On the Shabbat that precedes the month of Nissan, we add a special Torah reading, Hachodesh. The haftarah that accompanies this reading is from the book of Ezekiel, in which he tells about the inauguration of the Third Temple. He also tells of the responsibilities and laws pertaining to the nassi (often translated as “prince” or “chief”). It mentions Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the Passover sacrifice, eating matzah on Passover, Temple regulations and other offerings brought in the Temple.1

The haftorah is like the Torah reading in that it discusses Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the laws of the Passover sacrifice and eating matzah.

Who is the nassi referring to in the haftarah? Rashi cites two opinions: His own opinion is that it refers to the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. Alternatively, he brings the opinion of Rabbi Menachem ben Saruq that it refers to the king.2

Sephardic and Chabad communities begin with the verse that mentions Rosh Chodesh Nissan, presumably because the Torah reading of Hachodesh begins with a verse about Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Ashkenazic communities add the two verses that come before and the three that come after. These extra verses pertain specifically to the nassi. Interesting to note that although Chabad custom is not to say the extra verses, the Chabad Rebbes did say them, but only after they accepted the mantle of leadership and became the nassi of their respective generations.3

Parshat Hachodesh says nothing about a nassi. What is the connection between these verses and Hachodesh?

Rosh Chodesh Nissan usually falls in the week before or after we read the portion of Vayikra (except in Jewish leap years). This indicates that there is a special connection between Vayikra and Rosh Chodesh Nissan. In Vayikra, you find a sacrifice of the Kohen Gadol and a sacrifice of the nassi, which in the parshah means the King.4

Another factor that would align with Rabbi Menachem’s opinion that the nassi refers to the King is that Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the “New Year for Kings.” Thus, Parshat Hachodesh is about Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which is the Rosh Hashanah for the nassi.5

Why does the haftarah tell us the details of the inauguration, the sacrifices and regulations of the Third Temple? Because Parshat Hachodesh speaks of the Passover sacrifice, which is eaten at the Seder. The essence of the Seder is the Exodus from Egypt and the coming of the future redemption. Also, our great sages say that “the future redemption will be in the month of Nissan.”6

Since Hachodesh is about Rosh Chodesh Nissan and Passover, and Nissan and Passover are about the redemption, it’s most appropriate that the haftarah details the Third Temple inauguration, sacrifices and regulations.

Opening and Closing of the Gate

The haftarah goes into the details regarding the opening of the Heichal gate. It is only to be opened on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and when the nassi brings a sacrifice. No one is allowed to enter through the gate. Even the nassi should stand at the gate as the Kohen prepares and offers his sacrifice, then he should bow down to G‑d, but he doesn’t enter. On Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, the gate is to remain open so that people visiting the Temple can bow down to Hashem.7

The gate was open on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, but it was closed on holidays. Why?

The difference between Shabbat and holidays is that on Shabbat, we are lifted to a higher level; we are spiritually uplifted above the natural. On Shabbat, the court didn’t find it necessary to set extra protections to prevent inappropriate behavior, even though it is a mitzvah to drink wine, which could lead to frivolity. This is because on Shabbat, we are above the natural.

On holidays, we are not above nature; rather, we draw G‑dly revelations down into nature. Because we remain in the natural and it is a mitzvah to drink wine, we must abide by the rules of nature. Therefore, the court would set extra protections to prevent inappropriate behavior. This is also the reason why we are specifically meticulous to have a guest on holidays—more than on Shabbat since the presence of a guest is a protection from inappropriate behavior, which is not necessary on Shabbat.

Another difference is that on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, Gehinnom (purgatory) does not operate. It does, however, on holidays.

On Rosh Chodesh, although we are in the world and even work, since Gehinnom does not operate and the Heichal gate was indeed open, we must conclude that we are in an elevated Shabbat-like state. And the work we do on Rosh Chodesh is somehow not the same as on a regular weekday.

The Shaloh (Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Hurwitz) tells us that all the days of the month of Nissan are like Rosh Chodesh. As Parshat Hachodesh begins: “This month should be for you Rosh Chadashim,”8 which can be understood to mean that the month of Nissan should be a month of Rosh Chodesh, connected to and sharing properties with Rosh Chodesh Nissan.9

Please allow me to take you to a deeper place.

About the Heichal gate, the haftarah states: “The gate of the inner courtyard which faces east shall be closed for the six working days, but on Shabbat it shall be opened and on Rosh Chodesh it shall be opened.”10

G‑d created the world with 10 utterances which came from the Divine Wisdom. Higher than Divine Wisdom is the Divine Will. That is where His yearning to create the world begins. Divine Wisdom is connected to the world, while Divine Will is beyond any connection to the world.

The gate of the Heichal is called “the gate that faces kadim [east].” Kadim is like kodem, which means “before,” referring to the Divine Will that precedes all.

During the six working days, the gate was closed, meaning that the Divine Will is hidden. During the six working days, our connection to G‑d comes only through toil and hard work. However, on Shabbat the gate is open; His will is revealed, as it says about the first Shabbat, “He ceased work and rested.”11 Does G‑d really need rest? What it means is that He ceased creating from Divine Wisdom, and His Will was revealed. When this happened, G‑d had great pleasure because His Will was fulfilled.

This happens every Shabbat. And when G‑d’s Will is revealed, the essence of the Jew is also revealed since it also preceded creation, as it comes from G‑d’s Will. This is the meaning of the second soul we are given on Shabbat: an extra level of our soul is revealed.

This is also why we add the words v’ratza banu (“He wants us”) in the Shabbat Kiddush. “Ratza” is from ratzon, which means “will.” On Shabbat, the gate is open, G‑d’s Will is revealed, and our essence is revealed. We experience our intrinsic bond with G‑d, recognizing that we are His ratzon, His Will.12

On Rosh Chodesh, our essence is revealed as well, as “Israel is compared to the moon.” The idea of Rosh Chodesh is that there is something new—a new moon. And this, in essence, is what a Jew is all about. G‑d made us partners in creation. Our part is to add something new through our actions and work, Torah and mitzvahs, whereby we create an environment where G‑d can dwell openly. This is the Divine Will and the reason for creation. This will be realized with the coming of Moshiach.

On Rosh Chodesh, the deepest part of our neshamah (“soul”) is revealed, the point where we are one with G‑d, the spark of Moshiach that is in each and every one of us.13

Being that the Divine Will is revealed on Rosh Chodesh, the Heichal gate is open.

The extra verses at the end of the haftorah tells us the laws pertaining to gifts of land given by the nassi. If the gift is to one of his sons, “it will belong to his sons, and it will be their possession by inheritance.”14 If the gift is to one of his servants, “it shall be his until the jubilee year, it then returns to the nassi.”15 The haftarah then seemingly repeats, “but his inheritance to his sons, will be theirs.”16 What is added with these words?

There are two relationships the nassi has: with his sons and with his servants.

A son has a natural bond with his father; he and his father are one. He doesn’t have to do anything to earn this connection. When his father passes on, the son takes his place; the inheritance is automatic. If his father gives him a gift, it is forever.

A servant does not have this natural bond. His relationship is based on his commitment to his master and his acceptance of the yoke of service. All land in Israel returns to its original owner in the Jubilee year. Unlike the son, the servant doesn’t take the place of his master, and any land gifted to him goes back to the original owner.

Our relationship with G‑d takes two forms. We are His children, as it says: “You are children to the L‑rd your G‑d.”17 As mentioned above, we have an intrinsic bond with G‑d. The father-son relationship is one of love. As such, in our service to G‑d, we embrace the pleasurable parts of Judaism, doing Torah and mitzvahs because we appreciate and want them.

The problem with this kind of relationship is that it is on our terms and can only reach to the level of our understanding; it is not infinite.

Then we are G‑d’s servants, as it says, “ . . . the Children of Israel, they are My servants, whom I brought out of Egypt.”18 This is not the pleasurable kind; rather, it is what we do out of commitment and acceptance of His yoke. Because we negate our will before His, the connection is on His terms, which is infinite.

The haftarah first speaks of the son, then the servant, and then the son again, teaching us about a third type of relationship that is greater than both.

The third is a son that also has the qualities of the servant; that is why it is mentioned after the servant. Simply put, the son serves his father, the king, with a sense of commitment and acceptance of a yoke, but he does it out of love, pleasure and joy.

This is the best way to serve. This way, we find pleasure in serving G‑d, and the connection is infinite. Needless to say, G‑d enjoys it most when we serve Him this way.19

This, perhaps, is the meaning of the verse: “Serve Hashem with joy.”20 Serve as a servant, with the joy of a son.

May we merit to experience this deep connection. And may we soon see our nassi and the opening of the Heichal gate in our Third Temple. The time has come.