July 14, 2024
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Parshat Va’era

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

The confluence of Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat this week obligates us to read a special haftarah, a selection that connects to the day and not to the events in the parsha. Clearly, the closing words of the haftarah, “And every month (‘chodesh’) and every week (‘Shabbat’)” would be logical reason for Chazal to have chosen this perek to be read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh. Nonetheless, it behooves us to study this final chapter of Sefer Yeshayahu to search for added significance in the navi’s message that might echo a theme of this special Shabbat as well.

There is an argument among the meforshim as to whether this last prophecy of Yeshayahu is one of rebuke or hope. Don Yitzchak Abarbanel insists that it is a prophecy of hope. Rather than focus upon the words of chastisement directed at those who defiled the Temple service, and Hashem’s subsequent rejection of their sacrifices, as many commentaries do, the Abarbanel argues that God is teaching that the sacrifices are not the most important focus of Hashem. In fact, God has no real need for a Temple. “Hashamayim kisi,” he declares in the opening words of the haftarah, “The heaven is My throne.” “Eizeh bayit asher tivnu li?” “What house could you build for me?” In emphasizing the secondary nature of the sacrificial rite, Hashem is actually preparing the people for the coming destruction of the Temple and the exile of His nation. The people needed to understand that they could survive as a separate nation; that they could continue to serve God, even without a Temple. And even without a land.

The prophecy of hope was one that declared that Israel would survive the exile and return to start anew.

And it is here that, I believe, Chazal saw the connection to Rosh Chodesh as a major theme, and not simply a “fleeting” reference. For as the navi closes his nevuah and his book, he speaks of “Hashamayim hachadashim” and the “Ha’aretz hachadasha,” a “new,” revitalized and renewed heaven and earth, and similarly the future renewal of Israel’s spirit. Therefore, all people will gather to worship God in Yerushalayim, recognizing the rebirth of the Jewish nation.

Rosh Chodesh is not simply a recognition of the arrival of a new month but an opportunity of renewal and revitalization as well. As the moon had waned and disappeared yet returned to shine upon the earth, so too Israel will have a period of weakness and almost disappearance from history but, Hashem guarantees, will be renewed and re-energized.

As we mark the start of a new month today, we are charged to remember the message of renewal and re-emergence. It is the secret of our survival after so many years. And a challenge to meet in every generation.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

 

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