March 29, 2003
This week, we read the last of the four special parshiyot of the Torah which precede Pesach. This fourth parashah – Hahodesh – serves as an introduction to the month of the Pesach festival – Nisan. The special maftir Torah reading for this Shabbat serves as a reminder that it is time to get our Pesach preparations into full gear because Pesach is just around the corner. In Temple times, this included choosing and setting aside the special Pesach sacrifice. The haftarah, chosen for this special Shabbat, describes Ezekiel’s vision of what the sacrificial order will be like when it is reestablished. The haftarah opens with a description of the sacrifices offered during the month of Nisan and afterwards describes the special offerings for Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh. By incorporating these three elements, this haftarah captures what is special about this Shabbat.
Ezekiel’s description of the future Temple ritual for Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh is detailed. It even includes instructions for opening the doors of the Temple for Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh: “Thus said the Lord God: The gate of the inner court which faces east shall be closed on the six working days (sheshet y’me hamaaseh); it shall be opened on the Sabbath day and it shall be opened on the day of the new moon” (Ezekiel 46:1) These details, which seem important only to the priests in the Temple, describe the operation of the larger inner eastern gate of the Temple between the Israelite section and the precinct of the Levites. The smaller outer eastern gate of the Temple remained closed at all times (see Ezekiel 44:2)
The difference in the operation of these two gates served as the basis for the following midrash: “ ‘And the Lord said to me [Ezekiel]: “This (the smaller outer gate) should be shut, it shall not be opened, neither shall any person enter it, for the Lord , the God of Israel, shall enter it, therefore it should be shut’ (44:2), But it also says: ‘On the Sabbath day it [the larger inner gate] shall be open and on the New Moon, it shall be open’ (see 46:1) [What are we to learn from this two verses? This can be compared to a king.] A king of flesh and blood, when he enters into a city, which gate would he choose to enter – the smaller gate of the city or the larger gate? [Kings, who are rarely modest, obviously would enter the larger gate.] God, on the other hand, in his humility, enters the Temple through the smaller gate, leaving the larger gate open for those who worship Him” (adapted from Tanhuma Ki Tisa 15) This midrash uses these two verses to teach us not only of God’s great humility but also that God is willing to sacrifice His “honor” so that we might enter into a relationship with Him.
A later darshan, the second Gerer rebbe – Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter, known as the Sfat Emet, picks up on this later idea and gives it symbolic meaning for this special Shabbat. He makes note that God, figuratively, leaves “the door” of a relationship with Him open for us especially on Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh in order that we may experience His divine light. The spiritual energy found on these days is God’s gift to those who observe Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh since these days were created as special portals for Divine energy to flow into the world and allow us to experience God in our everyday lives. (see Drashat Parshat Hahodesh 5631) In these days when we are sorely in need of this energy, may it bring us a bit of comfort and redemption.
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: