Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei -Shabbat Ha\’Hodesh
March 9, 2002
The last Shabbat of the month of Adar is also the last of the four special Shabbatot which precede Pesach. It is called “Parshat HaHodesh” on account of the special maftir Torah reading for the day which begins with the words “This month (HaHodesh Hazeh) is the first month”. The Tosefta, a collection of teachings from the period of the Mishnah, records that the haftarah for this Shabbat, is “Thus said the Lord God: On the first day of the first month” (Ezekiel 35:18) [Tosefta Megillah 3:4] The association between the maftir reading and the haftarah is immediately evident. Both passages deal with Nisan, the month which begins the Jewish year. A closer look at the haftarah, however, reveals obvious differences. The haftarah speaks of sacrifices which differ from those called for in the Torah. In fact, these differences made the book of Ezekiel a controversial book for the Rabbis of the Talmud.
The Babylonian Talmud records the following discussion of the discrepancies between the laws in this week’s haftarah and the laws in the Torah: “Thus said the Lord God: ‘In the first month, in the first day of the month you shall take a young bull of the herd without blemish and you shall offer it as a sin offering in the sanctuary.’ [The Talmud notes the discrepancy with the following question.] [You say it was a] ‘sin offering’, surely it was a ‘burnt offering’ [as was prescribed by the Torah for Rosh Hodesh – see Numbers 28:11]? Rabbi Yochanan [attempts to minimize this difficulty with the following response]: This discrepancy will be explained by Elijah in the future [since it is beyond our ability to reconcile these two verses]. Rabbi Ashi [offers another possible answer]: [the passage in Ezekiel refers to] the special dedication ceremony that was to be offered in the time of Ezra [when the Jews returned from Babylonia after the first exile when they rebuilt the Temple], just as it was offered in the time of Moses [when he consecrated the sanctuary in the desert]. [Similarly, this debate between these two sages from the period of the Talmud] was also taught by two sages from the period of the Mishnah: Rabbi Judah said: This passage will be interpreted by Elijah. Rabbi Yose said: ‘It refers to the dedication ceremony offered in the time of Ezra just as it was offered in the time of Moses.’ Rabbi Judah replied: ‘May your mind be at ease for you have set my mind at ease.’ (adapted from Menachot 45a)
Rabbi Yochanan holds that not all riddles in life are resolvable. He is unwilling to reject the sources of his wisdom (the Torah and the book of Ezekiel) simply because there is something he did not understand. Rather, he contends, it is better to await an ultimate answer than to be led astray by a temporary solution that simply “smoothes over” a difficulty. Elijah the prophet, the figure charged in the Jewish tradition with being the source of answers to enigmatic questions, will ultimately bring the called for intellectual redemption.
Rav Ashi’s solution removes the discrepancy between Ezekiel and the Torah by positing that each source is talking about something different. The Torah deals with the special sacrifice for Rosh Hodesh while Ezekiel prophesied about a special ceremony which would take place in Israel’s future. Rashi maintains that this special ceremony marked the inauguration of the second Temple in the time of Ezra. Abrabanel asserts that Ezekiel’s prophecy speaks of the ultimate redemption. This interpretation links the haftarah to this week’s special Torah reading which reminds us that this is the month of our redemption from Egypt. May our past redemption be a harbinger for our future redemption where both our spiritual and intellectual quests will be fulfilled.
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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