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Haftarah – Shabbat Rosh Chodesh – A Monthly Holiday for Non Jews?

Jan 25, 2017

Photo credit: Yehoshua Halevi

כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר יְהֹוָ֔ה הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם כִּסְאִ֔י וְהָאָ֖רֶץ הֲדֹ֣ם רַגְלָ֑י אֵי־זֶ֥ה בַ֙יִת֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּבְנוּ־לִ֔י וְאֵי־זֶ֥ה מָק֖וֹם מְנוּחָתִֽי׃

Thus said Hashem: The heaven is My throne And the earth is My footstool: Where could you build a house for Me, What place could serve as My abode?

KO a-MAR a-do-NAI ha-sha-MA-yim k'-see v'-ha-A-retz ha-DOM rag-LAI, ay-ZEH va-YIT a-SHER ti-v'-NU-LEE, v'-ay-ZEH ma-KOM m'-nu-KHA-tee.

Isaiah 66:1

Under law, official Israeli documents must include the Hebrew date, and holidays in Israel are determined according to the Jewish calendar, not the Gregorian one. This is just one example of Israel’s “discriminatory” laws that Palestinian rights groups have complained about. The haftarah which is read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, however, describes how in the prophetic future, non-Jews will appreciate the Hebrew calendar and will even come to worship Hashem on the first of the Hebrew month.

When Shabbat falls on Rosh Chodesh, we read the final chapter of Yeshayahu (66) instead of the regular weekly haftarah.   A clear connection between the day and the haftarah is found in the penultimate verse, which makes reference to a time when “it shall be that at every New Moon and on every Sabbath all mankind will come to prostrate themselves before Me, says Hashem” (66:23).  It appears from this verse that Rosh Chodesh, which is now a relatively ‘minor’ holiday, will one day, take on great significance, as a time when all of mankind comes to the Beit Hamikdash to worship Hashem!

This is surprising, for we know that the nations of the world will ascend to Jerusalem to worship Hashem on Sukkot. The prophet Zecharya describes how the gentiles “will come up every year to worship the King Hashem, Master of Legions, and to celebrate the festival of Sukkot.” Chag HaSukkot is known to be the universal festival in which we pray for rain for the entire world and when we sacrifice 70 bulls for the 70 nations, and so it is fitting that the non-Jews will celebrate in Jerusalem then. However, what is the significance of Rosh Chodesh that can explain why the gentile nations will come to worship Hashem each month?

When it comes to the special offering of Rosh Chodesh, the rabbis noticed a peculiarity in the wording of the verse. The pasuk (Bamidbar 28:15) calls the mussaf offering for Rosh Chodesh a “chatat (sin offering) for Hashem,” whereas the other mussaf offerings do not mention “for Hashem.”   What is unique about the mussaf of Rosh Chodesh that it singularly is referred to in connection with the divine?  To answer the question, the gemara (Hullin 60b) provides a midrash about Hashem diminishing the radiance of the moon during the seven days of creation because it complained that it is not proper for “two kings to share one crown.” The moon was jealous of sharing the celestial stage with the sun, and as a result, Hashem punished it by diminishing its radiance. The moon subsequently regretted voicing its objection and repented, and as a reward, Hashem granted the moon a special offering, the Rosh Chodesh mussaf, and attached His name to it to signify His forgiveness for the moon’s original complaint.

The special offering of Rosh Chodesh thus alludes to the day’s aspects of restoration and atonement. Our sages go a step further and anticipate a future where the moon will be fully restored, as we say in the Kiddush Levana prayer, “may the light of the moon be like the light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of creation as it was before it was diminished.” Rosh Chodesh is therefore a day of restoration, which is what the haftarah  describes in detail.  Isaiah prophesies about the end of times, when after a great war even those in “the distant islands who have not heard of My fame and not seen My glory – and they will declare My glory among the nations” (66:19).

With this understanding, we can understand that Zechariah describes the gentiles travelling to Yerushalayim on Sukkot as an annual commemoration of the great war of Gog and Magog (see Malbim). Isaiah, in our haftarah, is depicting an altogether different purpose to the monthly pilgrimage.  It is not a commemoration of a past event, but instead an opportunity to gain inspiration from seeing this new reality of God’s permanent presence, fully restored, in the Holy Temple.

May our reading of the haftarah when Shabbat coincides with Rosh Chodesh serve as a prayer for the full restoration of God’s honor, when not only Jews but all the nations will recognize His fame and His glory and will come to worship in Jerusalem each Rosh Chodesh.

Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365 and editor of “The Israel Bible,” and Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a psychologist and a new Oleh to Israel, as well as a rebbe in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah.  Please send comments to [email protected]

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