Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Iyar
May 3, 2003
This Shabbat we celebrate Rosh Hodesh Iyar. When Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh coincide, we read the last chapter of Isaiah as the haftarah because of a reference at the very end of the haftarah to both Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh. Interestingly, this week’s haftarah also contains a message for Yom Haatzmaot – Israel Independence Day which we also celebrate this coming week.
In the midst of Isaiah’s criticism of the religious commitment and sincerity of the people of Israel, he offers a measure of hope to those in his generation who had experienced the destruction of Jerusalem and its loss as the physical center of Israel’s soul. He tells those who have mourned her and shown concern for her that there is still hope for her restoration and that in proportion to their concern for her will be their participation in her blessings: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her all you who love her. Join in her jubilation all you who mourned for her. So that you may suck from her breast consolation to the full and so that you may draw from her bosom glory to your delight” (Isaiah 66:10-11)
Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, radically transformed Isaiah’s message. Rav Kook, a mystic and a romanticist, viewed the Jew’s relationship with Jerusalem and the land of Israel as essential to his or her very being. In the passages quoted below, Jerusalem is given two very different symbolic meanings.
In the first passage, attachment to the land of Israel plays a crucial role in shaping the ultimate meaning of existence for the Jew: “It is not possible for a Jew to be dedicated and faithful to her or her thoughts, logic, ideas, or imagination while living outside of the land of Israel. Sacred experiences, at whatever level, are purer in the land of Israel, while outside of the land of Israel they are less pure. However, the greater a person’s yearning and attachment to the land of Israel, the person’s ideas become purer under the influence of the air of the land of Israel which hovers over all who expect to see her. ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her all who love her.’” (adapted from his work, Orot 1:4)
Rav Kook obviously puts great emphasis on the relationship between the Jew’s actual physical relationship to the land of Israel and the shaping of a person’s Jewish identity. Jewish identity rings truest in the land of Israel but the essence of a person’s Jewishness can also be enhanced through an intimate relationship with Israel. In other words, one who loves Israel and yearns for Israel will, in turn, have the reclaimed joy of Israel in his or her heart.
In the second passage, Jerusalem is transformed from an actual physical entity into a personification of the communal Jewish soul which joins us in our relationship to God. The tools for enhancing this relationship are the study of Torah and the observance of its commandments: “The more a person dedicates himself or herself to the study of Torah and the observance of the commandments, the greater will be their attachment to the community of Israel, and the more they will find in themselves the higher essence of the communal soul, and feel the pain of the community of Israel at its ebb, rejoice in its eternal joy in the future, and glory in the deep inner recognition of its Divine glory. And on every occasion, whether it be the festivals of joy, renewal of the seasons, days and months, the Jew will feel himself or herself surrounded and full of the strength of this joy. ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her all who love her. Join in her jubilation all who mourned her so that you may suck from her breast consolation to the full, that you may draw from her bosom glory to your delight.’” (adapted from Orot 3:7)
Israel, in its physical presence and in its spiritual essence, is of ultimate significance to our sense of who we are as Jews and to our relationship with God. Without it, our Jewishness cannot be complete nor can we have any true inner well-being. Our study of Torah and our observance make us cognizant of this. They link us to this essential message and it will be source for the renaissance of our Jewish spirit. Through it we will strengthen our links to both our physical and spiritual homeland. Yom Haatzmaut Sameach- Happy Israel Independence Day!
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. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp. Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus . Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: