June 23, 2024
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Parshiyot VaYakhel-Pekudei
Shabbat HaChodesh

The special maftir reading established by the Tana’im in the Mishnah for this Shabbat HaChodesh was meant to remind the congregation that the time to offer the korban Pesach, the paschal sacrifice, was quickly approaching, and that they must, therefore, prepare in advance for that rite. This reading from Sefer Shemot includes Hashem’s instructions regarding the very first korban Pesach, that which was offered in Egypt itself, with some of those instructions being unique for that first paschal offering alone. As our haftarah was meant to reflect the basic theme of the maftir reading, it too speaks of the unique laws that would apply to the future paschal offerings that would be offered in the Third Temple during the Messianic era. The selection from the 45th and 46th chapters of Sefer Yechezkel is part of the final perakim of the sefer, a section that posed great difficulties to our rabbis over the years, as so many of the laws taught by Yechezkel contradict those that are found in the Torah. In fact, the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (13b) declares that were it not for Chananiah ben Chizkiyahu who reconciled the contradictions, the rabbis would have withdrawn the book from our holy writings (!) Unfortunately, as Rashi himself comments in the 22nd pasuk of perek 45, we no longer have a record of those resolutions.

As a result, over these centuries, many of our great luminaries tried to resolve these contradictions—each in his own way. Rashi claimed that these laws, although seemingly contradictory to those of the Torah, actually DO correspond to the Torah’s laws. The Radak explained that these laws are new, meant to be observed only in the future messianic era, in the Third Temple. The Malbim wrote that the rituals found in these chapters were part of the third series of “consecration” rites only and were not meant to override those found in the Torah.

Interestingly, we may find a support to these last two approaches in the comments made by the Ramban on the second pasuk of our special maftir reading (Shemot 12:2).

“HaChodesh hazeh lachem-rosh chodashim, rishon hu lachem lchodshei hashanah.”

“This month should be for you the beginning of the months…”

The Ramban explains that Nisan was chosen as the “first” month—not because it was the first month from creation—but because it must be the first month for our nation alone, requiring that the counting of the other months be based on Nisan. For that reason, he continues, the Torah never mentions the name of any month, rather, they are identified only upon their “distance” from the “first” month, Nisan. The Ramban then gives the reason for this law: “so that this will serve as a remembrance of the great miracle (of the Exodus),” just as the days of the week serve as a reminder of Shabbat.

Most revealing, however, is the final part of his commentary where he explains why, years later, the Babylonian names of the months replaced the numbers. He proposes that our Sages established the use of the Babylonian names as a remembrance of the second redemption—that is, our release from the Babylonian exile. By doing so, he adds, our rabbis relied upon the pesukim in Sefer Yirmiyahu (16:14-15; 23:7-8) that state how Hashem would be praised not as the God Who took us out of Egypt but also as the God Who brought Israel back from the land of the North.

This explanation of Nachmanides indicates that the second redemption brought with it certain changes in our practices. This approach, that the geulah—any geulah—would impact our observances, fits in well with the explanations of the Radak and the Malbim that we quoted earlier. Perhaps these luminaries understood that geulah, the return of our people to our land, was not simply in order that we continue the same relationship with the Divine as we had before. Hashem did not bring us back so that we should continue where we left off.

Rather, it is incumbent upon us to recognize and remember the miracles—both large and small—that God performed for us and, in recognition of this, to build a closer and more serious relationship with Him.

This understanding is so important for us today. We, too, are experiencing the geulah and we see with our own eyes some differences in our observances from what they were in galut. No mitzvot are removed or replaced, of course, but there are mitzvot that have been reborn and intensified in Israel: teruma, maaser, chadash, shemitah, the daily birkat kohanim, the practice of “Hakhel,” i.e., reading sections of the Torah on the chag Sukkot after shemitah—all of these and more indicate that life does not continue as it had always been but that we must see these enhanced practices as constant reminders of Hashem’s kindnesses and miracles and the importance of remembering and marking them.

Yechezkel foresaw a ritual practice that was not changed but was enhanced, for that is what a geulah should do.

That is what Yechezkel taught us.

And that is what we must remember.

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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