|April 10, 2010
2 Samuel 6:1-7:17
The haftarah informs us that after being kept in Kiriath-jearim for nearly two generations that it was time for the Ark to be transferred to Jerusalem. Unfortunately the transfer was interrupted when Uzzah, in an attempt to stabilize the tottering ark, touched it and died. Was it happenstance or had it angered God?
David wasn't sure. As a precaution he interrupted the journey to Jerusalem and arranged for the Ark to be quartered in the home of Obed-edom. Three months passed without another incident and a consensus was reached that God had been appeased. They hoped it wouldn't happen again, and the Ark was transferred to Jerusalem.
The legacy of the Ark continues to expand in this week's reading as David informs the prophet Nathan that he desires to build God a more permanent dwelling. That very evening God speaks to Nathan in a dream commanding him to tell David he had never requested a formal structure. Apparently a compromise was reached and God acquiesces and agrees to permit the construction of a Temple at a future time.
This week's haftarah is dually connected to the Torah reading. First the Torah reading celebrates the dedication of the Tabernacle and second it records the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, who were punished for bringing an alien fire into the shrine. These incidents are paralleled in the haftarah by the transporting of the Ark to Jerusalem and the death of Uzzah who grasped the Ark when it appeared to be in danger of falling.
Some of our commentators explained the death of Nadab, Abihu and Uzzah as a misuse of the sacred. They understood Nadab and Abihu as either acting too much in their self interest or because they experimented with strange fire and were overly concerned with spiritual matters. Uzzah's selfless act and immediate death was explained by many of our rabbis as a result of his lack of faith. While there might be some credence in the rabbis' interpretation of the death of Nadab and Abihu, I think their explanation for Uzzah's actions are weak. Why would God punish someone for a well meaning act?
The haftarah represents a turning point in the development of Judaism. David's commitment to build a central religious shrine strategically altered how our people worshipped and were governed. This was a radical departure from how we had functioned in the past. Instead of remaining a wandering people with a simple non-materialistic shrine, our nation, like many others, became centralized and God was built a magnificent house. This was the beginning of “the Temple period” and was reflected in our ancestor's changing of how they were viewed by others. From this point onwards we looked and worshipped just like everyone else.
We weren't the only group of people who abandoned a simple and less materialistic life for Cathedral synagogues that taxed its members forever. During the first and second centuries the early Church was composed of a number of groups in Spain, North Africa, France and Italy and along the Mediterranean coast to Turkey. These groups differed theologically from one another but were united in their opposition to a unified powerful religious center. They were Pauline Christians, Maronites, and Gnostics to name just a few. They didn't all believe in Saints and most of them found the construction of large ornamental buildings of worship anathema. They were viewed as heretical sects by an increasingly powerful Catholic Church and were systematically exterminated.
The tension between centralized and decentralized worship is still with us and what worked for David may or may not work for us. It challenges us to consider the nature of the experience we are attempting to create. Thirty years ago, a grass-roots movement developed as a reaction to Cathedral Judaism. This movement eventually came to be referred to as the “Chavurah Movement”. These groups were simply organized and migrated from one location to another. Like the Judaism of our ancestors of old, their Judaism was portable, and they brought Jewish life with them wherever they went. Today a similar movement is in formation and it is referred to as the “independent minyanim.” These minyanim, are attempting to fulfill a similar function for their generation and community.
This morning's haftarah challenges us to evaluate our relationship to the sacred spaces we create. We have built buildings to attract people and to meet our changing needs. Some of us have built buildings that are overly formal and intimidate the people who we would like to attract. Others have built buildings that we can no longer afford to maintain. The haftarah asks us to remember that the intimacy that existed in our formative period can be found again. Some of us it will find it in our existing structures. Others will create sacred places elsewhere. The haftarah reminds us not be distracted by the structures but to remember that people are attracted to what provides them with a meaningful experience.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish"
Jewish Lights Publishing.
Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/
The FJMC weekly haftarah commentary is one of the few haftarah commentaries available on line. The USCJ through its Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem has also been posting a weekly haftarah commentary for a number of years. We highly recommend it. If you are interested you can find a link on the left side of our weekly commentary and click through.
In 2003 the FJMC commissioned a Sefer Haftarah, a scroll consisting of all the Haftarot which follows the Haftarah order that appears in the USCJ and Rabbinical Assembly Torah translation and commentary Etz Hayim. The FJMC Sefer Haftarah visits a different synagogue in North America every week.This scroll contains vowels and cantillation and allows the haftarah reader to experience the Haftarah in a more personal way. FJMC also produces individual personalized Haftarot for those who wish to recognize a special occasion. Scrolls of Haftarot have been in use since the early middle ages.