Haftarah Parshat Vayigash
December 11, 2010
4 Tevet 5771
Israel\’s prophets were cognizant of the fact that they lived in a less than ideal world. They were dissatisfied with the shared values of their societies. They envisioned greater social cohesiveness and they imagined an ideal leadership which would transform their nation into one worthy of God\’s association. For many of Israel\’s prophets, this leadership would be provided by a future Davidic king since the prophets saw in King David the model of ideal leadership. While many prophets shared this common vision, each expressed it in his own unique way. Later generations took these individual expressions and scoured them for clues to try to delineate more exactly what this future leadership might look like.
On this note, a number of rabbis noted an apparent discrepancy between one of Jeremiah\’s prophecies and one found in this week\’s haftarah from Ezekiel. Jeremiah prophesies: \”They will serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.\” (Jeremiah 30:9) while Ezekiel states: \”My servant David [will be] as their prince for all time.\” (Ezekiel 37:25)
The following debate shaped up around these two verses: \”Rav Judah said in Rav\’s name: The Holy One, blessed be He, will raise up another David for us, as it is written, \’They shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them\’: not \’I raised up\’, but \’I will raise up\’. R. Papa said to Abaye: But it is written, \’My servant David [will be] their prince [nasi] for ever? [How do we solve this apparent discrepancy?] E.g., [There will be two messianic figures -] an emperor and a viceroy. (Sanhedrin 98b)
This passage is not religiously interesting for its insight into the state of messianic governance. It is interesting for its insight into the thinking of the sages and what that might say for our religious thinking. In this discussion, these sages noted what for them seemed a contradiction. One verse seemed to assert that God would raise up a new leader to become the future messiah while from the other verse they understood that God would resurrect David to be the future messiah. The Talmud resolved this apparent conflict by asserting there would be roles for both figures in the future messianic government.
What we see in this passage is messianic speculation based on an attempt to harmonize two biblical verses. It seems to me that the Talmud was aware of the \”playfulness\” in such attempts since this particular chapter (Sanhedrin Perek Helek) is filled with such speculation, often with contradictory results. Some of the great medieval sages were also aware of this. (See Yad Ramah on this passage and Maimonides, Hilchot Melachim 12:2)
One must conclude from this discussion a generalization that theological speculation can and should be used as a tool in raising our awareness in God\’s world. It should not be applied dogmatically but rather with proper humility. It should be used as a tool to elevate us, but not to humiliate us. Only in this way will it truly bring us closer to God.
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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