Haftarah Parshat Terumah
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
1 Adar 5774
February 1, 2014
It is a mistake to think that the Jewish tradition was ever monolithic. Even the messages of the prophets indicate the existence of lively and frequently even heated debate. Sometimes, the debates were black and white – there were good guys and bad guys. At other time times, one can see reflected in the biblical debates different approaches to the great issues of the day, religious, moral and political. In this week’s haftarah, for when Shabbat coincides with Rosh Hodesh (the new month), we are privy to just such a heated debate in which the parties involved thought the religious state of the nation was affected.
The prophet records a vehement debate in which his enemies claim religious superiority and purity over the prophet’s constituents. They sought to distance the prophet and his followers from participation in the worship of God, as we note in his prophetic plaint: “Hear the word of the Lord, you who are concerned with His word! Your kinsmen who hate you, who spurn you because of Me (God), are saying, ‘Let the Lord manifest His Presence so that we may look upon your joy’ – but theirs shall be the shame.” (66:5) The prophet’s enemies apparently claim that the prophet and his followers should leave the ritual life of the nation in their hands so that it may be performed with the proper purity and sanctity. They want to limit access to the holy institutions to their “exclusive club”. We see allusions to this same attitude in the previous chapter: “Who say: ‘Keep your distance! Don’t come closer for I am holier than you.” (65:5) (See S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, pp. 562, 540)
God’s response to this mentality is not long in coming: “Hark, tumult from the city, thunder from the Temple! It is the thunder of the Lord as He deals retribution to His foes.” (66:6) This is not a divine call against external enemies. It is God’s battle cry against those who claim exclusivity and would read others, who are loyal and sincere towards the tradition, out of the religious community. This attitude irks God who finds such an attitude unjustifiable.
Religious battles over turf and power are seemingly timeless. The prophet of the last chapter of Isaiah anguished over his nation’s disunity at the time of the return from Babylonian exile. It was as insufferable then as it is now.