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   by Jacob Solomon

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G-d says: "The Heavens are My throne, and the Earth is My footstool. What house can you build for Me? What site can be My resting place?" (Isaiah 66:1 - Haftarat Shabbat Rosh Chodesh)

Guided Tour…

This Haftara is the last chapter of the very lengthy Book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a navi: an individual who personally received the word of G-d, and conveyed it to the people. Isaiah himself lived at around 720 BCE. That was when both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were going through spiritual and moral decline. In consequence, his earlier prophesies - messages directly from G-d - foresaw the exiles of both the northern Kingdom of Israel (which took place in his lifetime), and ultimately the southern Kingdom of Judah.

The scene of the middle section of Isaiah is some 150 years later - relating to the end of the Babylonian exile. The text mentions Cyrus II, Emperor of the Medes and the Persians, by name. G-d declares him to be His shepherd and His anointed (44:28 and 45:1). Following his declaration, some of the Jews returned to physically and spiritually rebuild a much-devastated Holy Land. The last eleven chapters of the Book - culminating in the text of the Haftara - relate to the final redemption and the final end of the Diaspora: when all Israel will emerge out of its nations of dispersion and reassemble on G-d's sacred mountain of Jerusalem (66:20).

The Book of Isaiah contains deeply inspiring words of encouragement, applying to both the Israelites and the world at large. It repeatedly stresses, as seen in this Haftara, that the Israelite exiles and Divine punishments suffered will be temporary, and that G-d will eventually redeem His people and settle them permanently in His land. That last theme is the topic of the Haftara.

The theme of the Haftara is summed up in the first verse: "Heaven is My throne and the Earth is my footstool. Where could you build a house for Me?" (66:1). The world needs G-d, but He does not need the Temple - at least not run by such an establishment that "did what was… regarded as evil, and chose to do as… (G-d) did not wish." (66:4). So there will be conflict between those who 'tremble at the words of the L-rd' on one side, and those who do not accept them' on the other. In the final judgment, G-d will deal with those who rebel against Him - His enemies at it were - 'with fire and the sword' (66:16-17). Following the apocalypse, in the end, all nations shall recognize him. They will come up with the remnants of Israel 'to Jerusalem, My holy mountain'. (66:20) There will be a new world order when, in every month and on every Sabbath, all mankind will come to worship G-d. As they leave, they will also see terrible reminders of what happens to those who had broken with Him - such was Isaiah's vision, and that was his final communication recorded.

The traditional view is that all sections of the book are from the Prophet Isaiah himself (however, see Ibn Ezra's introductory comments to Isaiah 40). Indeed, the greatness of his prophecy was that although he lived around the period of the fall of the Northern Kingdom (722 BCE), he received and communicated the word of G-d pertaining to events far into the future - including the period of Cyrus (from 539 BCE), to the Final Redemption. Indeed, comparing the text of this Haftara with that of the second chapter of the same book shows a remarkable unity. For the last four verses of the Haftara focus on:

- All people in the Diaspora shall be brought out of all nations to G-d's sacred mountain of Jerusalem. (66:20)
- G-d's creating a new order of civilization - compared to a new heaven and a new earth. (66:22)
- The horrid end and the corpses of those who rebel against G-d. (66:24)

Those themes powerfully parallel the opening themes of the Book of Isaiah as recorded in Chapter 2:

- Many people will say: "Let us go up to the mountain of G-d." (2:3)
- Nations shall no longer lift up sword against nations, nor any more learn the art of war. (2:4)
- G-d will judge the nations and rebuke many people (2:4)

- D'var Torah

As stated in the previous section, the theme of the Haftara is summed up in the first verse: "Heaven is My throne and the Earth is my footstool. Where could you build a house for Me?" (66:1). The world needs G-d, but He does not need the Temple - at least not one run by such an establishment that "did what was… regarded as evil, and chose to do as… (G-d) did not wish." (66:4).

Indeed, King Solomon expressed a similar thought at the dedication of the First Temple: "Will G-d really dwell on Earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain You, let alone this Temple which I have built." (Kings I 8:27)

Yet G-d answers His question in the same paragraph: "I will look to the man who is contrite and humble in spirit, who fears My word." Indeed, G-d does not need Man to make Him a home, but He wants Man to make his own heart a home for Him. As Jeremiah said in the name of G-d: "For I did not speak to your ancestors or command them about burnt offerings and sacrifices when I took them out of the land of Egypt. Rather, I commanded them "Obey Me, and I will be your G-d and you will be My people. Carefully follow the path I have commanded you, so things will go well for you." (Jeremiah 7:22-23)

The main theme of the Haftara is the division of the Israelites into two camps - those who fear His word and those who ignore it and carry on as they wish, regardless. Those who formerly mourned for Jerusalem will see that city flourish. The wicked who do not fear Him will perish in such a way their fate will be a constant reminder to all others of the ultimate fate of those who rebel against Him.

Yet Temple worship is mixed into this finale of the triumph of good over evil. 'One who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man. One who offers a lamb is one who breaks a dog's neck. One who offers a meal offering is like one who presents a gift of iniquity.' (66:3) Why does the prophet specifically associate people following certain Temple practices as characteristic of those unworthy of being able to play a positive part in the Final Redemption? Why does he not select the morally deficient - such as those to whom gossip, theft, and deceit are a way of life?

The answer may be found in looking at a comment from the Rashi on the above verse. 'One who slaughters an ox and kills a man, one who offers a lamb and breaks the neck of the dog… presents a gift of iniquity,' is a metaphor for a person who makes an offering whilst sinning. Thus he believes that he, personally, may behave as he wishes, so long as he does his duty by supporting the Temple.

The implication is that the Prophet is declaring that those who deliberately follow a form of surrogate Judaism are classed with the wicked. They believe that the priests have to be supported as they are observant on behalf of the community. Once they have been 'paid off' - in the form of offerings, they have done their duty. They are then free to carry on as they wish.

The Haftara text emphasizes that such a belief is a grave fallacy. It stresses that the final judgment will see the Israelites divided into two camps - those who fear His word (and that is at the personal, individual level), and those who do not. The latter include those who follow surrogate Torah as a matter of personal policy.

This idea may be applied to Jewish communities. People may belong to synagogues, but without following the lifestyle they stand for. They feel that by paying their subscriptions and attending every now and again, they have done their duty. If that is their honest belief - that the Rabbi and synagogue are observant on their behalf, and that is what they have paid for, their behavior is analogous to the person who brings an offering to the Temple, but has no desire to improve his conduct in the future.

It follows that those who belong to the camp of those who 'fear the word of G-d' include people whom, even if they sin on occasion, express true regret and try to avoid the same mistake. Applied to the above, they perhaps decide - and carry out, the resolution to spend Shabbat afternoon at a good shiur and go to the football on Tuesday evening instead…

For the historical background, I referred to Rosenberg S.G.: The Haftara Cycle (2000), pp. 217-221.


What is the meaning of the following, according to the commentaries stated?

(a) 'You shall be holy' (19:2), according to Rashi, and the S'forno.
(b) 'You shall revere your mother and father' (19:3), according to the Ramban.
(c) 'You must not put a stumbling block before the blind' (19:14), according to Rashi.
(d) 'You shall not commit a perversion of justice' (19:15), according to the Ohr Hachayim.
(e) 'You should judge your fellow man with righteousness' (19:15) according to Hirsch.
(f) 'You shall not stand on your fellow's blood' (19:16), according to Rashi.
(g) 'You shall not take revenge, and you shall not bear a grudge' (19:18), according to Rashi.
(h) 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself', (19:18) according to the Ramban.
(i) 'You shall not place a tattoo upon yourself' (19:28), according to Rashi.
(j) 'You shall stand up in the presence of an old person… I am G-d' (19:32), according to Rashi.
(k) 'You shall sanctify yourself and you will be holy' (20:7), according to the Meshech Chochma.
(l) 'I have separated you from [other] peoples to be Mine' (20:26), according to Rashi.


(a) 'You shall be holy', according to Rashi, means that one should be 'separate'. The Israelites are enjoined to separate themselves as a G-d's servants by avoiding sexual relationships forbidden by the Torah. The S'forno stresses that Mitzvot in general must be carried out in a fitting way - not by doing just the minimum, but though performing His Commandments in a spiritually elevated manner. For example honoring parents is not fulfilled by personal service, but it should be done with appropriate respect.
(b) 'You shall revere your mother and father', according to the Ramban, means that one is required to show the same respect to a parent as one would to a sovereign with the absolute power to punish.
(c) 'You must not put a stumbling block before the blind', according to Rashi, means that a person should not knowingly give an innocent party bad advice against his own interests.
(d) 'You shall not commit a perversion of justice', according to the Ohr Hachayim is not directed at the judge, but to litigants who knowingly lie in court and cause a miscarriage of justice.
(e) Hirsch understands that 'You should judge your fellow man with righteousness', refers to the importance of showing understanding towards other people. A person may have been found guilty by a judge, but there could have been extraneous circumstances which even though legally would still convict him, would morally still keep him as a 'decent person'. So this commandment tells people that they should take care not to condemn. That someone acted wrongly and was made liable does not necessarily render him a 'bad person' and worthy of rejection by other people.
(f) 'You shall not stand on your fellow's blood', according to Rashi, means that 'you should not stand aside whilst your fellow's blood is being shed'. A person transgresses that prohibition if he is able to help another person in distress and refuses to become involved.
(g) 'You shall not take revenge, and you shall not bear a grudge', according to Rashi, shows two forbidden means of 'getting even' with someone else. If Reuven asks Shimon for a loan which he can grant, and Shimon refuses outright, recalling Reuven's previous failure to help him out, he is taking revenge. If Shimon does grant the loan, but in the process recalls Reuven's recent meanness towards him, he has borne a grudge. Both are forbidden by the Torah.
(h) 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself', according to the Ramban, acknowledges that most people cannot feel the same love for others as they feel for themselves. Rather, it means that they should wish that other people should enjoy the same high degrees of success, achievement, and prosperity as they would wish for themselves.
(i) The commandment of: 'You shall not place a tattoo upon yourself', according to Rashi, is only violated if the tattoo marks are permanent (not, for example, where a person writes a telephone number on the palm of his hand).
(j) 'You shall stand up in the presence of an old person… I am G-d', according to Rashi is a warning against human nature. Applied to today, a person might be tempted not to offer his seat on the bus to someone older having to stand up, by acting as if he has not noticed that older person. The Torah therefore says 'You shall fear… G-d' - He knows our true intentions.
(k) 'You shall sanctify yourself and you will be holy', according to the Meshech Chochma, is a guarantee from G-d. If a person makes a sincere effort to observe the Mitzvot ('You shall sanctify yourself'), then 'you will indeed be holy': G-d will assist in purifying not only the person's actions, but his or her thoughts as well.
(l) 'I have separated you from [other] peoples to be Mine', according to Rashi, means the following. A person should not say, for example, that the reason he does not eat pork is because he does not like the taste of it. But rather, that he would like to savor pork, but 'what can I do - G-d decreed that it is forbidden!' That type of 'decree' is the mechanism by which G-d distinguishes the Israelites as being His People.


The actual meaning of, "You shall be holy", (19:2) is disputed between the commentators. The Midrash (Lev. Rabbah 24:6), followed by Rashi, states that this commands the avoiding of the illicit physical relationships described in the previous chapter. Holiness is a product of refraining from sexual immorality.

The problem with this explanation is as follows. On the three occasions in this Parasha where one is commanded to be holy (supra, 20:7, and 20:26), it is in the actual context of observing G-d's laws and the prohibition of idol worship. The commandment of 'being holy' does not actually occur in the actual context of sexual relationships. Why therefore, does Rashi nevertheless make the link between 'You shall be holy', and forbidden sexual relationships?

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.


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