Haftarah Parshat Noah – Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan 5775
The special haftarah for when Shabbat coincides with Rosh Hodesh is found in the last chapter of the book of Isaiah. The very last verse of this chapter is obscured in the public mindset by the fact that when this chapter is read liturgically, the penultimate verse is repeated at the end of the reading so that the reading will end on a positive note. The last verse speaks, in a very “colorful” and violent way, of the fate of those who rebel against God’s ultimate sovereignty: “They (God’s followers) shall go out and gaze on the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me (God): Their worms shall not die nor their fire be quenched; They shall be a horror (deira’on) to all flesh.” (66:24)
This description of the awful fate of God’s adversaries must be understood within the context of the affirmative message that serves as its background. In the final prophecy of the book, Isaiah envisions the universal recognition of God where all of the nations, both near and far, will be gathered to Jerusalem in recognition of God, and will bring along with them the dispersed remnants of the Jewish people. God will choose from among the gathered, including the non-Israelites, priests to serve Him (a major theological innovation) and all will gather to serve God on both Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh (the new month). This majestic and joyful scene is held in contrast with the fate of the wicked which serves as a theological foil for all to see.
This ugly picture of the fate of the wicked would not of have been a purely imaginative vision to the prophet. It is a familiar account in Mesopotamian literature, probably conjured up from actual battle scenes. The prophetic imagination could not conceive of a more awful punishment. This disgusting image served as an excellent contrast to the fate of God’s followers. (See S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 577) The impression made by this contrast is felt in the translation of Targum Yonathan: “They (the righteous) will go see the wicked who rebelled against My word. Behold they will not die and their fire will not be quenched and the wicked will be judged in Gehinon (the netherworld) until the righteous say that they have seen enough (dei re’iah).
So then why would the prophet want this to be his last prophetic message? To my mind, he probably thought that this contrast would keep the righteous on the right path.