Haftarah Parshat Vaera
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
January 12, 2013
01 Shevat 5773
The special haftarah recited when Shabbat coincides with Rosh Hodesh opens with an important theological statement: “Thus said the Lord: The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.” (66:1) Ostensibly, this verse is a proclamation that God’s presence cannot be contained in the small abode His human followers built as a place to worship Him since He is above and beyond human measure; nor is He dependent upon human resources to provide Him with sustenance. (See the interpretation of Rabbi David Kimche.)
Read super-literally though, this verse provides a graphic proclamation establishing the entire universe as God’s abode with the earth as the place where God, as it were, maintains His footing. This understanding suggests the very opposite of Kimche’s message, as we note in the following teaching from the Talmud: “Said Rabbi Yitchak: ‘When anyone transgresses in private, it is as if he/she supplants the feet of the Shechkina (God’s presence), as it says: Thus said the Lord: The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.’” (Kiddushin 31a) Rabbi Yitchak also seemingly understands this verse to be expressing God’s omnipresence, but unlike Kimche, he wants to suggest that human actions have the potential to undermine God’s presence in the world. A human being can, as it were, kick the stool out from under God’s feet.
Rabbi Yitchak is speaking to the very human tendency to presume that when sins are preformed privately, hidden away from the sight of others, they are truly secret and carry with them no consequences whatsoever. He wants to quash this presumption, asserting, instead, that the results of such actions are destructive on a personal and on a cosmic level. A person’s hidden indiscretions indicate a mindset which rejects the possibility of God’s omnipresence. Such thoughts rock the very foundations of a person’s individual faith and undermine God’s presence in His world.
Rabbi Yitchak issues this warning because all of us fall prey to such thinking and actions at one time or another. It is his hope that foresight and insight will save us and God’s world from the costs of our failings.
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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