Jerrold Landau
Genealogical and Translation Services

Haftarah of Bamidbar

              The Haftarah of Bamidbar is from Hosea 2:1-22. Bamidbar contains a census of the Israelites in the desert, and the Haftarah begins with the blessing that the Children of Israel will be as numerous as the sand of the sea.

              In the previous chapter, Gd commands Hosea to take a wife who will commit harlotry. This marriage is symbolic of the relationship between Gd and the Children of Israel, which has become disrupted because of their sins. The wife, Gomer the daughter of Divlayim, gives birth to three children. Their names reflect the troubled relationship. The first is called Jezreel, referring to the place where King Jehu conducted a battle and where Gd shortly afterwards exacted retribution. The second is called Lo-Ruchama (There will be no mercy), and the third is called Lo-Ammi (Not My nation). The Haftarah continues with the theme. The children are told to argue with their mother and convince her to change her ways. A transformation begins to occur, as the children’s names are changed to a more positive form. The negation (lo) is dropped from the names of the second and third child. On the other hand, the threat of punishment is repeated, blending the feeling of hope with continued accusation.

              Using the personal life of the prophet to make a point to the entire nation is a graphic tool, but also seems to be an unwelcome intrusion of public life onto private life. Public office does carry personal ramifications, yet the story of Hosea seems to take the connection of public and personal life to an unbearable level. Hosea is not the only prophet whose family life is used to teach a public lesson. Two of Isaiah’s children are given names that highlight the prophetic message. Gd predicts the death of Ezekiel’s wife, and Ezekiel is instructed not to mourn – a foreshadowing of the impending destruction and exile of the Kingdom of Judea. The calling of Jewish prophecy entails the subjugation of the prophet’s personal life to the national mission.

              Like other Haftarot with disturbing content, the Haftarah ends with a positive note. The relationship between Gd and the Children of Israel will be restored. Gd states, “I will betroth you forever, I will betroth you with righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy, I will betroth you with faithfulness, and you will know Gd.” In most years, Bamidbar is read on the Shabbat preceding Shavuot. Shavuot signifies the marriage of Gd to the Jewish people through the giving of the Torah. These verses serve as an introduction to the upcoming Yom Tov. They are also recited each weekday as the tefillin strap is wound around the middle finger, signifying the bond between the Jew and his Gd.

              When Bamidbar falls on the eve of Rosh Ḥodesh Sivan, the regular Haftarah is replaced by that of Maḥar Ḥodesh. Rosh Ḥodesh Sivan itself cannot fall on Shabbat.

 

 

Haftarah of Naso

              The Haftarah of Naso comes from Judges 13:2-25. The Haftarah deals with the birth of Samson. Manoaḥ’s barren wife is visited by an angel, who predicts the birth of the child. He commands the woman to abstain from wine, for the child will be a nazirite from the time of birth. The angel predicts that this child will begin to save Israel from the Philistines. Naso outlines the laws of the nazirite, and the Haftarah tells the story of a nazirite. The Torah laws of the nazirite, however, do not describe the case of the nazirite from birth. Rather, an individual must voluntarily choose to take an oath of a nazirite. The nazirite from birth can only come through direct Divine command.

              The period of the judges is the most turbulent in Biblical history. Time after time, the Children of Israel resort to idolatry. In this context, the simple piety of Manoaḥ and his wife forms a refreshing interlude. The couple fulfill the command to the letter. Manoaḥ even asks the messenger to return, so that he can hear the message firsthand. Manoaḥ and his wife want to reward the messenger, not realizing he is an angel. The couple is astounded as the angel ascends heavenward in the flame of the altar. Despite the straightforward piety of the parents, the life of Samson is by no means a life of the spirit. Samson falls in love with foreign women numerous times, much to the chagrin of his parents. Yet he is always willing to stand up for his nation. During the time of his disgrace, he gives up his life for the honor of his nation.

              Samson remains a Jewish hero, and a symbol of the use of might to fight against those who seek to destroy us. During the long period of Jewish exile and powerlessness, images of mighty men such as Samson have helped sustain the hope of our people. Samson’s foibles can be understood within the context of the times. Samson appears on the scene toward the end of the period of the Judges, Shortly, the prophet Samuel will begin his tenure, and the period of the kingdom and the Temple will ensue. Although the faith of the Children of Israel to their Gd is not constant even during that era, the upcoming era ushers in the period of the great prophets of Israel. These prophets transmit the message of Gd to the people, and spare no effort to ensure that the Children of Israel do not stray, and that they return even when they do stray.

 

Haftarah of Beha’alotecha

              The Haftarah of Beha’alotecha comes from Zechariah 2:14-4:7. Zechariah, along with Ḥaggai and Malachi, served at the beginning of the Second Temple Period. They were the final prophets before the close of the era of prophecy. The Haftarah consists of words of encouragement and support for Joshua the High Priest, as well as for Zerubbabel, a descendent of David, and who served as the temporal leader of the returned exiles. Zechariah is shown a vision of a menorah with seven candles as a symbol that the spirit of Gd that will be with Zerubbabel.

              Beha’alotecha opens with the regulations regarding the lighting of the menorah. It deals with a wide variety of topics, including the sanctification of the Levites, the makeup Pesaḥ, the preparations for travel in the desert, the complainers, and the insulting of Moses by his brother and sister. Of all these themes, one might ask why the theme of the menorah, which only occupies five verses, was selected as the connection with the Haftarah. Fire and candles play a very important role in Judaism. In the Torah, we have the fire of the altar and the sacrifices. In the rabbinical laws and customs that arose later, fire takes on an increasingly important role. Two of the seven rabbinically ordained commandments – the kindling of Shabbat and festival candles, and the kindling of Ḥanukah lights – relate to fire. In addition, flames are used to memorialize the dead, to search for leaven, to light up synagogues with the Ner Tamid [Perpetual lamp], to celebrate Lag B’Omer, and, in some customs, to march a bride and groom to the ḥupah. Due to its ethereal form, fire symbolizes the merging of the physical and the spiritual. The soul of man is likened to the candle of Gd. Perhaps it is due to the prominence of fire throughout Jewish thought and practice that this Haftarah theme was chosen for Beha’alotecha.

              Many of the prophets have their own style, Zechariah being no exception. Throughout the book, Zechariah’s imagery is guided by an angel. We frequently hear of the “Angel who is speaking to me.”  The angel shows the prophet an image, and then proceeds to explain the meaning. At times, a dialog ensures between the prophet and his angelic guide.

              For individuals with an interest in trop trivia, this Haftarah has the only example of a rare trop in any Haftarah throughout the year. A Mercha Kefula appears in 2:2.

              This Haftarah is read twice a year. For the same reasons as it is selected for Beha’alotecha, it forms the Haftarah of Shabbat Ḥanukah.

 

 

Haftarah of Shelaḥ Lecha

              The Haftarah of Shelaḥ Lecha is taken from Joshua 2:1-24. The Children of Israel are gathered at the Jordan River, about to enter the Land of Canaan. Joshua sends spies to spy out the land, particularly the city of Jericho. The spies end up at the home of Raḥab, who takes them in. She informs them that the inhabitants of the land are afraid of the Children of Israel, and requests that they save her family. The spies make an agreement with her. She hides them and helps them escape as the people of Jericho search for them. Raḥab then points the pursuers in the wrong direction. The spies return to Joshua and inform him that the inhabitants are afraid of the Children of Israel, and that Gd has given the land into their hands.

              The parallels with the Torah portion are obvious, but the attitudes and results are completely opposite. In both cases, there is nothing inherently wrong with the sending of the spies. Espionage is a valid tactic of war, and the Children of Israel were entitled to use such tactics. Thirty-nine years earlier, the spies typified a people who had not yet shaken off the slave mentality. They were not ready for the warfare necessary for the conquest of the land. Although not clear from Shelaḥ Lecha, but very clear from the repetition of the story in Devarim, the demand by the Children of Israel to send the spies resulted from feelings of desperation. With the spy story in the Book of Joshua almost four decades later, the next generation, who grew up as free people in the desert under direct Divine protection, now had the self-confidence needed to undertake the task. They could have been scared off by the fortified city that they saw, but they chose to bring back the positive message, stressing their trust in Gd.

              The Haftarah indirectly emphasizes the greatness of Joshua’s leadership skills. Given the fiasco with the original spy episode, the simplest approach would have been to refrain from sending out spies. Joshua had the insight to realize that circumstances were different, the needs of the generation were different, and history does not necessarily repeat itself.

              The Haftarah of Shelaḥ Lecha complements the Torah portion. The errors of the spies in the desert are rectified by the spies in the Book of Joshua. The years of wandering in the desert have now ended, and the rejuvenated nation is ready to settle the land promised by Gd. One of the two spies who originally returned with the positive report is now the leader of the nation, ready to serve as commander-in-chief for the conquest of the land.

 

 

Haftarah of Koraḥ

              The Haftarah of Koraḥ comes from I Samuel 11:14-12:22. King Saul had fought his first battle against the Ammonites. The aging Samuel then summons the people to reinforce the monarchy. Samuel rejoices with the people and the new king, but then reproves them for the way that they asked for a king. A thunderstorm appears in the middle of the summer – an unheard-of event in the Land of Israel – to demonstrate Gd’s wrath with the people. Samuel reassures them that they can be confident of Divine protection if they serve Gd with all their heart. The Haftarah ends with the promise: “Gd will not abandon His people for the sake of His great name, for Gd has endeavored to make you into His nation.”

              In both the Torah and Haftarah, there is a rejection of the leadership status quo that was set in place by Gd. In Koraḥ, there is a disorganized rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. All participants seem to have different agendas. In the Haftarah, the people have asked for a king so that they could be like all other nations. Although the Torah permits the selection of a king (Devarim 17:14), and Jewish law states that the institution of a monarchy is one of the obligations of the nation once they enter the Land, the implication is that it should come at the right time and for the right reasons, and not as an act of desperation. The request for the king is seen as a form of rejection of Samuel and his Divinely granted prophetic authority.

              Our tradition considers Samuel to be a descendant of Koraḥ. Koraḥ saw visions of greatness, but did not realize that these visions were meant for his future descendants rather than as a personal directive. The strongest connection with the Torah portion is the statement of innocence by Samuel, in which he asks the people, “Whose ox have I taken, whose donkey have I taken, whom have I oppressed, whom have I mistreated, when have I taken bribes…?” This echoes the statement of Moses, “I never took a donkey from any of them, and I have never wronged any of them” (16:15). The message is that the leaders must always conduct themselves in a clean fashion, and be free of any suspicions of personal motivation.

              The rebellion of Koraḥ immediately followed the declaration of the 40 years of wandering in the desert. The leadership of Moses and Aaron eventually did change, but the time was not yet ripe. Similarly, although King Saul was appointed as king, his kingship failed, and the true monarchy did not take root until the time of David. Leadership is meant to evolve, and the Jewish people were indeed meant to have a king. However, one must always wait for the right time and circumstances for this evolution. In both the Torah portion and the Haftarah, the nation pushed too hard too soon.

              If Rosh Ḥodesh Tammuz coincides with Koraḥ, the regular Haftarah is replaced with that of Shabbat Rosh Ḥodesh.

 

 

Haftarah of Ḥukat

              The Haftarah of Ḥukat comes from Judges 11:1-33. Jephthaḥ led the people in a war against the neighboring nation of Ammon. Jephthaḥ was born of an illegitimate relationship, and was rejected by his family and his society. He flees, and gathers a band of vain men around him. When the threat from Ammon arises, he is recognized as a strongman, and the elders of Gilead ask him to return. He chastises them for chasing him away, but agrees to return when offered the leadership.

              Jephthaḥ sends messengers to the King of Ammon, explaining Israel’s legitimate rights. He quotes the history described in Ḥukat, where the Children of Israel circle Edom and Moab, then ask Siḥon the King of the Ammonites for passage. When refused, the Children of Israel conquer the Land of Siḥon and settle the area. Ammon is now trying to lay claim to the area. Jephthaḥ asserts that Israel had settled that land by Divine right, and had lived there for 300 years. The King of Ammon does not heed Jephthaḥ. Jephthaḥ then leads Israel in battle, and is victorious.

              Although initially rejected by his clan, and then leading a band of vain men, Jephthaḥ displays tremendous knowledge of the history and heritage of his nation. He is a skilled politician and warrior, but fails on a personal level. Toward the end of the Haftarah, he promises Gd that if he returns from battle safely, he will offer the “first to emerge from the doors of my house” as an offering. The story continues following the Haftarah. Jephthaḥ’s daughter was the first to greet her father. Jephthaḥ is distraught, but sees no way around fulfilling his vow. We are unsure if the daughter was offered as a human sacrifice, or – more likely and in accordance with many commentators and our ingrained revulsion to human sacrifice – was locked up as a hermit for the rest of her life. The daughter encourages her father to carry out his vow, as vows are sacred, but requests a two-month reprieve to “weep for her virginity” with her girlfriends. The chapter ends with the girls of Israel establishing a custom to lament with the daughter of Jephthaḥ for four days a year.

              Jephthaḥ’s story reflects the spirit of the times of the period of judges. Great leaders arise, full of pride and commitment. Battles are waged successfully. However, the moral compass of the nation is still undeveloped. Jephthaḥ saved his people, but was wont to make rash vows without foreseeing the consequences. Our tradition tells us that Jephthaḥ could have had the vow annulled by the high priest, but was too proud to do so.

              This Haftarah is replaced by that of Shabbat Rosh Ḥodesh when Rosh Ḥodesh Tammuz falls on this Shabbat. It is skipped when Ḥukat and Balak are joined. This only happens in the Diaspora in years when the Second Day of Shavuot falls on Shabbat.

 

Haftarah of Balak

              The Haftarah of Balak comes from Micah 5:5-6:8. The Haftarah begins with a glowing promise of the glory of the Jewish people in latter days. “The remnant of Jacob shall be like dew from Gd, like raindrops upon the grass… like a lion among the animals of the forest.”  The prophet states that the time will come when Gd will remove all wizards, magic workers and idols. Gd will then take revenge against all the nations of the world.

              In Chapter 6, Gd asks the people, through the mouth of the prophet, in what way He has wronged them. Gd reminds the people of how He redeemed the Children of Israel from Egypt, and sent them Moses, Aaron and Miriam as leaders. The people are asked to recall the plot of Balak, and how Balaam responded. Although the response is not spelled out explicitly in the Haftarah, the implication is that Balaam repeatedly reminded Balak that he could only act with Gd’s permission. From Balaam’s three failed attempts at cursing, it was evident that Gd was not interested in having the Children of Israel cursed.

              Micah then reiterates the common prophetic theme of warning against hypocrisy in Divine service. The people may ask, “How shall I approach Gd and humble myself before the Lrd on High?”  “Perhaps with the finest of sacrifices,” the people muse to themselves. Micah responds, “What is good, and what does Gd want from you, other than to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with Gd.”  As in all other places where the prophets of Israel seem to minimize the importance of sacrifices, this statement is not intended as a repudiation of the service of Gd through rituals acts. The intended meaning is that such rituals lose their meaning and become hypocritical when carried out in the absence of basic human decency and humane behaviour toward one’s fellowman.

 

 

Haftarah of Pinḥas

              The Haftarah of Pinḥas comes from I Kings 18:46-19:21. It is only read in rare years when the fast of the 17th of Tammuz follows Pinḥas. In most years, Pinḥas is the first Torah portion of the Three Weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. The Haftarah of this Shabbat will then be that of the first of the Three Weeks (listed as the Haftarah of Matot).

              This Haftarah describes various episodes in the life of Elijah. Elijah flees for his life, and finds himself in the Negev region of Judea, far from the reach of King Aḥab and Queen Jezebel, who are determined to kill him for having killed the prophets of Baal. Elijah journeys to Mount Sinai, and expresses his frustration at failing at his goal of returning the Children of Israel to Gd. He asks Gd to take his life. In a scene reminiscent of the episode in Parashat Ki Tisa where Gd passes by Moses and declares His attributes, Gd’s Presence passes by Elijah in the same place. Elijah experiences a great wind, but Gd is not in the wind. Then there is the sound of a great earthquake, but Gd is not in the earthquake. Next there is a fire, but Gd is not in the fire. Then, there is a still, thin voice. Unlike the previous three manifestations, there is no mention of Gd not being in the small voice. The message is that the sense of Divine Presence is not always found in cataclysmic events, but that at times it can be sensed in the small, seemingly insignificant, day-to-day realities.

The dramatic event of the fire descending on Mount Carmel had won the people over on a temporary basis, but it is only the constant, persistent delivery of the prophetic message that will endure. This is analogous to the revelation on Mount Sinai, which was followed by the episode of the Golden Calf. The lasting effect was only evident with the passage of many years of life experience.

              Elijah is then instructed to anoint Ḥazael as the King of Aram, Jehu as the King of Israel to replace the house of Aḥab, and Elisha as a prophet. Implicitly, Gd is telling Elijah that he is no longer effective as a prophet. His mission is to be continued by someone who has not been jaded by the frustrations of ministering to a recalcitrant people. Elijah does not yet disappear from the scene.  Within the next several chapters, he grooms Elisha as his disciple and is then swept up to Heaven in a whirlwind. He is morphed from a flesh-and-blood prophet to a mystical, ethereal figure within our tradition.

              The connection to the portion is twofold. Our tradition states that Elijah and Pinḥas are equivalent. Although some take this literally, the more rational interpretation is that they share the same outlook and character. The second connection is the sense of zealotry. At the beginning of the portion, Pinḥas is praised for the zealous act on behalf of Gd, thereby calming Gd’s anger. In the Haftarah, Elijah states that he has been exceedingly zealous on behalf of Gd, but the people were not listening. It is this zeal for Gd that granted Pinḥas the eternal covenant of priesthood, and designated Elijah as the harbinger of the Messiah.

             

 

Haftarah of Matot

              The Haftarah is taken from Jeremiah 1:1-2:3, and includes Jeremiah’s call to prophecy. It is more rightly termed as the Haftarah of the first of the Three Weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. Although officially the Haftarah of Matot, in most years when Matot and Masei are joined, the first Shabbat of the Three Weeks will coincide with Pinḥas, and this Haftarah will be read on that Shabbat.

              As with other prophets, Jeremiah tries to resist the call to prophecy, claiming he is a lad. Gd tells him to refrain from saying such things, exhorts him to fulfill His biding, and promises to protect him from danger. The novice prophet is then shown two images. The first is an almond rod, with the explanation that Gd will hasten to carry out His plans. This is a word play with shaked, which can translate as either almond or hasten. Jeremiah is then shown a boiling pot, with the bubbling stemming from the north. The explanation is that the evil about to befall Israel will come from the north. Gd informs Jeremiah that the kingdoms of the north are about to attack Jerusalem and all the cities of Judea. They will be carrying out Gd’s vengeance against the sinful nation that has abandoned Gd and sacrificed to other gods, the work of their own hands.

              The Haftarah ends with a note of comfort. Jeremiah is asked to call out in the streets of Jerusalem the message that Gd recalls the early faithfulness of the Children of Israel as they followed after Him in the desert. Therefore, the Children of Israel remain holy to Gd, and all nations that attack them will bear their guilt and will eventually meet their own destruction. The verse, “Go forth and declare in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus says Gd, I remember for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal era, when you followed after Me in the desert, in a barren land” is one of the verses of remembrance in the Musaf of Rosh Hashanah. At the outset of the Three Weeks, a prophecy of warning and doom is intermingled with words of comfort and restoration.

 

(See additional notes: Three Weeks of Warning, and Verses of Rosh Hashanah Musaf)

 

 

Haftarah of Masei

              The Haftarah of Masei, the second of the Three Weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, comes from Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4. It is a direct continuation of the Haftarah of the previous week. Although listed as the Haftarah of Masei, in most years it is the Haftarah of the combined portion of Matot-Masei, the two portions that are read together most frequently. This Haftarah is read even when the Shabbat coincides with Rosh Ḥodesh Av. In such years, the first and last verses of the Haftarah of Shabbat Rosh Ḥodesh are appended to the reading.

              The Haftarah continues the theme of the previous week, with Jeremiah reminding the Children of Israel of their sins and the impending destruction. Gd asks the people why they have abandoned Him and worshipped meaningless Gds. Even nations whose Gds are nothingness do not exchange their deities for something else. The people are accused of two evils: of “abandoning their Gd Who is a wellspring of living waters, and for digging broken wells that cannot hold water.” The situation has reached the point where even if the people were to cleanse themselves with an abundance of soap, the stain of their sin cannot be erased. This was indeed borne out in history, where the sincere but very late religious reforms of King Josiah were insufficient to turn the tide and avert the upcoming disaster.

              The people are accused of calling pieces of wood “their father,” and stones as “having given birth to us.”  They are then challenged to call upon their new Gds to save them in their time of trouble. They are reminded that the number of their Gds is like the number of their cities.

              Unlike the Haftarah of the preceding and following week, this Haftarah offers no words of consolation. Therefore, a verse from the third chapter is added, in which Gd implores the people to call out to Him, “My Father, the Lrd of my youthful days.” Sephardim and Ḥabad Hassidim add two additional verses of comfort from the fourth chapter.

 

© 2019 by Jerrold Landau

 

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