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March 23, 2012 / 29 Adar, 5772
Va-yikra
Shabbat HaHodesh

Ezekiel 45:16 - 46:18

It is no surprise that the Rabbis selected Ezekiel 45 for the haftarah portion of Shabbat HaHodesh, one of the four special shabbatot celebrated on the way to Pesah. The Torah reading, from Exodus 12, describes many fundamental Pesah practices from eating matzah to placing blood on one’s doorposts. So too, Ezekiel declares, “On the 14th day of the first month, you shall have the Passover sacrifice; and during the festival of seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten.” With that declarative verse, the Pesah connection between the Torah and Haftarah is made clear.

But there is something radically different about Ezekiel’s rendition of the Pesah laws. In the Torah’s version, the Hebrews stand at the edge of liberation, eagerly preparing themselves to be free. They have witnessed the Ten Plagues including the painfully dramatic Slaying of the First Born. They may have been nervous or even ambivalent about their passage to freedom, but they were certain that change was soon to come.

Not so for Ezekiel. Ezekiel prophesied our Haftarah while he and the Jewish community were deep in the throes of 6th century BCE, Babylonian exile. Hailing from the upper class, Ezekiel and his family were some of the first expatriates who lived in, of all places, a Babylonian city called “Tel Aviv.” There, he offered his futuristic visions at one of the lowest moments in Jewish history. The first part of his prophecy focused on the destruction of Jerusalem, which, as he predicted, was one of the greatest physical, spiritual and material tragedies the Jewish community had ever experienced. But, following that, he boldly predicted that there would be a day when the Jewish people would return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Holy Temple.

The first prediction, that Jerusalem would be destroyed, was somber but understandable. The Babylonian army was uber-powerful and Ezekiel had the foresight. Ezekiel’s uniqueness was in his ability to see what no one else could see---a future return to the Land. He was so confident in this return that he described in extraordinary detail what the future Temple would look like and what would happen there. There were no broad-based platitudes. Instead, he focused on the facts: precisely how the sacrifices will be offered; from exactly which gates the leader (“nasi”) would use to enter the Temple; and even the particular laws of inheritance the nasi would follow.

On the surface, these descriptions seem trivial and uninspiring. Wouldn’t it have been more uplifting to hear a dramatic oration regarding the plight of the Israelites and their destined future return to the Holy City? At the very least, couldn’t have Ezekiel employed a metaphor akin to the famous “Dry Bones” to describe the resurrection of Israel in her homeland?

Ezekiel responds with a firm “No.” At this moment in Israel’s history, the wise prophet knew when to bring inspiring, lofty visions and when to bring the tachlis (practical) details. It was a difference between the forest and the trees. Theodor Herzl envisioned the forest when he declared in 1897 that there would be a Jewish state of Israel in 50 years. David Ben Gurion provided the trees when he built the Jewish State’s first governmental institutions. Ezekiel, ingeniously, brought both.

When we gather in shul on Shabbat HaHodesh to listen to this beautiful haftarah, my prayer is that the entire Jewish community will relish the details of Ezekiel’s vision. May his exactness, his specificity, and his concern for the ordinary serve as an inspiration for us all as we approach Pesah. Pesah, our holiday of freedom, is not only about grand visions of a distant Promised Land, Ezekiel reminds us. It is also about the bold willingness of a people to envision what life will really be like the day when we set our human feet on that holy ground.

Shabbat Shalom

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by Rabbi Eric M. Solomon, spiritual leader of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh, NC.

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New Publications

Leadership - Innovation - Community
Understanding the Haftarot:
An Everyperson's Guide

In this stimulating and unusual book Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of FJMC, provides the reader with the context to understand how the haftarot were organized, why they might have been selected and suggests reasons for finding meaning and value.
You can purchase it a number of ways.
 
Intermarriage: Concepts & Strategies for Families and Synagogue Leaders
If family members and community leaders wish to become engaged in the process of Keruv they often need to ask, "Does Keruv have an ideology and theology? And if so what is it?" Then they need to learn how to respond to intermarriage from the perspective of both gender and religion. This publication reflects the most current thinking about intermarriage to date and attempts to provide family members and community leaders with the needed understanding to effectively work with intermarrieds or potential intermarrieds.
You can purchase it a number of ways:
It's time for Build-A-Pair
The best way to teach about tefillin!

HeneniThe "Build a Pair" Program is a comprehensive and fun learning program to introduce 5th, 6th or 7th graders to the joy and mitzvah of Tefillin in Jewish life. Multiple components interplay to explore the religious significance, the construction of, and the practice of "laying" Tefillin. A comprehensive education program with videos helps the religious school teach students the meaning of Tefillin in Jewish life and practice. Students practice writing their Hebrew/Jewish names and the SHEMA (first line) to insert into pre-made wooden Tefillin boxes. Students decorate the boxes in any creative way they wish, allowing for personal expression. Students either compete or cooperate in writing a "wRAP" song to sing at a Big Event. The Big Event can be the World Wide Wrap (WWW), sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC), held annually on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. The WWW program is designed to introduce and re-introduce Jewish men [and women] to the significance of "laying" Tefillin. The "Build a Pair" student program attracts the parents to see their children in their model Tefillin sing the "wRap" songs, allowing two generations (or more!) to join in the mitzvah together, and to let the students' sing their "wRAP" song for an appreciative audience.

World Wide Wrap is Sunday, February 3, 2013
The Bar Mitzvah Wrap!

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