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Va-Yakhel-Pekudey 5773

Haftarah Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei
Shabbat Hahodesh
(Ezekiel 45:16-46:18)
March 9, 2013
27 Adar 5773

This week’s special haftarah for Shabbat Hahodesh, the last of the four special Shabbatot before Pesah, is part of a section of the prophet’s writings which provide directions and plans for the future Temple. This presents a bit of a problem since Ezekiel’s prophecy was composed at the end of First Temple times. For Ezekiel, the future Temple should have been the Second Temple and yet the Second Temple was neither built nor run according to Ezekiel’s prophetic plans. This dilemma was not lost on the sages.

For example, at the beginning of our haftarah, Ezekiel states: “Thus said the Lord God: ‘On the first day of the first month, you shall take a bull of the herd without blemish, and you shall cleanse the Sanctuary.’” (45:18) In the Talmud, this verse is a source of debate. The Talmud asks: Was this sacrifice a sin offering, surely it was a burnt offering? Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘This passage will be interpreted by Elijah in the future. Rav Ashi said: ‘[It refers to] the special consecration offering [to be] offered in the time of Ezra just as it had been offered in the time of Moses.’” (Menahot 45a) In other words, according to Rabbi Yochanan, this prophecy has yet to be carried out, while Rav Ashi thought that it was meant to be a onetime occurrence which was carried out by Ezra.

Either way, the sages were forced to explain the discrepancy between Ezekiel’s prophecy and reality. Rambam, for whom prophecy was immutable – precluding discrepancies – codified the law in the spirit of Rabbi Yochanan that the conduct of the Third Temple would follow rulings as found in Ezekiel’s prophecies. (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Maaseh Hakorbanot 2:14) Rabbi Moshe Isserles (16th century Poland) had a different explanation for this phenomenon. He asserts that God’s words remain immutable. Changes in the law stem from the nature and needs of those who receive the law. (See Torat Haolah 2 ch. 44 regarding the history of sacrifices, as found in Heschel’s Torah Min Hashamayim 3:62 Heb.)

Both of these viewpoints are interested in maintaining God’s consistency. The Rambam points to the future to insure that the words of the prophet will ultimately be carried out. The Rama (Moshe Isserles) asserts that carrying out God’s law will depend on the needs of those who receive the law. Changed conditions might warrant the revelation to be carried out in different ways, sometimes in this direction and sometimes in that.

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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