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Shabbat Rosh Hodesh 5773

Haftarah Parshat Korah/Rosh Hodesh
(Isaiah 66:1-24)
June 8, 2013
30 Sivan 5773

Parshat Korah – Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Tamuz (Isaiah 66:1-24)

This special haftarah, marking when Rosh Hodesh coincides with Shabbat, opens with an expression of God’s painful alienation caused by those who would, on the one hand, build a Temple to house God’s presence while at the same time act in ways which are a total betrayal of God’s presence. It closes with a resounding message that all nations will ultimately recognize God and worship Him: “And new moon after new moon, and Shabbat after Shabbat, all flesh (kol basar) shall come to bow before Me, said the Lord.” (66:23)

Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) expresses the plain meaning (peshat) of this verse when he says: “All people and even those from other peoples [will all come to worship God]. Rabbi Joseph Kaspi waxes super-literal in his interpretation: “all flesh – and this also applies to the bones, ligaments and innards.”

Sources from the rabbinic period, however, focus on the transformation of the individual into someone worthy of having a relationship with God. One such interpretation plays with fact that the word “basar” (bet sin resh) sounds similar to the word “basar” (bet samech resh) which means “to contemn or show disdain”- “Said Rabbi Pinhas: What is the meaning of “kol basar”? All who contemn (basar) their inclinations in this world merit seeing the face of God’s Presence (the Shekhina).” (Pesikta Rabbati chapter 1 – Ish Shalom ed. p.2) Rabbi Pinhas changes the tenor of this verse’s message focusing it on the individual’s relationship to God. He asserts that a person cannot have a relationship with God without controlling the inner impulses which might lead a person astray from God.

We find a similar philosophy expressed in the Talmud. In this “drash”, Hezekiah (1st generation Talmudic sage – Eretz Yisrael) plays with the meaning of the word “basar”: “Hezekiah said: A person\’s prayer is not heard unless he makes his heart like flesh; as it says: ‘And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, shall all flesh come to bow.’” (Sotah 5a) Rashi explains that Hezekiah’s intent is that a person’s heart should be soft like flesh, meaning that a person’s prayers will not be heard if the person is hard-hearted or arrogant.

Isaiah’s message, as indicated by medieval commentators, was a universal one. His vision was that ultimately everyone, Jew and non-Jew, would acknowledge God and make pilgrimage to worship Him. The sages turn this message into an inner struggle to be worthy of participating in such worship. They teach us that a person must conquer his or her inner demons before approaching God. We can only hope that our inner struggles will allow us to be a part of Isaiah’s greater picture.

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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