Thursday, March 15, 2018

Haftarat Shabbat Ha-Chodesh: A Battle Between a Prince and a Paschal Lamb

I want to do something a little different on the blog this week. Don't worry; we're still talking about the Haftarot. However, I am introducing a new element, focusing on who ELSE is reading these texts. I'm sure it will
come as no surprise to most (if not all) of you to hear that Jews are not the only ones who read the Bible. And while the Five Books of Moses DO allow for interpretations that differ from ours, the texts of the Prophets REALLY lend themselves to new perspectives, especially Christian ones. If you're looking for "clues," "hints," and "allusions" to Jesus, you can certainly find them all over the Bible (or what the Christians call "the Old Testament"). You might be surprised to hear me say/admit that... but it's true. This Sunday, March 18th, I will be leading an Interfaith Seder at Christ Episcopal Church in Media, PA, as I've done for the past eight years. In this season of Pesach and Easter, I think we should spend a few (potentially uncomfortable) minutes seeing our Biblical texts through someone else's eyes.

I've had the privilege of engaging in interfaith dialogue for many years now, and I almost always learn something new and fascinating when I try to take off my own Jewish "glasses," and borrow someone else's lenses for a spell. I recall one
particularly fascinating (albeit uneasy...) series of conversations I had with a Coptic priest from Delaware, who kept wanting us to look at specific verses in the Bible, and asking me how I view them. Naturally, each verse in question seemed to allude to the Christian understanding of Jesus and/or a Messiah and/or God's "son." What I tried to explain to that priest - as I often do when examining these passages together with Christians - is that our Bible is big enough for the both of us. There are verses and themes that "work" for them and don't speak to us, and yet others that mainly appeal to a Jewish audience and NOT a Christian one. Why can't that be ok? I don't feel we should be mining our texts for "The Truth"; for proof that one of our religions is RIGHT, and the other - therefore - is WRONG. Isn't that what "coexistence" is all about???

This weekend, we are chanting a fourth, and final, special reading leading up to Pesach. (Except for the one next week, but let's not get into that right now...) This Shabbat, our Haftarah comes from the prophet Ezekiel, who writes: "On the fourteenth day of the first month, you shall have the Passover sacrifice, and during a festival of seven days, you shall eat unleavened bread" (45:21).
I sincerely hope I don't have to explain to you why it makes sense that we read this text leading up to Pesach... The holiday is, you know, right there! Even when we share an Interfaith Seder experience with Christian friends and neighbors, it's still pretty clear that the ones observing the laws of this holiday are, well, the Jews. And yet, just a few verses later, the text also speaks of "a prince" coming to Jerusalem, and entering through a special gate to offer a very special "sacrifice." The language of this entire section lends itself almost exclusively to a Christian audience. When I searched for commentary on Ezekiel 46 online, the Christian writers I found were giddily describing how clearly this text was foretelling Jesus, the Prince of Princes, and how verse after verse was all about their Messiah.

Well, that can be hard for us to hear. It's uncomfortable, perhaps, and even unsettling. But take a moment to ask yourself "why?" It's their Bible too, isn't it? Some of the greatest Biblical scholars over the last many centuries were Christians,
and they unlocked aspects of the text that benefited Jewish audiences as well. When we point out similarities between Passover and Easter (eggs, sacrificial lambs, and such), why does that have to feel weird? I suppose it might have something to do with our history of religious "dialogue" including forced conversions, torture, and painful deaths... Nevertheless, I think we need to challenge ourselves here. Ok, it's uncomfortable. But let's not walk away. We need to work on cultivating our Jewish self-confidence; it's our text too! When we can feel grounded and safe in our own readings, and in the meanings we, as Jews, glean from Scripture, we open ourselves up to the potential for a much richer interfaith dialogue. I think the Matzah and the Messiah in our text can live side by side, without one needing to vanquish the other. Ezekiel was a pretty good guy; I'm pretty sure he can hang with both of us. Don't you?

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image courtesy of Syker Fotograf on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of United States Navy on Wikimedia Commons 
3. CC image of Jerusalem's Golden Gate courtesy of Kordas on Wikimedia Commons (If you want to know why it's walled up - and how that relates to the Coming of the Messiah - read about it here...)
4. CC image courtesy of Yoninah on Wikimedia Commons

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