Just before the High Holidays in 1965, Elie Weisel, then a young journalist in Israel, traveled to the Soviet Union to report on the state of Russian Jewry. He wanted to see first hand whether the testimony against the Soviets was accurate. Also, after decades behind the Iron Curtain, Weisel wanted to know “whether their children and their grandchildren, despite everything, still wish to remain Jews.” He opens the chapter describing how Russian Jews viewed Israel with a moving account:
If there is one place in the world where the state of Israel is regarded not as a territorial unit…but as a distant dream filling the veins of reality with sacred blood, that place is the Soviet Union. It is only the Jews of Russia who have yet to be infected with cynicism toward the Jewish state, who still identify the earthly Jerusalem with its heavenly counterpart, the eternal city that embraces a Temple of Fire.”
The haftara we read for Parshat Hachodesh (Yechezkel 45:18-46:15) describes a series of offerings that are not found in the Torah. In fact, the Talmud (Shabbat 13b) comments that as a result of various pesukim in Yechezkel that appear to conflict with known Torah laws, the Sages considered removing Sefer Yechezkel from Tanach.
Nevertheless, by reading this passage in preparation for Pesach we seem to be taking sides in two related Talmudic disagreements related to this haftarah. The Talmud (Menachot 45a) cites an argument about what time period is being depicted in these pesukim. According to R’ Ashi, the verses are describing the unique sacrifices (miluim) offered by Ezra upon the dedication of the Second Temple. R’ Yochanan, however, asserts that we will have to wait until Eliyahu comes in the final redemption to understand how to apply these verses. The second Talmudic debate (Rosh Hashana 11a) is about during which of two months —Tishrei or Nissan—the future redemption will occur. According to R’ Eliezer, the future redemption will occur in Tishrei, while according to R’ Yehoshua it will take place during Nissan.
Although these questions are not subject to a halachic ruling, it appears that we are siding with a combination of R’ Yehoshua and R’ Yochanan in selecting this haftara, as we recognize that this time of year is an auspicious season for geula, and the haftara is describing the scene we can expect to unfold when the final rebuilding takes place.
Reading this haftara draws our attention less to the historical geula from Egypt, and more toward our excitement in anticipation of the future redemption, which the Navi tells us will be even greater than yetziat Mitzraim (Yirmiyahu 23:7-8):
“Therefore, behold, days are coming—the word of Hashem—when people will no longer swear, ‘As Hashem lives, Who brought the Children of Israel up from the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘As Hashem lives, Who brought up and brought back the offspring of the House of Israel from the land of the North and from all the lands wherein He had dispersed them’; and they will dwell in their [own] land.”
The Malbim (Yirmiyahu 16:15) suggests three reasons for why the final redemption is so much greater: 1) Hashem will gather the Jews from all over the world rather than one place; 2) the sins that led to the current exile are much greater; and 3) the Jewish people will have greater excitement because we already know the joy of the Land of Israel. Since the salvation from Egypt will pale in comparison to the final redemption, Ben Zoma (Brachot 12b) argued that we will not be required to mention daily the exodus from Egypt in the times of Mashiach! According to many commentators, the Rambam (Laws of Kriat Shema 1:3) rules in accordance with this view against the majority opinion.
As we approach Rosh Chodesh Nissan and the holiday of Pesach, we are reminded of the miracles which are being fulfilled in our days, that Hashem promised would come to pass in the time of the ultimate redemption. In our own times, in addition to the ingathering of exiles from around the globe, we saw the unlikely redemption of nearly 1 million Jewish Russians, allowing them realize the dream highlighted by Elie Weisel, that “Israel is not simply a geographical location but an abstract messianic principle.” During this redemptive time of year, we pray that this will be the one during which we see the tremendous miracles that bring about the final geula for all of the Jewish people.
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 Haftarah@TheIsraelBible.com