Jerrold Landau
Genealogical and Translation Services

Haftarah of Vayikra

The Haftarah of Vayikra comes from Isaiah 43:21-44:23. Gd reminds the Jewish people that He created them so that they could offer His praise. The people are then berated for failing to fulfill this duty and forgetting to bring their sacrifices. The Torah reading covers the laws of the various sacrifices, and the Haftarah serves as a reminder that the Jewish people must fulfil their duties in this regard.

Gd reminds the people that He is the forgiver of their sins, that He is their eternal Gd, and that He will ultimately redeem them. Two of the verses of this Haftarah appear frequently in the Yom Kippur service. Verse 43:25 states: “It is I, it is I Who wipes away your sins for My sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Verse 44:22 states: “I will wipe away your iniquities like a thick cloud, and your sins like a cloud, return to me for I will have redeemed you.” Verse 44:6 is one of the Kingship verses of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf: “Thus says Gd, King of Israel and its redeemer, Gd of Hosts, I am first and I am last, and there is no other god but Me.”

Isaiah takes his accusations one step further. Using the example of blacksmiths and carpenters, he mocks those who use the same raw materials to produce items for their own needs, as well as to produce idols. They then worship these idols, without thinking that the same raw materials were used for their own purposes. Isaiah states that such people strive after ashes, and are misled by their delusions.

Thus, the Haftarah of Vayikra forms an interesting and diverse mix of accusations, reminders to the Jewish people to obey their calling, statements of theological principles, and assurances of redemption.

Although this Haftarah falls during the period of the special Shabbatot surrounding Purim and prior to Pesaḥ, it is read with some frequency. In most non-leap years, the Torah portion of Vayikra falls on the week between Shabbat HaḤodesh and Shabbat HaGadol. In years when Rosh Ḥodesh Nisan falls on Shabbat, there will be no such break week, as Shabbat HaḤodesh will be on Vayikra. In most leap years, Shabbat Zachor will coincide with Vayikra.


(See additional note: Verses of Rosh Hashanah Musaf)



Haftarah of Tzav

The Haftarah of Tzav comes from Jeremiah 7:21-8:3, with the addition of 9:22-23. Like Vayikra, Tzav deals with the regulations of the sacrifices. The Haftarah has a similar theme to that of Vayikra, with the Jewish people being taken to task for failing to live up to their obligations. In the Haftarah of Vayikra, the complaint of Isaiah is that the Children of Israel were failing to bring their sacrifices. The complaint in the Haftarah of Tzav is far worse. The Children of Israel might have been going through the motions of bringing their sacrifices, but they were ignoring the word of Gd through the prophets. In the first verse of the Haftarah, Jeremiah states that they might as well not waste their resources on bringing sacrifices. Rather, they should just eat them as regular meat.

This Haftarah is one of the harshest castigations in the entire Tanach. The people are accused of idolatry and child sacrifice. Therefore, they will be visited with death, and the name of the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, where Molech worship took place, will be changed to the Valley of Murder. Gd will put an end to the sound of joy and mirth within Jerusalem. In verse 34, we hear the well-known words of the marriage blessing, “in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy, the sound of gladness, the sound of the groom and the sound of the bride” – however, here in the negative form. In Chapter 8, we hear that the bones of the kings, priests, and prophets will be removed from their graves and strewn out in the open areas, before the sun, the moon, and all the heavenly legions that they used to worship.

So as not to end on an unpleasant note, the Haftarah concludes with two verses from Chapter 9. People are told not to boast about their wisdom, strength or riches. Rather, they are to glorify themselves through their knowledge of Gd and their deeds of kindness, justice, and righteousness. Incidentally, most of the intervening sections of Chapters 8 and 9, including these final two verses, form the Haftarah of Tisha B’Av morning, and continue with the theme of the upcoming destruction.

This Haftarah is rarely read. In all non-leap years, the Haftarah of Shabbat HaGadol replaces that of Tzav. In leap years, Tzav often coincides with Shabbat Parah, or less often Shabbat Zachor. This unpleasant, dismal Haftarah is only read on those leap years where Tzav is the break week between Shabbat Zachor and Parah.



Haftarah of Shemini

The Haftarah of Shemini comes from II Samuel 6:1-7:17. King David was bringing the Holy Ark to Jerusalem with great celebration. The Ark had no permanent home since it was returned (I Samuel 6) after being captured by the Philistines (I Samuel 4). Its last place of sojourn was at the house of Abinadab of Gibeah. Abinadab’s two sons, Uzzah and Aḥio, guided the wagon upon which the Ark rested. The oxen made an awkward motion, causing the Ark to slip on the wagon. Uzzah stuck out his hand to straighten the Ark, and was struck down as he touched it. The procession was then aborted, and the Ark remained in the home of Obed Edom. This story is analogous to the death of the two sons of Aaron in Shemini. In the Torah, the sons of Aaron did something that contravened Gd’s command. Uzzah, on the other hand, was acting in full innocence, trying to prevent the Ark from falling. Our sages tell us that the Ark is in no need of human protection. One must be exceedingly careful when dealing with a holy object, and the level of care required when dealing with the holiest of all holy objects is great indeed.

The Haftarah continues with the resumption of the procession to Jerusalem three months later, after King David was told that Gd had blessed the home of Obed Edom. During the procession, King David is dancing and leaping wildly before the Ark. His first wife, Michal the daughter of Saul, chastises him for what she considered to be behaviour unbecoming of a king. We are told that Michal had no children to the day of her death. Michal is considered to be a tragic figure among the female personalities of the Tanach. King Saul’s dynasty could have continued in some form through the progeny of his daughter, but this too was not meant to be. We see here the tension between the regal formality of King Saul, who was known to hide from publicity (I Samuel, 10:22), versus the more populist style of King David. This difference of leadership styles often plays itself out in world history.

In the final section of this long Haftarah, King David expresses his desire to build a house for Gd. Nathan the prophet informs the king that this role would be reserved for his son. This section also connects with the Torah portion. Shemini describes the dedication of the tabernacle in the desert, and the Haftarah portrays the first inclination to build the Temple.

In leap years, Shemini generally falls on either Shabbat Parah or HaḤodesh. In non-leap years, Shemini is the first Shabbat after Pesach, when the regular cycle resumes. However, on occasions where Shabbat Shemini is Erev Rosh Ḥodesh Iyar, the Haftarah is replaced with that of Maḥar Ḥodesh, which incidentally also describes events in the life of David. This can only happen in the Diaspora, as it occurs only when the Eighth Day of Pesaḥ falls on Shabbat. In such years, Israel is one Torah reading ahead of the Diaspora until Parashat Beḥukotai, and Erev Rosh Ḥodesh will occur on Tazria-Metzora.



Haftarah of Tazria

The Haftarah of Tazria is taken from II Kings 4:42-5:19. Tazria focuses on the laws of leprosy, and the Haftarah contains a story on that theme. Naaman, the chief of the Aramean army, suffers from leprosy. A captive from Israel who serves as a maidservant to Naaman’s wife advises her that the prophet in Samaria is able to work miracles, and may be able to cure Naaman’s disease. The Israelite maidservant was referring to Elisha.

The King of Aram then sends a letter to Jehoram, King of Israel, the son of the infamous King Ahab, asking him to heal Naaman. Upon receiving the letter, King Jehoram rips his garments, thinking that this impossible request is a plot against him. Elisha takes up the challenge, and advises Naaman to immerse himself seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman mocks this advice, claiming that the rivers of Damascus are far more curative than the Jordan. At the urging of his servants, he tries the recommendation, and it works.

Naaman then accepts the authority of the Gd of Israel. He offers Elisha a reward, which Elisha declines. Naaman requests that he be given some earth of the Land of Israel. He pledges to never serve idols again, but begs understanding for when he will have to accompany his master, the King of Aram, to his idolatrous rites, and bow in the temple of Rimmon. Elisha bids farewell to Naaman with the words “Go in peace.”

In the verses that follow Haftarah, Elisha’s servant Geḥazi is unable to resist the offer of a reward. He follows Naaman and requests the reward. Elisha then reproves Geḥazi for diminishing the power of the miracle, and proclaims that the leprosy of Naaman will now afflict the family of Geḥazi.

The stories of Elijah and his successor Elisha are full of miracles, cures, and even resurrections. One might ask why there are so many private miracles at this point in history. Most miracles recorded in the Tanach, especially those surrounding the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah, were experienced by the entire people. These public miracles were meant to initiate the relationship between Gd and the people of Israel. In contrast, the private miracles during the period of Elijah and Elisha sound somewhat mundane. This period of the Kingdom of Israel marked a low point in belief in Gd. Idols were everywhere. The kings spared no effort to sever the connection between the Israelites and their Gd. It is precisely during this period that the charismatic prophets Elijah and Elisha arose, performing miracles that encouraged the belief and faith of the common folk.

In non-leap years, Tazria and Metzora are always joined, and the Haftarah of Metzora is read. In some leap years, Tazria coincides with Shabbat HaḤodesh. Thus, this Haftarah is only read on leap years where Tazria falls out on the break week between Shabbat HaḤodesh and Shabbat HaGadol.



Haftarah of Metzora

The Haftarah of Metzora is taken from II Kings 7:3-20. It is two chapters after the previous Haftarah of Tazria, and continues with stories from the period of the prophet Elisha. It also contains a theme of leprosy, connecting it with the Torah portion.

The city is under Aramean siege, and the people are starving. Four Israelite lepers are sitting outside the camp.  Realizing that they will be doomed to death in any case, they decide to enter the Aramean camp. They discover that the Aramean army had fled, as Gd had caused them to hear the sound of a great army. The lepers decide to bring this news to the king’s palace. The Israelites then go to the Aramean camp, plunder the material that was left behind, and break the siege.

The prophet Elisha had earlier predicted that the siege would be broken, and that the price of food would decline. Once again, the prophet’s words were fulfilled, strengthening the faith of the people who were still under the rule of the idolatrous kings of the house of Ahab.

Our sages identify these four lepers as Geḥazi and his three sons, who had been cursed with leprosy by Elisha after Geḥazi solicited a reward for his role in curing Naaman’s leprosy (see Haftarah of Tazria). There, Geḥazi had acted out of his own self-interest and was deserving of punishment. Here we see him acting selflessly, with his only concern being the salvation of the Nation of Israel. According to this interpretation, we have witnessed Geḥazi’s rehabilitation. In identifying these lepers as Geḥazi and his sons, our sages were likely trying to highlight the true spirit of the Jewish people. At times, individuals may act out of self-interest and undertake behaviours damaging to the interests of the nation. However, in a moment of extreme challenge, they will instinctively identify with their people and act in a selfless manner.

Although this Haftarah is read in most years, it can be substituted. On most leap-years, Metzora will fall on Shabbat HaGadol. On some regular years, Tazria-Metzora will coincide with Rosh Ḥodesh Iyar. On years when the Eighth Day of Pesach falls on Shabbat and Israel moves ahead one Torah portion for several weeks, Tazria-Metzora can coincide with Erev Rosh Ḥodesh Iyar in Israel only.



Haftarah of Aḥarei Mot

The Haftarah of Aḥarei Mot comes from Ezekiel 22:1-16. According to the Rema commentary on the Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chaim 428:8), this is the Haftarah for Kedoshim. However, aside from rare years where the Haftarot of Aḥarei Mot and Kedoshim are both read, this is of no practical significance.

In the Haftarah, the prophet is asked to pass judgment on the Holy City and inform it of its abominations. The people of Jerusalem are then castigated for bloodshed, idolatry, desecrating the Sabbath, and engaging in sexual immorality. The mention of sexual immorality connects the Haftarah to Aḥarei Mot and Kedoshim.  Both Torah portions enumerate the extensive list of forbidden relations. Like both portions, the Haftarah concludes with the threat of exile as a punishment for sins.

The Mishnah (Megillah 4:10) specifies those Biblical passages that are not to be read or translated publicly. Rabbi Eliezer states that one is not to use “Inform Jerusalem” as a Haftarah. That is not referring to this Haftarah, but rather to Ezekiel 16, which compares Jerusalem to an ungrateful harlot, who has cheated on the husband who had rescued and protected her. Nevertheless, the current Haftarah is likewise considered unseemly, and every effort is made to minimize its public reading in accordance with the following principles:

1. In all non-leap years, Aḥarei Mot and Kedoshim are joined, and the Haftarah Halo Kivnei Kushiim is read. This is listed in this book as the Haftarah of Kedoshim. For those who consider it to be the Haftarah of Aḥarei Mot, an exception is made to the general principle of using the Haftarah of the second Torah portion on a week with a double portion.

2. In many leap years, either the Haftarah of Aḥarei Mot or Kedoshim will be displaced. Aḥarei Mot can fall on Shabbat HaGadol or Erev Rosh Ḥodesh Iyar, and Kedoshim can fall on Rosh Ḥodesh Iyar. In all such cases, the Haftarah of Halo Kivnei Kushiim is read on the non-special Shabbat, whether that be Aḥarei Mot or Kedoshim.

In summary, both regular Haftarahs will only be read on leap years where neither Shabbat falls on any of the special days listed above. In such years, the ordering of the two Haftarahs will depend on custom.



Haftarah of Kedoshim

The Haftarah of Kedoshim comes from Amos 9:7-15. At nine verses, this is the shortest of all the Haftarot. Officially this is the Haftarah of Aḥarei Mot. However, the other Haftarah is considered unseemly and is displaced as frequently as possible (see Aḥarei Mot). Therefore, this Haftarah is read on the double portion of Aḥarei Mot-Kedoshim in regular years, and on either Aḥarei Mot or Kedoshim in leap years where one of the Haftarahs is displaced for any reason.

Amos notes that the Children of Israel are no different than any other nation, which go into exile and move from place to place as circumstances change. The sinful nation is told that it will be removed from its land, but that Gd will not utterly destroy the House of Jacob. This forms the connection to both Torah portions, which threaten expulsion from the Land as the consequence of immorality.

The Haftarah then continues with a promise of comfort and restoration. Gd will eventually restore the fallen tabernacle [Sukka] of David. This verse that has been incorporated into the Grace after Meals for Sukkot. Days will come when the bounty of the Land will be so plentiful that the harvester will meet the reaper, and the treader of grapes will meet the person who brings the seeds. A full restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land is promised.

Although both the Haftarot of Aḥarei Mot and Kedoshim foretell exile as a punishment for sin, it is only this Haftarah that paints the picture of restoration, hope, and recovery. One can readily see why it is chosen as the preferred Haftarah for either of the two portions.



Haftarah of Emor

The Haftarah of Emor comes from Ezekiel 44:15-31. Emor opens with the laws of the priests, and the Haftarah outlines the regulations of the priests during the Third Temple of the Messianic era. The final chapters of Ezekiel present a detailed picture of the construction of the Third Temple, protocols of government, and the borders of the tribes and the city of Jerusalem of the future. The Haftarot of Tetzaveh and HaḤodesh also come from this section of Ezekiel.

Aside from their role in Temple ritual, the priests are also depicted as teachers and judges. They are to uphold a high moral and religious standard. Some of the regulations outlined in this section of Ezekiel seemingly contradict the laws of the Torah. For example, according to the Torah, regular priests are prohibited from marrying divorcees, but are allowed to marry widows. Ezekiel expands this restriction by prohibiting a priest from marrying the widow of a non-priest. The contradictions in this section of Ezekiel gave rise to the Talmudic debate regarding whether the Book of Ezekiel should have been included in the Tanach. Some sages have attempted to resolve the contradictions. Others have stated that it is best to leave them in abeyance until the Messianic era. In this case, Ezekiel is strengthening a preexisting Torah prohibition for a period where a higher level of spirituality is expected, rather than uprooting a Torah law.

The opening verse of the Haftarah refers to the priests as descendants of Zadok. Zadok was one of the two chief priests who served during the time of King David, the other being Eviatar. Eviatar, who had been with David since his early years, was eventually dismissed from his position by King Solomon for his role in the uprising of Adonijah. This fulfilled the opening prophecy of Samuel, who predicted that the descendants of Eli would no longer serve as priests. It also restored the role of High Priest to the descendants of Pinḥas, the grandson of Aaron who was blessed by Gd with “an eternal covenant of priesthood” (Bamidbar 25:12). The vision of Ezekiel reaffirms this covenant for the future era.

It is notable that in his portrayal of the priesthood of the Messianic era, Ezekiel hearkens back to a priest from the period just prior to the construction of the First Temple. Although Ezekiel lived through the period of the decline and ultimately the destruction of the First Temple, he was granted visions of the grandeur and splendor of the Messianic era. These prophetic visions have served as a source of comfort and hope for the Jewish people during their long exile.



Haftarah of Behar

The Haftarah of Behar is taken from Jeremiah 32:6-27. The time of the destruction of the First Temple is approaching, and Gd tells Jeremiah that his cousin Ḥamanel will come to him to redeem a field. Ḥamanel comes as predicted. Jeremiah purchases the field, signs the document, and preserves the deed in an earthenware vessel. Jeremiah then prays to Gd, contrasting Gd’s promises from olden times to the current reality with Jerusalem under siege. Under such circumstances, he asks Gd for the meaning of the purchase of the field and the signing of the documents. Gd’s terse response, with which this Haftarah concludes, is “I am the Gd of all flesh, is anything too difficult for Me?”

The verses preceding this Haftarah indicate that this episode took place in the tenth year of the reign of King Zedekiah. This would place the story approximately one year before the destruction of the Temple. These verses indicate that Jeremiah was in jail at the time, having been imprisoned by King Zedekiah for predicting the destruction of the land and the deportation of the king.

On the surface, the connection with the Torah reading is obvious. Behar outlines the laws of redemption of the land, and the Haftarah presents a historical case where such a redemption took place. On a deeper level, the Haftarah reinforces the theme of hope even in times of destruction. The Torah states (Lev. 25:18) that if the Jewish people keep the laws relating to the land, they will live securely on the Land. Behar does not explicitly outline the opposite situation – the threat of exile if these laws are not kept. That is left for the following portion, Beḥukotai, which outlines the punishments in detail, and ties them to the non-observance of the Sabbatical Year. However, the implicit implication is certainly present. The Haftarah takes us to the period in history when the foreshadowed exile is about to occur. It reinforces the message that there is hope even in times of despair. As is often the case in the prophetic messages of doom, the Haftarah reaffirms that the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people will unfold positively.

Outside of Israel, this Haftarah is only read on leap years, when Behar and Beḥukotai are split. When they are doubled up on regular years, only the Haftarah of Beḥukotai is read. In Israel, Behar and Beḥukotai are also split in regular year when the Eighth Day of Pesach occurs on Shabbat. In a leap year, where Behar and Beḥukotai are split in any case, the discrepancy of Torah portions between Israel and the Diaspora due to the extra festival day will persist until Matot-Masei.



Haftarah of Beḥukotai

The Haftarah of Beḥukotai, or of Behar-Beḥukotai when doubled, is taken from Jeremiah 16:19-17:14. The Torah reading contains the reproof [tochacha] – one of two sections of the Torah graphically outlining the curses and punishments that will ensue from non-observance of the Torah. The Haftarah also deals with reproof. Jeremiah states that the sin of Judea is inscribed with an iron pen, engraved on the hearts of the people as well as the altar itself. A curse is pronounced on people who trust in man rather than Gd. Such people will be like a lone tree in an arid desert, with nobody to help. Following that curse, the person who trusts in Gd is blessed. Such a person will be like a tree on the banks of a river, which can withstand heatwaves and droughts, and which will always be fruitful. It is worthy of note that whereas the Torah pronounces the blessings before the curses, the Haftarah outlines the curse first, and concludes with the blessing.

The verse “Blessed is the person who trusts in Gd, and who makes Gd his security” has been incorporated into the closing section of the Grace After Meals. There is no area of life where trust in Gd is more necessary than in the pursuit of one’s livelihood and ensuring one’s daily sustenance. The concluding verse of the Haftarah is also well-known from our daily prayers: “Heal me, oh Gd, and I will be healed, save me and I will be saved, for You are my praise.”  This verse, changed from the singular to the plural, forms the opening of the blessing for healing in the weekday Shmone Esrei. This concluding verse of the Haftarah can be regarded as a plea and an assurance of healing and restoration from the maledictions that had just been somberly pronounced in front of the congregation.


(See additional note on Amida and Kedusha service.)


© 2019 by Jerrold Landau


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