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Tazria 5774

Haftarah Parshat Tazria
Shabbat Hahodesh
(Ezekiel 45:16-46:18)
March 29, 2014
27  Adar II 5774

                  Parshat Hahodesh is the fourth of the special maftir Torah readings which precede Pesah. Its haftarah was chosen by the sages because it outlines the sacrificial order for the special events of the year beginning with the first month of the year, Nisan. The sacrifices set out by Ezekiel, at times, differ from those commanded by the Torah. The sacrifice for the first month of the year designates a single bull to be offered: “Thus said the Lord God: ‘On the first day of the month, you shall take a bull of the herd without blemish, and you shall cleanse the sanctuary.’” (45:18) According to the rabbinic reading of this verse, this bull was offered as a sin offering. This seemingly contradicts the Torah’s prescription which calls for the bull offering to be an “olah” or burnt offering.

This discrepancy required resolution. The Talmud records the following debate on this question: “Thus said the Lord God: ‘On the first day of the month, you shall take a bull of the herd without blemish, and you shall cleanse (while this word here means to ritually cleanse, it derives from the Hebrew root: het, tet, alef – the same root as the word “sin”) the sanctuary.’ [This creates a difficulty! Is this bull] a sin-offering’ It [should be a burnt-offering (olah) [since that is what is offered on Rosh Hodesh (See Numbers 28:11)]? [We now have a disparity between the words of Ezekiel and the Torah.] [The Talmud offers two alternative solutions.] Rabbi Yohanan said: This passage will be interpreted by Elijah in the future. [Alternatively,] Rav Ashi said: [It refers to an innovation -] the special consecration-offering [to be] offered in the time of Ezra [to consecrate the Temple after the return from Babylonian exile] just as it was offered in the time of Moses.” (Menahot 51a)

How does one explain the disparity between the Torah and Ezekiel? The sages in this discussion take two different approaches to the problem. Rabbi Yochanan acknowledges what seems to him to be a contradiction but he is at a loss to resolve the question. He does not question either source since both are the product of prophecy but failing to answer it, he leaves it to Elijah, the harbinger of messianic times, to resolve it. Rav Ashi, on the other hand, resolves the question by drawing a distinction between the sacrifice which Ezekiel describes and that of the Torah. He asserts that Ezekiel is not talking about the Rosh Hodesh offering. Rather, he describes a different sacrifice, one that will be offered at the dedication of the Temple, which also would take place on Rosh Hodesh (the first of the month of] Nisan.

We are often challenged by clashing ideas. Many times we see insights in seemingly irreconcilable positions and want to take hold of both sides of an argument. How does one reconcile the irreconcilable? This Talmudic passage poses two alternative options. Rabbi Yochanan acknowledges that the limited nature of human beings does not always provide us with answers so we must live with the tension. Rav Ashi also does not want to abandon one of the disparate prophetic truths so he uses the best of his intellect to find a place for both answers so that they are not in conflict with each other. What both of these approaches have in common is their ultimate loyalty to God and the Torah. For the Jew, this loyalty must transcend all.
Conflict then, seems to leave us both with something to aspire to, but also with something that will challenge us to think hard and attempt to meet the challenges which face us.

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.

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