Jerrold Landau
Genealogical and Translation Services

ADDITIONAL NOTES

 

If an additional note is relevant to a specific Haftarah, it is noted at the bottom of the entry.

 

 

The Gender of Gd (Bereishit)

              Within the Jewish belief system, Gd is neither male nor female. Gd has no human aspects at all. Gd cannot be understood in His essence, but only through His actions, and even then, often only in hindsight. One of the significant theological differences between Judaism and Christianity is that Judaism regards Gd as a perfect unity, whereas Christianity has divided the godhead into different entities.

              When anthropomorphic terminology is used to describe Gd, it is done solely to help the human intellect understand the concept of the Deity. Gd is at times described in a masculine form, for example as a Man of War (see the Song of the Sea, Exodus 15:3). At other times, the female noun Shechina [Divine Presence] is used, to reflect the more feminine qualities of Gd. None of this terminology is meant to be taken literally.

              The male pronoun (capitalized) is used throughout this book in reference to Gd. I attempted to eliminate the pronoun, but that often resulted in unclear grammar and introduced other ambiguities. Furthermore, verses from the Tanach {Hebrew Scriptures] are often quoted directly in the commentary, and Biblical Hebrew uses the masculine pronoun for the neutral gender. No further implications are to be read into this.

              While on this subject, for the purposes of the web version of this work, I have chosen to use the deficient spelling Gd (or Lrd when appropriate) to reflect the Jewish Deity.

 

 

Amida and Kedusha Service  (Yitro, Beḥukotai, First Day of Rosh Hashanah, and First Day of Shavuot)

              The Shmone Esrei [Eighteen Benedictions], otherwise known as the Amida [Standing Prayer], forms the central portion of the three daily prayer services – Shaḥarit [morning service], Minḥa [afternoon service], and Maariv [evening service]. On the Sabbath, festivals and Rosh Ḥodesh, an additional service is added, known as Musaf [additional service]. Yom Kippur has a fifth service known as Neila [closing service]. The Amida consists of nineteen benedictions on a weekday (an additional blessing was added after the name was coined), and seven on the Sabbath and festivals. Rosh Hashanah Musaf has nine.

              The daily prayers are preferably recited publicly with a quorum of ten adult males known as a minyan, but can be recited privately. During any public prayer service other than Maariv, the Amida is repeated aloud by the prayer leader. During the repetition of the Amida, the Kedusha [Sanctification] is recited. Kedusha is centered around three Biblical verses. Two are mentioned in the Haftarot of Yitro and First Day of Shavuot, both of which describe the angelic praises of Gd. The third is from Psalms 146:10. Kedusha is introduced by a declaration that we are about to praise Gd on earth in the same manner as the angels do in the Heavens.

              In addition to its place in the repetition of the Amida, Kedusha is also embedded into the first blessing prior to the morning recitation of the Shema, and the Uva Letzion medley of Biblical verses near the end of the service. Thus, it is recited twice daily even by those who were unable to participate in the public prayer service. This is over and above the two, three, or (on Yom Kippur) four times it is recited during the repetition of the Amida.

 

 

Christian Missionary Use of Biblical Proof Texts  (Yitro)

              Christian missionaries have claimed that the prophecy of the birth and the name of the child in Isaiah 9:6 serve as a prediction of the birth and divinity of the Christian savior many centuries later. This interpretation is out of context with the neighbouring verses. Furthermore, the attribution of divine aspects to a human being is foreign to any prophecy in the Tanach. The transposition of a descriptive name invoking Gd’s attributes to the name of a deity is a misunderstanding of the symbolic use of names in the Tanach. Missionaries have further claimed that the rabbis of old have tried to hide Christian proof texts from the Jewish laity by avoiding their usage in Haftarot. The presence of this verse in the Haftarah of Yitro refutes that notion. One who appreciates the Jewish Bible is never afraid of studying any section of the Tanach with its traditional commentators, and within its intended context.

              The above is not meant to imply anything negative about a sincere, believing Christian of good will. It can certainly be said that Christianity and Islam are part of Gd’s plan for the world, and have introduced the concept of the Ten Commandments and Ethical Monotheism (from a Jewish perspective, somewhat compromised Monotheism in the case of Christianity, but nevertheless Monotheism) to the world. Furthermore, Judaism recognizes that people of any creed who observe the seven Noaḥide laws  (essentially, those people who live upright, moral lives) have a share in eternity.  Moral people of goodwill can agree to disagree on matters of faith.  On the other hand, the previous paragraph does reflect the Jewish ire toward the insistence by Christian missionaries that the Jewish interpretation of the Jewish Bible is somehow invalid, and who insist that the only route to salvation for Jews is through belief in the Christian saviour.

              A full treatment of Christian proof texts is way beyond the scope of this work. I refer the interested reader to https://jewsforjudaism.ca

 

 

Four Special Sabbaths or Four Portions

 (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, HaḤodesh -- Mishpatim through Aḥarei Mot)

              On four Sabbaths, surrounding Purim and prior to Pesaḥ, a portion from a second Torah is read in addition to the weekly Torah portion. Those special Sabbaths receive a special Haftarah, which displaces the Haftarah of the weekly Torah portion. Shabbat HaGadol, the Sabbath immediately before Pesaḥ, follows shortly thereafter. Although it does not have a special additional Torah reading, it does have its unique Haftarah. The four Sabbaths are:

  • Shekalim: Falls on the Shabbat prior to or coinciding with Rosh Ḥodesh Adar (Adar II in a leap year). The special Torah reading consists of the law of the Half Shekel from Exodus 30:11-16.

 

  • Zachor: Falls on the Shabbat immediately prior to Purim. There is usually but not always a one-week break between Shekalim and Zachor. The special Torah reading consists of the laws of remembering and destroying Amalek, from Deuteronomy 25:17-19. The reading of Zachor fulfills the Torah commandment of remembering what Amalek did to the Children of Israel when leaving Egypt.

 

  • Parah: Falls on the Shabbat immediately prior to HaḤodesh. There can be a one-week break between Zachor and Parah. The special Torah reading consists of the law of the Red Heifer, from Numbers 19-1-22.

 

  • HaḤodesh: Falls on the Shabbat prior to or coinciding with Rosh Ḥodesh Nisan. There is usually but not always a one-week break between HaḤodesh and Shabbat HaGadol. The special Torah reading consists of the law of the first Paschal sacrifice in Egypt, from Exodus 12:1-20.

 

Doubling of Torah Portions

(Vayekhel-Pikudei, Tazria-Metzora, Aḥarei Mot-Kedoshim, Behar-Beḥukotai, Ḥukat-Balak, Matot-Masei, Nitzavim-Vayeilech)

              The Torah is divided into 54 portions (parshiot) for the regular weekly Torah reading. Jewish years vary in length, as the leap month of Adar II that occurs seven times in 19 years adds an additional 30 days to the year. A further complication arises when a festival coincides with Shabbat, as the Torah reading of the major Biblical festivals, Ḥol HaMoed included, displaces the regular weekly Torah portion. There are often discrepancies in the doubling of Torah Portions between Israel and the Diaspora when the second day of a festival in the Diaspora occurs on Shabbat (this can only happen with the last day of Pesaḥ and Shavuot). To account for these variances, the Torah reading for certain weeks will consist of a double Torah portion. In non-leap years, more Torah portions are doubled than in leap years. The Haftarah of a double portion is generally, but not invariably, that of the second portion.

 

Three Weeks of Warning and Seven Weeks of Comfort

(Pinḥas through Nitzavim-Vayeilech)

              The destruction of the Temple is marked by four fast days during the year. The most severe is Tisha B’Av [the 9th of Av], occurring in mid to late summer. Tisha B’Av marks the day of the destruction of both Temples, as well as many other tragedies within Jewish history. The fast of the 17th of Tammuz is observed three weeks earlier. Between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, a three-week period of national mourning is observed, with restrictions on listening to live music and conducting wedding ceremonies. The restrictions become more severe as Tisha B’Av. These three weeks are known as Bein Hametzarim (Between the Straits). During these three weeks, the Haftarot consist of warnings regarding the impending destruction. These three Haftarot are known as the Three Haftarot of Warning. During the seven weeks from Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashanah, a series of Haftarot of comfort and restoration are read. These Haftarot are known as the Seven Haftarot of Comfort.

 

Verses of Rosh Hashanah Musaf

(Vayishlaḥ, Shemot, Vayikra, Matot, First and Second days of Rosh Hashanah, First Day of Sukkot)

               The Musaf service of Rosh Hashanah is enhanced with three special blessings, known as Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofrot. Malchuyot deals with the kingship of Gd. Zichronot deals with Gd’s memory and involvement in humanity. Shofrot deals with the use of the call of the shofar to mark cataclysmic events in history, both past and future. These blessings are followed by the sounding of the shofar, unless Rosh Hashanah occurs on Shabbat. The primary feature of these blessings is the incorporation of ten relevant Biblical verses. Three come from the Torah, three from the Prophets, and three from the Writings (invariably from Psalms). A verse from the Torah concludes each set. Of the nine verses from the Prophets (three from each of the three sections), six appear in various Haftarot, and are noted in their relevant places.

 

 

Additional Festival Day of the Diaspora

(Second Day of Pesaḥ, Eighth Day of Pesaḥ, Second Day of Shavuot, Second Day of Sukkot, Simḥat Torah).

              All festival days with prohibitions of work are listed as single days in the Torah. Outside of Israel, the festival days of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals [Shalosh Regalim] are doubled. Since the beginning of the month was determined by the High Court [Sanhedrin] in Jerusalem, messengers would be sent out to announce the appropriate day. These messengers might not be able to reach all parts of the Diaspora in time to announce the festivals. Therefore, the days were doubled to remove any doubt. Since Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first of the month, the messengers could not announce the right day even in Israel. Therefore, Rosh Hashanah is observed as two days even in Israel. Two days of fasting on Yom Kippur would be impossible, so Yom Kippur is observed as a single day even in the Diaspora. Although doubt of the accuracy of the calendar no longer exists, the institution of the doubling of the festival days remains in force. On the five festival days that are observed for two days in the Diaspora, the Haftarah of the second day is not read in Israel. The sole exception is Simḥat Torah, which is the second day of Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, the Haftarah of Simḥat Torah is read on Shemini Atzeret, and the Haftarah of Shemini Atzeret is skipped.

 

Electrum and Chashmal  (First day of Shavuot)

              The Hebrew term used in the Haftarah is chashmal, which is equivalent with the modern Hebrew term for electricity. Biblical translations typically translate this term as electrum or amber. Electrum is a gold-silver alloy used primarily in ancient times. It is fascinating how both the Hebrew and English terms for electricity are etymologically derived from the same source – based on the colour of the ancient alloy.

 

Purim on Shabbat  (Shabbat Zachor)

              In Jerusalem, Purim is observed on the 15th of Adar, one day later than everywhere else. The regular Purim day never falls on Shabbat, but  Purim can fall on Shabbat in Jerusalem. When that happens, the Haftarah of Zachor is repeated on Shabbat Purim. Thus, it will be read on two consecutive Shabbatot. This situation is known as the Purim Meshulash or Threefold Purim. The Megillah is read on Thursday night and Friday, and Matanot LaEvyonim (gifts to the poor) are distributed on Friday. Mishloach Manot (food gifts to friends) and the Purim feast are deferred to Sunday. Even though the commandments of Purim are observed a day early or a day late, the official day of Purim is on Shabbat. Al HaNisim is recited on Shabbat, and the Torah reading of Purim is read as the Maftir. This Shabbat Purim would occur on Ki Tisa in a regular year, or Tzav on a leap year. Thus, the rare Haftarot of those two portions become slightly rarer in Jerusalem.

 

Gog and Magog  (Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Sukkot)

              The identity of Gog and Magog has been the source of much speculation. The only clues given in Ezekiel (38:2) is that this tribal confederation comes from the “furthest reaches of the north”.  Magog, Meshech and Tubal, mentioned in the Haftarah, are three of the seven sons of Japheth noted in Genesis 10:2. The earlier sections of chapter 38 of Ezekiel expands the tribal configuration to include Paras (Persia), Togarmah, and Gomer, among others. 

              Josephus and other ancient historians have identified all these as being tribes of Asia Minor. Later speculative ideas have expanded the geographical location further. Noting the similarity between Meshech and Moscow, some have speculated that Meshech represents the Russian people. The Great Wall of China has at times been known as the Great Wall of Magog, leading to speculation that Magog may represent the Mongols or other far eastern peoples. Even Rashi (Genesis 10:2) notes that Tiras, the seventh son of Japheth) is equivalent with Persia. Togarmah has been identified with the Turkic peoples. Other descendants of Japheth, not mentioned in the Gog and Magog chapters of Ezekiel, include Yavan (Greece), Ashkenaz (identified with the Germanic peoples), and Rifat (identified with Tzarfat or the French / Gaulic peoples). Thus, the descendants of Japheth are conjectured to span the entire Indo-European or Caucasian race, and even somewhat beyond.

              Ezekiel notes that Gog comes from the Land of Magog. In later Jewish thinking, the term has morphed into “Gog and Magog.”  Some commentators have noted that the name Gog is very similar to the Hebrew word “Gag” (roof). Gog represents those who have a firm roof over their heads, and have a work outlook that cannot comprehend upward to the heavens. On the other hand, the Jewish people are represented by the Sukka (note that the Haftarahs of Gog and Magog are read on Sukkot). By definition, the roof of a Sukka must not be impermeable, and it thereby represents a world view that can fathom the concept of Divine providence and protection. The wars of Gog and Magog represent a clash of these two vastly differing world views as world history comes to a climactic conclusion.

              Perhaps the most astute comment regarding the speculation of the eschatological destiny of the world is stated in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b): “Let the bones be ground up of those who speculate the end.”  A belief in a climactic resolution to world history, with the ultimate judgment of good and evil and the advent of the Messianic era, is cardinal to the Jewish belief system. Yet speculation of the details of such is not a productive endeavor. We are best to focus on living our lives in the most Gdly fashion possible, and leaving the details of the end of days to the ultimate Author of world history.

 

 

© 2019 by Jerrold Landau

 

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