Jerrold Landau
Genealogical and Translation Services

Haftarah of Shemot

              The Haftarah of Shemot consists of Isaiah 27:6-28:13, with the addition of the two verses 29:22-23. This Haftarah is read according to Ashkenazic custom. Sephardim read the opening chapter of Jeremiah, which consists of Jeremiah’s call to prophecy. This parallels Moses’ call to prophecy in the Torah portion. The Haftarah from Jeremiah is read by all on the first of the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. See entry on Matot for commentary.

              In the Haftarah, Isaiah foresees a time when the people of Israel will take root in their land. In the most famous verse, 27:13, the prophet describes the final ingathering of the exiles. “On that day, a great shofar will be sounded, and those that are lost in the Land of Assyria and displaced in the Land of Egypt will return, and bow down to Gd on the Holy Mountain in Jerusalem.” This verse is included in the Musaf service of Rosh Hashanah.

              The reference to the redemption of the exiles from Egypt forms the connection to the Torah portion. However, the terms Assyria and Egypt can also be interpreted homiletically. The word Ashur [Assyria] can mean “riches,” and the word Mitzrayim [Egypt] can mean “straits.”  (Incidentally, Egypt is given a name referring to “straits” because the habitable area consists of a very narrow band around the Nile River.)  According to the homiletical interpretation, the Jewish people lost to assimilation in the lands of comfort as well as those persecuted in the lands of tribulation will eventually come together to bow down to Gd in the restored city of Jerusalem.

              In Chapter 28, Isaiah focuses on the present situation in the Northern Kingdom, accusing the people, including the priests and the prophets, of perverting justice. In a shockingly graphic portrayal, Isaiah states that “all the tables are filled with vomit and filth, with no clean place.” However, there is hope, as the young children remain teachable. If they are taught “line by line command by command, a bit here, and a bit there,” they can be trained to follow the word of Gd. The final two verses of the Haftarah call on the sons of Jacob not to shame their father, but rather to let him see them sanctifying the name of Gd.

 

(See additional note: Verses of Rosh Hashanah Musaf)

 

 

Haftarah of Va’eira

             The Haftarah of Va’eira is taken from Ezekiel 28:25-29:21. In this Haftarah, Ezekiel predicts the upcoming destruction of Egypt during the latter period of the Kingdom of Judea. Pharaoh is compared to a great sea monster who feels that he owns all the rivers, and claims that he himself has created them. That sea monster will be caught and cast into the wilderness. Egypt will be destroyed. It will lay desolate for 40 years and its people will be scattered. The destruction will spread from Migdol-Sveneh (modern Aswan) until the Ethiopian border. After 40 years, Egypt will be restored as a lowly kingdom.

             Both the Torah portion and Haftarah deal with the destruction of Egypt, albeit at different times in history. In both, the country is attacked by plagues, and the haughty king is humbled.

             Toward the end of the Haftarah, a second prophecy states that Egypt will be given over to Nebuchadnezzar (here called Nebuchadrezzar), the King of Babylon. Both prophecies are referring to the same event. This Haftarah is part of a series of chapters of Ezekiel in which the prophet predicts tribulations that will afflict the peoples of Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, Egypt, Assyria, Elam, Meshech and Tubal. Although the primary message of all prophets is intended for the People and Land of Israel, both Ezekiel and Jeremiah direct a series of prophecies toward the neighboring lands. The Haftarah of the following Torah portion, Bo, from the analogous section in Jeremiah, also predicts the downfall of Egypt.

             As with many Haftarahs, the Haftarah of Va’eira ends by foreshadowing the ultimate triumph of Israel. On the day of the downfall of the other nations, the House of Israel will be vindicated, and everyone will know that the Gd of Israel is the true Gd.

             On years when Rosh Ḥodesh Shvat falls on Shabbat, this Haftarah is replaced by that of Rosh Ḥodesh.

 

 

Haftarah of Bo

              The Haftarah of Bo is taken from Jeremiah 46:13-28. In Bo, the final three plagues are visited upon Egypt, ending with the slaying of the first-born and the Exodus. The Haftarah predicts a later destruction of Egypt by King Nebuchadnezzar (here called Nebuchadrezzar) of Babylon. This Haftarah is analogous to the section of Ezekiel chosen as the Haftarah of the preceding Torah portion, Va’eira.

              This is the first of a series of prophecies in which Jeremiah predicts the downfall of Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Elam, and Babylon. The list is similar to but not equivalent with the list of nations scrutinized by Ezekiel. In both series of prophecies, only the prophecy against Egypt is used as a Haftarah. Isaiah also has series of prophecies against neighboring countries, including Babylon, Moab, Damascus, and Egypt, but none are used as Haftarot.

               All prophecies recorded in the Tanach have meaning that extends beyond the immediate present. The message of this Haftarah is that the Children of Israel can rely only on Gd to neutralize their enemies. It may not happen immediately, but it will eventually happen. The final verse states, “Do not fear, my servant Jacob – says Gd, for I am with you, and I will destroy all the nations where I have scattered you, but I will not destroy you…”  This Haftarah also offers a reflection on the political climate of the times. The Kingdom of Judea was weakening, and Babylon was becoming the dominant world power. Feeling the threat, the Kingdom of Judea felt the need to ally itself with Egypt. The prophets were warning the Children of Israel to rely on Gd rather than on any nation.

              Ultimately Nebuḥadnezzar destroyed the Kingdom of Judea, and led the Children of Israel into exile. Nebuḥadnezzar also defeated Egypt. Several decades later, Babylon fell to the Persians, and the Children of Israel returned from exile. Nebuḥadnezzar and Babylon disappeared from the world scene, but Israel lived on.

              The Pharaoh of the time, Pharaoh Necho, had killed King Josiah, the final righteous king before the destruction of the Temple. Pharaoh Necho had wanted to attack Babylon, and asked Josiah for permission to march through Judea. Jeremiah urged Josiah not to oppose Pharaoh Necho. Josiah ignored the request, and went out with his army to stop Pharaoh Necho. He was killed in this campaign at the young age of 39. A series of weak kings followed, and the destruction of Judea took place 22 years later. In this Haftarah, the downfall of Pharaoh Necho is predicted. Those who rise up against the Children of Israel will ultimately be destroyed.

              The words “Do not fear, my servant Jacob” resonate as the Haftarah concludes. This fragment of a verse forms the refrain of one of the liturgical hymns of the post-Shabbat Melaveh Malka meal. As the calm of Shabbat ends, we take this message of hope with us as we prepare to confront the challenges of the coming week.

 

 

Haftarah of Beshalaḥ (Shabbat Shira)

            The Haftarah of Beshalaḥ is taken from Judges 4:4-5:31. At 52 verses, it is the longest Haftarah of the year. In some customs, Chapter 4 is skipped, and only the song of Chapter 5 is read.

             This Haftarah consists of the story of the prophetess Deborah, and Israel’s victory over the army of Jabin, King of Canaan. Deborah summons Barak of the tribe of Naftali to lead the battle. The final victory occurs when Jael the Kenite offers Sisera, the head of the Canaanite Army, milk and wine to lull him to sleep, and then drives a tent peg into his head. Deborah and Barak sing a song of praise over the victory. This song forms the connection to the Torah reading, where the Song of the Sea is the central motif.

             The song of Deborah poetically rehashes the story of the battle. Deborah praises the tribes that joined the battle, and spares no words to reprimand those that did not. Jael praised for her role in securing the victory. At the poetic climax, the stars in the heavens are pictured as joining the war. In the final verses, we are presented with the image of the mother of Sisera peering through the window, anxiously awaiting her son’s return from battle, and wondering why it is taking so long. She muses that he must be busy dividing the spoils. From the letter count of these words, our sages deduce that Sisera’s mother uttered 100 wailing sounds as she was waiting. The customary number of 100 shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah is derived from this unlikely source. Perhaps this is meant to teach us that the pain of a bereaved mother, even a wicked one, still touches the heart and arouses feelings of empathy.

            Deborah is recognized as one of the primary female Biblical heroines. The story of Deborah stands out as a high point in the Book of Judges, which spans a period of religious immaturity in the history of Israel. With judges such as Samson, who consorts with Philistine women; Jephthaḥ, who utters a rash oath that causes irreparable damage to his family; and the idol of Micha and the concubine of Gibeah at the end of the book, we get the impression that the Book of Judges marks the adolescent, rebellious period of the Children of Israel. The period of the judges is between the early, high period of Moses and Joshua, and the more stable and mature spiritual situation under the Prophet Samuel, the early kings, and the great prophets. The story and song of Deborah is a welcome breather amid the general spiritual turmoil of this period of history.

            The Shabbat of Beshalaḥ is known as Shabbat Shira on account of the Song of the Sea. The minor holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the mid-winter harbinger of the upcoming spring, falls out on the week of Beshalaḥ, and at times even on Shabbat Shira itself.

 

 

Haftarah of Yitro

             The Haftarah of Yitro comes from Isaiah 6:1-7:6, with the addition of 9:5-6. Chapter 6 consists of the call to prophecy of Isaiah, which would have been expected in Chapter 1, but was deferred to Chapter 6.

              Isaiah sees a vision of Gd sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. The angels are reciting the praise “Holy, holy, holy is the Lrd of Hosts; the entire earth is filled with His glory.”  The compilers of the prayer service incorporated this verse into central points of the daily prayers. We humans praise Gd in the manner of the angels. It is interesting to note that the angels are urging each other to recite the praise. They are not trying to take the honor for themselves.

             One of the angels then touches Isaiah’s mouth, and Gd issues the call to prophecy. Like Moses, Isaiah first attempts to deflect the call, claiming that he is a “person of impure lips living among a nation of impure lips.” The angel touches Isaiah’s lips with a pair of hot tongs from the altar, declaring that his sins have been forgiven. The call is then repeated, and Isaiah accepts the mission. He asks how long the mission will last, and receives a very vague answer, implying that it will last a lifetime.

              The Torah portion includes the splitting open of the Heavens, so to speak, so that the Children of Israel can hear the voice of Gd directly for the one and only time in history. Isaiah’s initiation to prophesy also includes a peek into the Heavenly spheres, although on an individual rather than a public basis. The initiation to prophesy via a splitting open of the Heavens is repeated with the Prophet Ezekiel, with a glimpse at the Throne of Gd and the celestial workings. By no coincidence, these two calls to prophecy serve as the Haftarot for Yitro and the First Day of Shavuot respectively, when the Torah Reading includes the giving of the Ten Commandments.

              Chapter 7 returns us to more mundane events of the time, as the Northern Kingdom of Israel joins with Aram to wage war against Jerusalem. Isaiah is instructed to go with his son Shear-Jashub to meet King Aḥaz and assure him that his enemies will not be successful in their campaign.

              Since Chapter 7 ends with a theme of war, two verses of comfort from Chapter 9 are appended to the Haftarah. A prediction is given that a child will be born who will be called “Wonderful in Council is the Mighty Gd, the Eternal Father and Prince of Peace.” Within the context of the chapter, this verse is referring to King Ḥezekiah, the son of Aḥaz, who will have a successful rule and will lead a significant religious revival. The use of symbolic names is a frequent feature of the Book of Isaiah. The name of Isaiah’s son, Shear-Jashub, seen earlier in this Haftarah, means “the Remnant will return.” Many Biblical names contain references to attributes of Gd. For example, the name of the Prophet Isaiah means “Gd Will Save.” The lengthy, flowery name used to predict the birth of Ḥezekiah in this Haftarah is an elaboration of this naming style.

 

(See additional notes: Amida and Kedusha Service, Christian Missionary Use of Biblical Proof Texts)

 

 

Haftarah of Mishpatim

               The Haftarah of Mishpatim is taken from Jeremiah 34:8-22, and ends with two verses from the previous chapter, 33:25-26.

               In this Haftarah, King Zedekiah, the final king of Judea before the destruction of the Temple, issues a call for the people to free all slaves. This is in observance of the Torah law that prohibits keeping a Hebrew slave beyond six years. This law appears at the beginning of Mishpatim, and forms the connection between the Torah reading and the Haftarah.

              Shortly after the freeing of the slaves, the people recanted and took back their slaves. Jeremiah chastises the people for their insincerity, paraphrasing the Torah law from Mishpatim. He then predicts the imminent downfall of the kingdom. He states that since they did not call for freedom of their slaves, Gd will render the people of Judea “free” for the sword, plague, and famine. Within a few years, the Temple is destroyed, and the remaining people of Judea are exiled to Babylon. King Zedekiah is captured and taken into exile. He is forced to watch his children being killed, and then his eyes are put out.

              As is usual with a Haftarah with dire predictions, words of comfort are added. Since the main body of the Haftarah contains an unmitigated negative message, the two verses of comfort are taken from a previous chapter. This represents an unusual reversal of chronological order for a Haftarah, but is logical within the historical context. The Haftarah predicts the captivity, and the final verse foreshadows the eventual return from captivity.

              This Haftarah is rarely read. In most non-leap years, Shabbat Shekalim, the first of the four special Torah portions surrounding Purim, falls on Mishpatim. Even in leap years, when the four portions do not begin until several weeks later, Mishpatim can coincide with either Erev Rosh Ḥodesh Adar I or Rosh Ḥodesh Adar I, either of which displace the regular Haftarah.

 

 

Haftarah of Terumah

                The Haftarah of Terumah is taken from I Kings 5:26-6:13. The Torah portion describes the construction of the tabernacle [mishkan] in the desert, and the Haftarah describes the construction of the Temple by King Solomon.

                 Solomon assembled a workforce of 30,000 men. They were sent to Lebanon in a three-month rotation of 10,000 men a month to cut the wood needed for the construction. In addition, there were 70,000 porters and 80,000 quarry workers to undertake the massive construction effort.

              Only two chronological references are given for the period between the entry of the Israelites to Canaan and the era when they were ruled by kings. One is in this Haftarah, when we are told that the building of the Temple took place in the 480th year after the Exodus. The other is in the Book of Judges, where Jephthaḥ states that the Israelites had been living in the area beyond the Jordan for 300 years (see Haftarah of Ḥukat). We have a more precise view of the later biblical timeline, as the Tanach records the length of the reign of each king, up to the destruction of the Temple and the exile to Babylon 410 years after the building of the Temple. (Note: although we are given the length of rule of each judge in the Book of Judges, a definitive chronology cannot be established.) 

              The dimensions of the Temple are then given. In keeping with the law of the Torah, we are told that no iron implements were used in the construction of the Temple (Exodus 20:25). From this arose the tradition of the shamir – the mystical worm that can cut through stone. Finally, Gd informs King Solomon that Gd’s presence will endure among Children of Israel if they follow the commandments.

              In non-leap years, Terumah falls during the period of the four special Torah portions. In most such years, the Haftarah is read, as Terumah usually falls in the week between Shabbat Shekalim and Shabbat Zachor. It will be displaced if Terumah coincides with either of those two Shabbatot. In leap years, this Haftarah will be read unless Rosh Ḥodesh Adar I falls on this Shabbat.

 

 

Haftarah of Tetzaveh

              The Haftarah of Tetzaveh is taken from Ezekiel 43:10-27. In the latter chapters of Ezekiel, the prophet is given visions of the Third Temple, and the rituals to be observed during the Messianic period. Not all details correspond with the Torah laws. A body of rabbinic literature exists that tries to reconcile the visions of Ezekiel with the laws of the Torah.

              The first part of the Haftarah focuses on the dimensions and construction of the altar. This form one of the connections with the Torah portion, which describes the golden altar used for the daily incense offering. The Haftarah commands a seven-day purification ceremony after the construction of the altar, to be performed prior to using the altar for the regular sacrifices. This too connects with the Torah portion, which describes the seven-day dedication ceremonies of the tabernacle. The ceremonies described in the Torah and the Haftarah are not equivalent. The Torah focuses on the dedication of the priests, whereas the Haftarah focuses on the dedication of the altar. The commonality is that some form of initiation ceremony is needed before the regular service can begin.

              The terminology used by Ezekiel to describe the future altar is fascinating. At one point, it is called the Harel [mountain of Gd], and later in the same verse, it is called the Ariel [lion of Gd]. Since different measurements are given for each, these two terms apparently refer to different parts of the alter. Interestingly, the term Ariel is also used in Isaiah 29:1, where it refers to the city of Jerusalem.

              The Book of Ezekiel begins with a vision of the presence of Gd departing from the Temple. The final chapters of Ezekiel deals with the restoration of the presence of Gd in the Messianic future. Like Isaiah, the Book of Ezekiel begins with destruction and ends with comfort.

              In most non-leap years, Shabbat Zachor will fall on Tetzaveh, and the regular Haftarah will be displaced. In leap years, this Haftarah will always be read.

 

 

Haftarah of Ki Tisa

              The Haftarah of Ki Tisa is taken from I Kings 18:1-39. Baal worship has become prevalent in the Kingdom of Israel under the reign of King Aḥab and Queen Jezebel. Elijah the Prophet appears on the scene to promote a return to the true Gd. Elijah is Aḥab’s nemesis in many ways.

              At the beginning of the Haftarah, Elijah asks Obadiahu, the director of Aḥab’s household, to announce to his master that Elijah is coming to speak with him. Obadiahu is a Gd-fearing man, and is afraid to arouse Aḥab’s wrath. After receiving assurance from Elijah, he embarks on his mission. When Elijah and Aḥab meet, they exchange insults. Elijah orders Aḥab to gather together the entire nation at Mount Carmel for a showdown between the prophets of Baal and Elijah.

             At Mount Carmel, the 450 prophets of Baal are given the opportunity to prove themselves by bringing down a fire from heaven. They call out to Baal from morning till afternoon, with no results. The Midrash states that some of them even hid under the altar to start a fire, but Gd sent snakes to kill them. Elijah mocks them publicly, “Call out in a loud voice, for he is a god! Perhaps he is engaged in conversation, chasing his enemies, or going to the bathroom. Maybe he is asleep and needs to be awakened!”

             Elijah’s turn comes late in the afternoon. He repairs the altar of Gd, and places wood and a bull upon it. To magnify the miracle, he asks that water be poured onto the offering. He calls out to the Gd of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and a fire immediately descends, consuming the offering along with the altar. The entire gathering declares “Hashem is Gd! Hashem is Gd!” 

             Although the Haftarah ends with this high note, further on [See Haftarah of Pinḥas] we see that the change of heart was not long lasting, and that the people reverted to idolatry. We will learn in that Haftarah that it is not cataclysmic events that have a lasting effect on the human spirit. Rather, it is the “still, small voice” (19:12) – the less showy but more constant, day to day life experiences.

            In Ki Tisa, the Children of Israel build the Golden Calf just 40 days after the Giving of the Torah. Gd is ready to destroy the people, but Moses intercedes. The destruction is averted, and a slow rehabilitation ensues. In the Haftarah as well, the people revert to idolatry, and Elijah tries to return them to the correct path.

           In the most non-leap years, Ki Tisa will coincide with Shabbat Parah, displacing this Haftarah. This Haftarah will always be read in a leap year. There are two Haftarahs that deal with the story of Elijah – Ki Tisa and Pinḥas. The Haftarah of Ki Tisa is not read every year, and the Haftarah of Pinchas is one of the rarest of all Haftarot. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the Haftarah of Shabbat HaGadol, we are reminded annually that Gd will send Elijah the Prophet back to earth to announce the Messianic era.

 

 

Haftarah of Vayakhel

                The Haftarah of Vayakhel is taken from I Kings 7:40-50, and is equivalent with that of the second Shabbat of Ḥanukah. Both the Torah reading and the Haftarah describe the construction of the holy vessels: Vayakhel for the tabernacle and the Haftarah for the Temple. It is interesting to note, that the vessels do not overlap completely. The basic vessels prescribed in the Torah, including the ark, the altars, the table, and the menorah, are present in the Temple. In addition, there were extra lavers, a very large basin called the “Yam” [the Sea], ten menorahs, and other adornments in the Temple, which was much larger than the tabernacle.

                 The construction of the vessels of the Temple was carried out by Ḥiram, who is sometimes referred to in the Tanach as Ḥirom. The beginning of the chapter, which is used as the Haftarah by Sephardim and Ḥabad Ḥasidim, notes that Ḥiram was the son of a widow from the tribe of Naftali. His father had been a man of Tyre. Ḥiram is described in a similar fashion to Bezalel and Oholiab, the builders of the tabernacle. All are described as skilled craftsmen imbued with wisdom, insight and knowledge.

                This Ḥiram is not to be confused with Ḥiram, King of Tyre, who entered into an alliance with King Solomon. In the trade agreement, King Ḥiram provided King Solomon with building materials for the Temple in exchange for food commodities.  It is fascinating to note that the Ḥiram selected to construct the holy vessels for the Temple is not of pure Jewish lineage, and that the materials used for the Temple did not originate in the Land of Israel. Perhaps the message here is that the Temple is to be considered a “house of prayer for all nations.” (See Haftarah of public fast days).

                The Haftarah of Vayakhel is rarely read. It is never read in a non-leap year. In most non-leap years, Vayakhel and Pikudei are joined, so the Haftarah would either be that of Pikudei or of the special Shabbatot of Parah or HaḤodesh. In rare non-leap years when Vayakhel and Pikudei are split, Vayakhel will invariably be Shabbat Parah. In most leap years, Vayakhel will coincide with Shabbat Shekalim. Thus, this Haftarah is read only on those non-leap years where Shabbat Shekalim occurs on Pikudei.

 

 

Haftarah of Pikudei

                The Haftarah of Pikudei comes from I Kings 7:51-8:21. The Temple was completed, and King Solomon brought to the Temple treasury all the items that his father, King David, had dedicated. Since King David’s reign was marked with warfare, he did not merit having the Temple built in his lifetime. Nevertheless, by dedicating materials, he was able to participate vicariously. King Solomon then summons all the leaders of Israel together to bring the Holy Ark to the Temple and conduct a dedication ceremony.

                 There are many connections between the Haftarah and the Torah reading. The Haftarah records the placing of the holy vessels in the Temple, as does the Pikudei with the tabernacle. In verse 9, a reference is made to the fact that the two stone tablets were placed in the Holy Ark by Moses in the desert after the Children of Israel had left Egypt. This act is originally recorded in Pikudei.

                 In Pikudei, Moses blesses the people upon the conclusion of the construction of the tabernacle, as does King Solomon in the Haftarah upon the conclusion of the construction of the Temple. The dedication of any sanctuary calls for a blessing to those who donated toward it, who participated in its construction, and whose prayers and aspirations will be expressed within it.

                 The Haftarah ends with King Solomon thanking Gd for having been given the opportunity to fulfil the aspirations of his father. As in any dedication ceremony, the master of ceremonies recalls those whose ideas and deeds were instrumental in carrying out the task, but who did not witness the conclusion of the work.

                The regular Haftarah of Parashat Pikudei is rarely read. It is never read in a non-leap year. When Vayehkel and Pikudei are joined, the Shabbat will either be Shabbat Parah or HaḤodesh. In rare non-leap years where Vayakhel and Pikudei are separate, Pikudei will be Shabbat HaḤodesh. In some leap years, Pikudei will either be Shabbat Shekalim or Zachor. Therefore, this Haftarah will only be read in those leap years where Parashat Pikudei is the break week between Shekalim and Zachor. In an uncanny resemblance to the rare Haftarah of Vayakhel, this Haftarah is also read on a different occasion. All but the first three verses form the Haftarah of the Second day of Sukkot in the Diaspora. This is because the convocation called by King Solomon to dedicate the Temple was immediately followed by Sukkot.

 

© 2019 by Jerrold Landau

 

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