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Shabbat Ha-Hodesh 5768

Parshat Tazriah/Shabbat Hahodesh
Mahar Hodesh
(Ezekiel 45:16-46:18;1 Samuel 20:18,42)
29 Adar II 5768
April 5, 2008

This week\’s haftarah is the last of the four special haftarot attached to four special additional Torah readings which precede Pesah. The special Torah reading for this Shabbat deals with the preparations required for the Korban Pesah – the special lamb offered in the Temple and then eaten on the night of Pesah. The haftarah we read this Shabbat gives us a glimpse into how Ezekiel envisioned this and other sacrifices in the idealized restored Temple in Jerusalem.

We have spoken previously about the similarities and differences between Ezekiel\’s visions of future Temple rites and those found in the Torah. Obviously on a historical level, Ezekiel\’s prophecy has yet to be realized. Still, this did not preclude sages in all generations from culling wisdom from his divinely inspired legislation. On this count, even what appears to be the most innocuous detail has the potential to offer gems of wisdom. And so, it should not surprise us that what seems like a detail of expression, something easily overlooked, has the potential to inspire.

In the latter part of the haftarah, Ezekiel outlines details about how the king was to offer his sacrificial offerings: \”The gate that faces east shall also be opened for the prince whenever he offers a free will offering – be it burnt offering (nidava olah) or offering of wellbeing – freely offered to the Lord (shlamim nidava), so that he may offer his burnt offering or his offering of wellbeing just as he does on the Sabbath day.\” (46:12)

This verse, ostensibly, deals with the regulation of traffic in the Temple, noting which gates will be opened on which days when an important person wants to make a voluntary offering in the Temple. It is, however, a rabbinic trait throughout the ages to pay attention not only to the legislation itself but also to the particular way the language of the legislation is couched. Here, Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen (Dvinsk 19th-20th century) noted a peculiarity in Ezekiel\’s language. In the case of the burnt offering, where the offering is offered up entirely to God, the word \”nidava – free will offering\” precedes the word for burnt offering – \’olah\’, while when talking about the peace offering, where part of the offering is offered to God and part eaten by the those who offer the sacrifice, the word \’nidava – free will offering\’ follows the word \’shlamim – peace offering\’.

For Rabbi Meir Simcha, this easily overlooked difference of expression sparked an insight into human nature. The Olah offering was intended to be given over entirely to God. Such a sacrifice offered a person the greatest potential to either accidently or intentionally take advantage of that which was no longer his. Consequently, the donor had to be reminded that the sacrifice had be freely \”given\” and no longer belonged to him. This reminder was not required the same way for the peace offering. He further points out that even the appearance of taking advantage of such an offering might be construed as theft from God and should be avoided. Such an offering should be a pure offering without strings attached. (See Meshech Hochmah Shmot Haftarot Cooperman ed. p. 346)

It is not an uncommon tendency for people to do good things for their own utilitarian reasons. Rabbi Meir Simcha urges us to sometimes try to move beyond our own narrow needs and to think about things greater than our selves.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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