Haftarah Parshat Vayikra – Shabbat Rosh Hodesh – Parshat Hahodesh (Ezekiel 45:16-46:18)
March 21, 2015 /Rosh Hodesh Nisan 5775
Ezekiel is one of the most unusual books of the Bible. Aside from Ezekiel’s picturesque and provocative prophecies, his book is well known for its discrepancies with the normative law which preceded it. These differences are particularly pronounced in Ezekiel’s declarations concerning the procedures in the future Temple. One such variance is found in Ezekiel’s description of the Temple rites for Rosh Hodesh Nisan, the first month of the year found in the special haftarah for Shabbat HaHodesh, the fourth of the special Shabbatot preceding Pesah: “Thus said the Lord God: In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a young bull without blemish and you shall purify the sanctuary.” (45:18)
This detail seems innocuous to us but it introduced a previously unknown rite to the sacrificial order fixed already in the Torah. This divergence from the previously established procedure obviously bothered the sages and therefore required explanation. The Talmud took up this question, prompting the following debate: “A sin-offering’? But surely it is a burnt-offering? Rabbi Yohanan said: This passage will be interpreted by Elijah in the future. Rabbi Ashi said: [It refers to] the special consecration-offering [to be] offered in the time of Ezra, just as it was offered in the time of Moses. This was also taught [in a Baraitha]: Rabbi Judah says: This passage will be interpreted by Elijah in the future. But Rabbi Yose said to him: [It refers to] the consecration-offering [to be] offered in the time of Ezra, just as it was offered in the time of Moses. He replied, May your mind be at ease for you have set mine at ease.” (Menachot 45a) This Talmudic reconciliation does not really quiet the discussion on this and similar passages since Ezekiel’s prophecies preceded the building of the Second Temple and were only partially realized.
This prophecy still raised questions. It is well known that Maimonides devised a series of creedal statements which some took to define basic Jewish beliefs. Among those statements was an affirmation of prophetic truth. So how is one to treat a complicated situation where there are contradictions not only between different prophecies but also conflicting ideas over how a prophecy should be understood? This raises the question of what is entailed by fealty to the words of the prophets. It seems to me that in our day, it means that their words and visions should act as a prism through which we see the world, that they are a part of our lives and our debates – that we interpret the world by using them as a prism and that our debates with their words, our give and take with them, be framed by loyalty respect and love.