If the title seems a mouthful, the readings for this Shabbat are even longer. The importance of this Shabbat is found in the special maftir reading, Exodus 12:1-20, specifically verse 2;
“This month will mark the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year for you.”[i]
Remember that the Megilliah read at Passover is Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) has as its predominate theme, the LORD’s love and concern for His beloved, Israel. In the Midrash, Shir Hashirim Rabba, the sages noted, “My beloved spoke and said to me (Song of Songs 2:10): What did He say to me? This month shall be unto you the beginning of months (Exodus 12:2).[ii] The proclamation of the month of Nissan, the memorial of the Exodus from Egypt, which lead to the birth of the nation of Israel was what the LORD lovingly spoke to His beloved. So, before the Exodus, before Sinai, the LORD was expressing His love and concern for His chosen people, Israel.
The regular Haftarah for Tazria is Ezekiel 45:18 through 46:15 is a continuation of Ezekiel’s vision which began in chapter 40 with the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple with its services. This Haftarah reading covers both Passover and New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) sacrifices, which will be performed in the restored Temple as well as the preparations specifically made on the first day of the month and then on the seventh day of the month; the purification of doorposts of the Temple as well as the doorposts of the gates to the inner court and the corners and ledges of the altar with blood, (45:18-20). The attention to detail is reminiscent of the special maftir reading that details the home preparation of the first Passover celebration, looking forward to the soon coming deliverance.
The special Haftarah reading for Rosh Chodesh is Isaiah 66:1-24. This passage is as the same time, both and encouragement as well as a warning specifically this Rosh Chodesh that is so pointedly concerned with purity. It begins in verse 2 as the LORD declares the heart condition of the worshipper who would come before Him;
“But on this one will I look, one humble and of a contrite spirit, who trembles at My word.”
It is not enough to simply bring the sacrifice, any sacrifice or service; the proper kavanah or attitude must be present as well. Remember the words of Yeshua;
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
The works, the sacrifices are important, however without the proper attitude, Isaiah describes the sacrifices as the offering of dog or swine blood or even murder (Isaiah 66:3). This continues the thread of the last couple of Haftarot, that the attitude of the heart, while not displacing or supplanting the sacrifices and obedience to the mitzvoth, it does provide the necessary impetus for a successful, acceptable sacrifice or service to the LORD as the prophet affirms, “He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what Adonai is seeking from you: Only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8).
After the description of judgment and restoration, there is a presentation of an eschatological hope in the Olam Haba (the world to come);
“For just as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, will endure before Me”—it is a declaration of Adonai — “so your descendants and your name will endure. And it will come to pass, that from one New Moon to another, and from one Shabbat to another, all flesh will come to bow down before Me,” says Adonai. (Isaiah 66:22-23)
The passage begins with the new heavens and new earth, signifying that the setting has transitioned from the present age to the messianic age; in a time when the descendants of the sons of Jacob still exist. In this messianic age, the mitzvoth will continue to be observed, exemplified by the celebration of Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat. Finally, there is a culmination of all creation in that “all flesh will come to bow down” before ADONAI. The prophet Zechariah affirmed this happening when he proclaimed, “In that day… Adonai will then be King over all the earth. In that day Adonai will be Echad and His Name Echad,” (Zechariah 14:9). Therefore, Haftarah ends with a future hope, with an expectation of the continuing of Israel’s narrative, “so your descendants and your name will endure.” Equally important is the fact that not only does Israel continues, as Israel, but also, “all flesh” will come into relation with ADONAI so that all creation would fully realize tikkun olam, the restoration of all things to their proper relationship to one another and to the Creator.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] H. Freedman, ed., Midrash Rabbah: Song of Songs, Maurice Simon, trans., New York: Soncino Press, 1983, 121.