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Terumah 5772

Haftarah Parshat Terumah
(1 Kings 5:26-6:13)
February 25, 2012
2 Adar 5772

This week’s haftarah marks the precise date on which Solomon began the monumental project of building the First Temple: “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites left the land of Egypt, in the month of Ziv – that is, the second month – in the fourth year of his reign over Israel, Solomon began to build the House of the Lord.” (6:1) A few chapters later, the Book Kings marks the day when the festivities for the dedication of the Temple began: “All the men of Israel gathered before King Solomon in the month of Eitanim on the Festival (Sukkot), that is, the seventh month.” (8:2) It is possible that the names given to the months in the book of Kings are unfamiliar because they are different from the names for the months in the Hebrew calendar as established in rabbinic times.

Since these names were already out of use in rabbinic times, there were sages who used these names for interpretive purposes (midrash). The Babylonian Talmud notes a debate between two sages from the period of the Mishnah regarding in which month the patriarchs were born – in Nisan (the first month of the year when we celebrate Pesah) or Tishrei (the seventh month of the year when we celebrate Rosh Hashanah). [This debate was part of a larger debate between these two sages over which was the premier month of the year.]

Rabbi Eliezer said: How do we know that the Patriarchs were born in the month of Tishrei? Because it says: All the men of Israel gathered before King Solomon in the month of Eitanim, that is in the month that the mighty ones [etanim] of the world were born.” Rabbi Yehoshua said: How do we know tha the Patriarchs were born in the month of Nisan? Because it says: In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites left the land of Egypt, in the month of Ziv – that is, the month in which the brilliant ones were born [zivtani] of the world were born. (adapted from Rosh Hashanah 11a)

[There is an obvious problem with Rabbi Yehoshua’s position, since Ziv is described as the second month of the year and therefore cannot refer to Nisan. Rashi (1st interpretation) explains that Ziv refers the the month of Iyar, the second month which was filled with light because the Patriarchs were born in the previous month – Nisan.]

Each of the sages in this passage took the ancient name of these months and reread them as an association with the patriarchs, one calling them the “etanim – strong ones” and the other “zivtanim – source of light”. In doing so, each one thought to add to the significance of the given month in the battle over which would become the most prominent month of the year. This sounds surprising to us but what we call Rosh Hashanah had not taken on the role of the beginning of the year. Remember, its original name is Yom Teruah – the Day of the Sounding of the Shofar – and it is the first day of the seventh month. In the end, Tishrei won out and became the beginning of the year and as you know from the Torah reading of the day, it also became intimately associated with the Patriarchs.

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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