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Primary Torah reading:  Leviticus chapters 12 and 13.
Second Torah reading:  Exodus 12: 1-20.
Haftarah reading:  Ezekiel 45: 16 to 46: 18.

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat HaChodesh, which translates to Shabbat of the Month.  For most Shabbats, we have only one Torah reading, but for the past month we have observed four special Shabbats when we add a second Torah reading, plus a special Haftarah reading (reading from the prophets).  This Shabbat is the last of these four special Shabbats.

First, a quick word about the primary Torah reading, Leviticus chapters 12 and 13.  In most years, this week's first Torah reading is combined with next week's, so the reading consists of Leviticus chapters 12 through 15. This year, however, is a leap year, when a second month of Adar is added.  So with four extra Shabbats in the year, some of the weekly readings are broken up into two portions, to be read over two Shabbats.  This is one of those split portions.

The reading presents obvious difficulties for the modern reader.  Most of these four chapters discuss the diagnosis and quarantining people afficted with sarahat, commonly translated as leprosy but likely some other type of skin disease.  I assume that the ancient treatment of skin disease doesn't fascinate most of you - so instead I will examine the second Torah reading and the Haftarah.  Follow me over the orange squiggly.

In Exodus 12: 1-20, the Lord commands Moses and Aaron to instruct the Israelites on how to prepare for the First Passover, and the First Passover sedar.  Verse 2 makes it clear that these instructions were given just before the first day of the Jewish month of Nisan - this Shabbat is the Shabbat before the first day of Nisan, which is why we read these verses on this Shabbat. Each family is to take a lamb or a goat, but if the household is too small for a lamb or goat, they are to share a lamb or goat with their neighbor, and pay the neighbor for sharing it. They shall keep the lamb or goat until the 14th of Nisan, when they shall take the animal to be slaughtered.  They shall then put some of the blood on their doorposts, then roast it and eat it at the first Passover sedar, with matzoh (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs.

Since the destruction of the 2nd temple in 70 CE, we Jews have no longer prepared for Passover by buying a lamb or goat and having it slaughtered.  Instead, when Nisan begins and Passover is only 2 weeks or 1 week away, we trek to grocery stores, and look for that packaged food marked "Kosher for Passover," along with boxes of matzah, matzah meal, and the like.  And, as we are commanded in verse 15 to remove leaven from our homes, we clean our homes, looking for that crumb of bread or cake that may have fallen under the couch or behind the dresser, and accomplish spring cleaning at the same time.  The final shopping for fresh produce comes just before the holiday.

When I was stationed in Turkey, I was impressed at the similarities between the preparations of the Israelites for the first Passover, and thereafter until the destruction of the Second Temple, to the preparations of my Turkish neighbors to celebrate the Feast of the Sacrifice. Early in the lunar month each family would buy a sheep or goat.  For several days the side streets of the city of Adana were filled with young boys and girls playing with their new pets, seemingly oblivious to the fact that in just a few days their new pets would be no more - they would be eating their pets!  Watching these happy children playing with their lambs and goats made me think of the common threads that bind our three faiths.

The Haftarah for this Shabbat before the beginning of the month of Nisan is from the prophet Ezekiel. In the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 13b, we read:

Rabbi Yehudah said in Rab's name:  "In truth, that man, Hananiah the son of Hezekiah by name, is to be remembered for good, but for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been excluded [from the Bible], because its words contradicted the Torah.  What did he do? Three hundred barrels of oil were taken up to him and he sat in an upper chamber and reconciled these words."
Why did some of the rabbis want to exclude Ezekiel from the Bible?  One of the passages that offended them appears in this Shabbat's Haftarah reading:
Thus says the Lord God: In the first month [Nisan] on the first day of the month, you shall take a bull from the herd without blemish, and purify the sanctuary.  The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the temple, the four corners of the ledge of the altar, and the posts of the gate of the inner court.  You shall do the same on the seventh day of the month for anyone who has sinned through error or ignorance; so you shall make atonement for the temple.  Ezekiel 45: 18-20
The Book of Leviticus and the two subsequent books of the Torah contain elaborate instructions for the priests to conduct the sacrificial rites in the Temple - but nowhere in the Torah is there any mention of any special sacrificial rites for the first and seventh days of Nisan.  Who was Ezekiel to change the Law that Moshe Rabbenu, Moses our Teacher and Rabbi, received on Mount Sinai from the Lord Himself?  Was Ezekiel really a prophet of God, or a false prophet - the kind of person Moshe Rabbenu warned us about (Deuteronomy 18: 15-22)?  That was question that Hananiah the son of Hezekiah answered, for which he was paid 300 barrels of oil.

We think of the Bible as a single Book, the more fundamentalist among us believe it is wholly the Word of God, from beginning to end.  Yet the Bible is really an anthology of many works written by many people, and some of these works, including Ezekiel, barely survived one of the two editorial boards.  The first editorial board were the rabbis compiling the Talmud, who were deciding which books would make the cut, and which ones would not.  Meanwhile, at the same time, the second editorial board, the Church Fathers, were developing the canon for the Old and New Testaments.  The Chuch Fathers would include in the Old Testament all the books canonized by the Rabbis, plus additional books, The Apophryca, dating from the pre-Roman Second Temple Period.  When the founders of first Protestant churches broke off from the Catholic Church, they discarded the Apophryca from the Canon, so the Protestant Old Testament is identical to the Hebrew Bible.

We can only imagine that there are many texts that were examined by both the Church Fathers and by the Rabbis, that both rejected.  The Dead Sea Scrolls contain biblical and apophrycal scrolls, but also scrolls of books that had been lost to us until their discovery in the 1940's. How many other writings were rejected by the Church and the Synagogue and remain lost to us? The next time you read a selection from the book of Ezekiel, keep in mind, this book of the Bible almost didn't make it, and, if it hadn't, it may well have been lost to posterity.

Shabbat Shalom

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 12:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ezekiel is a troubling and fascinating work. (5+ / 0-)

    I hope to someday get the chance to study it in depth.

    Speaking of fascinating....   Sadly, I do not know much about holidays in Islam, and this is the first I'd ever heard of the Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha according to the Wikipedia link) and the associated practice of keeping and slaughtering a sheep or goat.  I'm finding myself reacting with a deeply strange emotion: nostalgia for a tradition of our own people that I've never actually experienced.

    Shabbat shalom and thank you.

  •  "paid" 300 barrels of olive oil, or used them (3+ / 0-)

    to light lanterns by which to study and write that reconciliation?

    something in the way this sentence is worded

    Three hundred barrels of oil were taken up to him and he sat in an upper chamber and reconciled these words."
    sounds as if Hananiah the son of Hezekiah isolated himself (depending on the era, an upper chamber might be windowless and require climbing into and out of by a difficult stairway or ladder, so no one would pass casually thru' distracting him and he wouldn't be easily distracted by the view out a window or door or other chores or tasks to do) in order to commit himself wholly to mustering the texts and everything everyone had previously written about ezekial, study them, develop a logic/algorithm for reconciliation, draft it, and write a fair copy. As an experienced scholar, he might know about how many weeks or months that might take and therefore how much lamp oil he was going to need.

    Of course if some noteworthy contemporary of his reliably asserts it was payment, then that's something else, though what a scholar is going to do with 300 barrels of olive oil as a commodity of payment one must wonder.  maybe he had relatives who traded in olive oil?.......  But I kind of like the idea of a skilled scholar presaging Sherlock Holmes, "this is a 300 barrel problem!"

    •  That's an excellent interpretation (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mettle fatigue

      Which I didn't think of.  Otherwise it sounds like he was paid off.

      "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

      by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 04:54:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  oh wow, a wikiped link which may corroborate (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Navy Vet Terp, ramara

        (why didn't i think to look before???)

        Hanania b. hezekiah bl. garon

        Hananiah ben Hezekiah ben Garon (Hebrew: חנניה בן חזקיה בן גרון‎, or in short חנניה בן חזקיה, "Hananiah ben [Son of] Hezekiah") was a Jewish Tanna sage, contemporary of House of Shammai and House of Hillel era. He is recounted as being one of several sages who weighed in on the question of the canonization of the Book of Ezekiel. The contradictions of the Book of Ezekiel are said to have been resolved in the aliyah, or upper chamber, of his house of study. He took 300 barrels of oil along with him, and shut himself at that place, where he looked up and studied their claims, until he was able to resolve the contradictions. Some sources identify this story with his son, Eleazar ben Hananiah.
        When you say, "paid off," it kind of sounds like you think maybe he was paid to come up with a resolution of the conflicts so Ezekiel could be used, rather than that he was looking at whether the conflicts could be resolved or not & report back either way?  Or were you meaning just basically it was the fee paid to him as a scholar needing what to survive on while studying an issue mattering to everyone.

        in the 60's, as i recall, we widely figured ezekiel's visions were psychedelic in origin, but no real idea what hallucinogens (other than alcohol) might've been in public food supply or water supply or babylonian religious rituals or recreations, 'tho maybe the psychosis resulting from ergot, a large dark-colored fungus apparently noticeable in wheats and barley but more missable in rye which is a darker grain.  but the known cases of ergot hallucinations seem to be all horrific, nothing imaginable as hopeful, nor divinely inspired except perhaps from a very negative divine viewpoint,, as chuckie in Rugrats would say, "doobed, we're all doobed!!!!"{he had nasal allergies -})

        •  Of course, if God can send prophecy in dreams (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Navy Vet Terp, mettle fatigue, Eowyn9

          there's no reason to think He couldn't also send genuine prophetic visions in hallucinatory drug trips.

          •  and as the song in Finian'sRainbow says, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Batya the Toon

            'you never know just which is who and who is which".  Not to mention how good or not are humans at interpreting and translating what g-d says.

            •  I read a thing once (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Eowyn9, mettle fatigue

              saying that the gift of prophecy consists something like 95% of correctly understanding what one has seen.  This writer suggested that the ability to see true visions (especially in dreams) is actually really, really common, and that the unusual thing is the ability to recognize and interpret them.

              No way to say for sure of course, but it's a fascinating thought.

              •  if one subscribes to the hypothesis that (0+ / 0-)

                dreams and/or "visions" are the subjective perception of the mind automatically taking as-yet unprocessed/inconclusive sensory and intellectual input and integrating that 'material' with previously processed input (across the lifetime) --often in symbolic terms, the visual equivalent of metaphor--- then it would make sense that prophecy based on dreams and/or 'visions' represents coherent data-based intuition, such as, for example, "people, if we go on doing this(fill in the space with actions/causes), then that(fill in the space with likely effects) is gonna happen!"

                In this hypothesis, the internal censor is mostly switched off, which puts the burden on the creative receptivity of the dreamer to recognize that a valuable insight is perhaps being formed.  Patricia Garfield's 1974 book Creative Dreaming includes major sections on what we might call 'primitive' cultures in the present and recent past that extensively encourate and utilize lucid-dream interpretation as part of daily life.  Around the same time, I was reading Ursula LeGuin's novel, The Word for World Is Forest and nonfiction materials in dreaming, after seeing a Peter Weir film, The Last Wave that was my first realization that i was far from the only person in the world who dreamed lucidly and learned things from it (if often uncertain just what i was learning, in my case). Before that, i hadn't made any connection at all between the idea of prophecy/visions/dreams (e.g., Joseph's dreams about fat & lean cows, which could easily have been the result of unprocessed perceptions of subtle signs of environmental change intuitively suggesting trouble coming).

                •  The dreams of the fat and lean cows (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  mettle fatigue

                  was actually one of the examples in that thing I read, about how the most important part of the gift of prophecy is knowing how to interpret.

                  Because those weren't Joseph's dreams at all; they were Pharaoh's.  Pharaoh had a series of true visions in his dreams, but had no way to understand what he was seeing; Joseph was the one with the ability to interpret them into prophecy.

                  I've always liked the hypothesis that dreams, like intuitive hunches, can yield correct results because the mind is collecting and analyzing data below the conscious level.  That could be connected to the concept of prophecy, I suppose.

    •  Actually I had assumed this was the case. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mettle fatigue, Batya the Toon

      Oil seems like a very odd form of payment. I assumed he was isolating himself to work on the problem (though what he did for food and water, I have no idea...)

      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

      by Eowyn9 on Sun Mar 30, 2014 at 06:25:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  food&water etc: someone handed them up (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Batya the Toon

        i would guess; and likewise certain implements of necessity were handed down the stairs/ladder, emptied, cleaned & returned back up.   women, most likely.  

        we'd have to look to what archaeology there is of Hanania's era to get an idea, similarly what kind of ink & how made he used for taking notes, reed/quil pens, what bedding to sleep on, what clothing worn, how to keep warm if weather was cold (an upper room would likely be warmer than downstairs unless the roof was crappy, but i'm visualizing a thick clay dome, stereotype tho' it may be).

        the fundamentals of daily life rarely get a mention in any literature, far less who carries responsibility for them, when they're taken-for-granteds rather than significant to the plot ("plot" in this literature being the details of discussion the scholars of the time considered significant for interpreting the canon and fulfilling all the specified mitzvot.  Anything those scholars didn't have to do for themselves and/or thought irrelevant to their 'job' they'd not bother to even think about far less mention, because in their era everyone already knew all that daily stuff, and how could they imagine anyone in the future would not?  i sometimes notice in some of the rabbinical era material we've linked to and discussed that to some extent the scholars off that era interpreted/assumed/attributed things to the neolithic and bronze age that are actually technologically & in other ways only applicable to their own plus/minus maybe a hundred or 2 either way.   the more we can learn about what daily life really was like in the era under discussion, the clearer it becomes how and why interpretations in that era were made.

        just like now.

  •  The skin disease (5+ / 0-)

    is deemed by the rabbis as a punishment for slanderous speech, which is prohibited by the Torah. It isn't around any more because, according to the rabbis, almost everyone is guilty of that sin.

  •  What I'm really wondering is, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mettle fatigue, Batya the Toon

    how exactly DID he reconcile them? (And is his explanation a convincing one?)

    "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

    by Eowyn9 on Sun Mar 30, 2014 at 05:39:34 PM PDT

  •  Also, am I the only one who feels rather uneasy (0+ / 0-)

    at the idea of someone sitting down, determined to hammer these two opposing passages into submission, so to speak?

    I don't know, but to me it reeks of intellectual dishonesty. Not that I think (as some have suggested) that he was bought off, with 300 jars of oil or otherwise. It sounds more like a disreputable scientific researcher who is so determined to prove their thesis that they'll present their results in a highly misleading way, or indeed fabricate evidence. Wouldn't it be more honest to simply look at the Book of Ezekiel and evaluate objectively whether it was consistent with the Torah or not?

    "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

    by Eowyn9 on Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 07:25:59 AM PDT

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