July 25, 2024
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Parshat Korach

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

The closing chapter of sefer Yishayahu is traditionally chanted on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, which is why it is one of the most frequently read sections of Nach (Neviim, Prophets).

It is also one of the most difficult selections to comprehend.

The perek appears to have no overriding theme. It contains four major sections with no seeming connection to each other. These sections include: 1. minimizing the importance of Temple worship, 2. emphasizing the belief in the future Geula and return to Israel, 3. rewarding the faithful worshippers of God and punishing the wicked and 4. a renewal of the world in which all mankind will recognize and worship Hashem.

Each of these sections could have easily been given to Yishayahu as a separate nevuah—and, in some way, they were. But what we rightfully ponder is what the purpose of this final prophecy is and what connection might it have to Rosh Chodesh?

Many commentaries see this perek as a synopsis of Yishayahu’s prophecies: his pleadings with the nation, his warnings of impending punishment, his assurances of a better future and his visions of the promised redemption. This approach toward the import of the Navi’s final words helps us better understand the purpose of our haftarah. But when we take a more complete look at the totality of his words, we might uncover an overriding concept that Yishayahu leaves to his own generation—and to future ones as well.

“ … HaShamayim kisi … ”—Our haftarah opens with God’s declaration: “The heavens are My throne and the earth is My footstool … ” How often have we taken these inspiring words as a statement of the divine One reflecting His greatness and His complete reign over the universe! And certainly, it is. But that is not Hashem’s entire purpose.

The primary reason why Yishayahu quotes God’s “truism” can be found in the subsequent words: “Ayzeh bayit asher tivnu li?”—God is asking Israel what kind of dwelling they could build for God if the heavens are His throne and the earth is His footstool? Yishayahu HaNavi uses this question to impress the nation with the fact that the Beit Hamikdash—with all of its rituals and worship—is not the “be all” and “end all” of what Hashem demands of them. Rather, Yishayahu continues Hashem’s declaration: “El zeh ahbitel oni unche ruach … —I look to the humble and broken-spirited and to those who fervently thirst for God’s word.”

The subsequent text—one that many of us do not fully understand—expresses what Hashem rejects. By using the terms of the Temple offerings, (“shochet hashor,’ “zoveach hasseh,” “ma’aleh mincha”) and then, in the succeeding words—equating them with abominations (“makeh ish,” “oreif kelev,” “dam chazir”)—God makes the powerful statement that those who focus upon Temple ritual while continuing in sinful behavior, are an abomination to Him and will not be forgiven through sacrifice … because Beit Hamikdash service is not a “shortcut” to atonement—but, rather, a means to draw closer to God.

And if we understand this opening message of Yishayahu, we better understand the rest of the haftarah. The prophet knows that once the people accept that ritual observance alone will not guarantee their redemption, they will then accept the fact that:

“The belief in the future Geula and return to Israel” that he preaches, would be based upon justice and compassion—and not on ritual alone; and that

“Rewarding the faithful worshippers of God and punishing the wicked” would not be defined only as those involved in Temple worship; and that

“A renewal of the world in which all mankind will recognize and worship Hashem” will include all mankind (even those who did not offer sacrifices before) who would then recognize God and worship Him alone.

This final nevuah leaves a most powerful message to a nation soon to be bereft of a Temple. And, likewise, it is quite fitting for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, when the maftir reading speaks only of the korbanot offered on Rosh Chodesh. By listening to the chanting of Yishayahu’s last words, we are reminded that Rosh Chodesh is not simply about ritual sacrifice, but it is a proper time to remember the importance of personal sacrifice—to Hashem and to His people.

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

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