment. At one moment, our relationship with God requires intimacy. At another moment, we might stand in awe before the “Infinite One”. Both are as much a reflection of us as they are 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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