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Haftarah of First Day of Rosh Hashanah

               The Haftarah of the first day of Rosh Hashanah comes from I Samuel 1:1-2:10. We read about Elkanah, and his two wives Ḥannah and Peninah. Ḥannah, the favourite wife, is childless, whereas Peninah has borne several children. During their annual family visit to the Sanctuary of Shiloh, Ḥannah prays for a child, and is blessed by the High Priest Eli. Samuel is born to Ḥannah within the following year. After a few years, Ḥannah dedicates the young Samuel to Gd. He becomes the assistant to Eli, and later, one of the greatest prophets of Israel. The Haftarah concludes with Ḥannah’s song of thanksgiving.

               The connection between Rosh Hashanah and childless women is very strong. Our sages tell us that Sarah, Raḥel, and Ḥannah were all answered on Rosh Hashanah. The birth of Isaac to Sarah is the theme of the Torah reading of the First Day of Rosh Hashanah, and the Haftarah deals with the birth of Samuel to Ḥannah.

               The three major themes of Rosh Hashanah are Malchuyot [the kingship of Gd], Zichronot [Gd’s memory], and Shofarot [the blowing of the shofar]. It is interesting that both the Torah reading and Haftarah of the first day of Rosh Hashanah focus on the Zichronot aspect of the day – Gd’s concern for the pain of childless women. In fact, in the Rosh Hashanah prayers, the day is termed Yom Hazikaron, also stressing the aspect of Gd that is close and approachable to human beings.

               Rosh Hashanah is, first and foremost, a day of intense prayer. The Haftarah connects with this aspect of Rosh Hashanah. Ḥannah is depicted as praying fervently but silently, moving only her lips. Eli mistakes her for a drunkard. Ḥannah responds that she is no drunkard, but rather a woman with a sorrowful spirit who is pouring out her heart to Gd. It is from Ḥannah that we learn the concept of silent prayer, recited in a whisper with only the lips moving. This mode of silent prayer has become the normative mode of Jewish personal prayer, as epitomized by the silent Amida recited daily. On the paradigmatic day of prayer, we read about the inventor of our primary mode of prayer.

             The Haftarah concludes with the song of thanks uttered by Ḥannah as she dedicated her son to the service of Gd. It is easy to approach Gd when we have difficulties. When things are going well, it can be more difficult for us to give thanks to Gd. Ḥannah teaches us the art of thanking Gd, another important lesson for Rosh Hashanah, or indeed for any time.

 

(See additional notes on Verses of Rosh Hashanah Musaf, and Amida and Kedusha Service.)

 

 

Haftarah of Second Day of Rosh Hashanah

              The Haftarah of the second day of Rosh Hashanah comes from Jeremiah 31:2-20. It portrays the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people and their return to the Land of Israel. In this sense, it is an echo of the Haftarot of the seven previous Shabbatot, known as the Shabbatot of comfort following Tisha B’Av.

              The connection of the Haftarah to Rosh Hashanah comes from the final six verses, which depict Mother Raḥel weeping for her children. Raḥel defined herself, some might say over-defined herself, by her ability to have children. She begged her husband Jacob to give her children, “or I’ll die” (Genesis 30:1). When she finally had a child – and by tradition she too was remembered on Rosh Hashanah – she named him with the wish to have a second child. When that wish was finally granted, she died in childbirth. The death of Mother Raḥel is one of the most moving passages of the Torah. Raḥel’s Tomb in Bethlehem continues to be a place of pilgrimage for those who bear pain and agony in their hearts – and who does not find themselves in anguish at one point or other in life?

               The tribes of Israel have gone into exile, and the Prophet Jeremiah depicts Raḥel rising from her grave to weep bitterly for her children, “who are no more.” Verse 14 begins, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.” Gd then assures Mother Raḥel that her efforts were not in vain, and that her children will “return to their borders.”  Our sages debate as to whether Ramah refers to a geographical location, or translates as “on high.” Both interpretations are valid.

               The Haftarah concludes with the poignant verse, “Is not Ephraim my darling son, a child of delights? For whenever I speak of him, I continue to remember him. Therefore, my innards yearn for him, and I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lrd.” This verse is included in the Zichronot blessing of the Musaf service of Rosh Hashanah. The terminology “my innards” is an unusual choice of words. It represents an innate, deep-seated yearning.

               A central theme of Rosh Hashanah is Teshuva [repentance]. This theme is prominent in the Haftarah. As Gd reminisces about Raḥel’s descendants, He muses, “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning, You have punished me and I was chastised, like an untrained calf. Turn to me and I will return, for you are the Lrd my Gd. After I turned back, I repented, and after I confessed, I struck my thigh; I am ashamed and embarrassed, for I bear the disgrace of my youth.” The kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, such as Jeroboam, Omri, and Aḥab, were among the greatest idol worshippers in Israelite history. Yet, at the end of days, Gd is ready to forgive the errant tribes after they repent.

               Who can listen to this emotion-laden Haftarah being read on the emotion-packed day of Rosh Hashanah, just prior to the sounding of the shofar, and not be moved to the core?

 

(See additional note: Verses of Rosh Hashanah Musaf.)

 

 

Haftarah of Yom Kippur Shaḥarit

 

              The Haftarah of Yom Kippur morning comes from Isaiah 57:14-58:14. Gd is described as both “High and exalted, dwelling forever…” and “Who dwells with those of crushed and lowly spirit.” The Talmud (Megillah 31a) uses this verse to show that everywhere that one finds reference to the greatness of Gd, one also finds reference to His humility. Gd is simultaneously lofty in the Heavens, and accessible to His created beings on earth. The Haftarah then states that although He does not wish to remain angry forever, there will be no peace for the wicked.

               The latter section of the Haftarah discusses the characteristics of a fast day. The people wonder why Gd does not respond to their fasting. Gd informs them that if they wish to have their voices heard, they must “Untie the bonds of wickedness, set the oppressed free,” share their bread with the hungry, bring the poor into their homes, clothe the naked, and not hide from their own flesh. Lest one think that a true religious revival rests solely on the fulfilment of the interpersonal commandments, the prophet reminds the people about the need to observe Shabbat and honour Gd. In discussing Shabbat observance, the prophet warns specifically against conducting one’s business on the holy day, and wasting time by speaking of mundane topics. Neither are prohibited by the Torah; but both are integral to the preservation of Shabbat as a day of holiness.

               The true religious personality is careful about treating his or her fellow properly, is responsive to the suffering of the disadvantaged; and is simultaneously meticulous in observing the commandments between man and Gd. A balance must be sought between nurturing one’s connection with one’s fellow and with one’s Creator. One without the other results in a deficiency in the religious persona. The same message is stressed in the Haftarah of the other fast days, where Shabbat observance is singled out as the defining ritual in a Jew’s relationship with Gd. It is interesting that Shabbat observance is also the sole ritual commandment mentioned in the Ten Commandments.

               Those who are honorable in all aspects of their relationships with Gd and man are promised, “Then you shall have delight with Gd, and I will bring you through the high places of the land, I will sustain you with the heritage of your father Jacob, for Gd has spoken.” This is a comforting thought on the holiest day of the year, when we abstain from food and drink, and devote ourselves to repairing our relationships with Gd and our fellow human beings.

 

 

Haftarah of Yom Kippur Mina

               The Haftarah of Yom Kippur Minḥa consists of the Book of Jonah, with the addition of Micah 7:18-20. Yom Kippur is the only Yom Tov that has a Haftarah both in the morning and the afternoon. The morning Haftarah is based on its status as a festival, and the afternoon Haftarah is based on its status as a public fast day. Yom Kippur is the only day on the calendar that is simultaneously a Yom Tov and a public fast day.

               In the first chapter, Jonah tries unsuccessfully to flee from his Divinely ordained mission. The message is that it is futile to escape from Gd. The second chapter consists of Jonah’s heartfelt prayer from the belly of the whale. This shows that even in a seemingly hopeless situation, the proper reaction is to turn to Gd in sincere supplication. Gd can reverse hopeless situations. In the third chapter, we see a sinful nation heeding the call of the prophet, turning to Gd in prayer and repentance. The repentance of Nineveh is accepted. The message here, most appropriate for Yom Kippur, is that sincere repentance is effective even for severe transgressions.

               In the fourth chapter, we see Jonah upset about the repentance of the people of Nineveh. He is so upset that he asked Gd to take away his soul. He leaves the city and suffers from heatstroke. Gd summons a gourd to shelter him. The gourd withers away the next day, and Jonah again suffers from the heat and asks to die. Gd states that Jonah seems so concerned about a gourd with a one-day lifespan, but shows no concern about the 120,000 people of Nineveh, who do not know their right from their left.

               The purpose of the fourth chapter is difficult to comprehend. On the surface, it can be seen as unnecessary to the story. Our sages tell us that Jonah prophetically realized that the Assyrians (Nineveh being the capital of Assyria) were destined to destroy Israel 56 years later. Jonah realized that the destruction of Nineveh might forestall the destruction of Israel. He felt that he was acting in Israel’s best interest by evading the Divine call. Gd teaches the lesson that one must be concerned about the wellbeing of all of humanity, not just one’s own group. Furthermore, one is not to question the Divine command, for Gd’s logic supersedes human calculations. We humans never have the full picture. Even if Nineveh would have been destroyed, Gd would have other ways of destroying Israel.

               The three concluding verses from Micah, also added to the Shabbat Shuva Haftarah, remind us that Gd forgives sin and overlooks our iniquities. The lessons of the Book of Jonah together with the comforting reminder from Micah, provide us with valuable thoughts as the holy day moves toward sunset, and we aspire to be sealed in the Book of Life.

 

 

Haftarah of First Day of Sukkot

               The Haftarah of the First Day of Sukkot comes from Zechariah 14:1-21. This Haftarah describes the cataclysmic battle that will take place in Jerusalem at the End of Days. Here, this war is not termed the “War of Gog and Magog.” The Haftarah of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Sukkot, which deals with the same theme, does identify the invading enemy as Gog.

               Zechariah describes a time when all the nations will come to Jerusalem to wage war. Gd Himself will fight against the onslaught. The Mount of Olives will split, creating a valley through which the fleeing refugees can pass. Living waters will spring forth from Jerusalem. The evening of that day will be so bright, that it is described as “not day and not night.”  One of the concluding hymns of the Pesaḥ Seder includes that verse, when we ask Gd to “Bring near the day that is neither day nor night.”

               We conclude the Aleinu prayer with the verse from this Haftarah, “Gd will be the King over the whole Land, on that day Gd will be one and His Name will be one.” One can ask: Is not Gd always one and his Name one? The answer is that Gd cannot always be clearly perceived during the muddled period of the current world. Gd’s actions can appear contradictory. In the Messianic era, when world history draws to its conclusion after the denouement of the War of Gog and Magog, humanity and nature will live in peace and harmony, and all illusory contradictions will resolve. Gd will be perceived by all creatures as a single, unified force of good. This verse is also one of the kingship verses of Rosh Hashanah Musaf.

               The Haftarah notes that during that era, all nations that survive the cataclysm will come up to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Sukkot. Those nations that do not come to celebrate the festival will not receive rain. Sukkot has always been regarded as a universal festival. The 70 bulls offered in the Temple are deemed to serve as an atonement for the nations of the world. The Talmud (Avodah Zara) describes the time when the nations of the world will complain to Gd that they were never given the chance to perform commandments and earn reward. Gd will then give them the commandment of Sukka, but a heatwave ensues, when people would be exempt from sitting in the Sukka. (According to Jewish Law, if sitting in the Sukka becomes uncomfortable due to rain, heat, or any similar circumstances, one may return to the house.) The gentiles kick the Sukka as they leave it. Gd becomes upset at their attitude. When one leaves the Sukka due to discomfort, one should do so with regret rather than anger. This Talmudic story exemplifies the universalistic aspect of Sukkot, and is based on this prophecy of Zechariah. The abundance of holy days that we experience in Tishrei lead us toward an anticipation of the ultimate spirituality of the Messianic era.

 

(See additional note: Verses of Rosh Hashanah Musaf.)

 

 

Haftarah of Second Day of Sukkot

               The Haftarah for the Second Day of Sukkot comes from I Kings 8:2-21. This Haftarah is only read in the Diaspora. This is the same Haftarah that is used for Pikudei, although the Haftarah of Pikudei is prefaced by three additional verses. The Haftarah of Pikudei is rarely read due to the fact that Pikudei frequently coincides with the Four Portions.

               This Haftarah deals with the dedication ceremony of the Temple. We are told that this ceremony took place on the Sukkot festival in the seventh month. Sukkot is referred to as HeChag – “the Festival” without any adjective. Sukkot is the only one of the Shalosh Regalim that is called Chag without any additional modification. The seventh month is referred to by its Biblical name Yerech HaEitanim rather than Tishrei. The names of the months that we currently use stem from the post-exilic period. We know of the Biblical name of several months from various verses of the Tanach.

               Although the Haftarah specifies that the dedication ceremony took place on Sukkot, we know from I Kings 8:65 (not part of any Haftarah) that the ceremony itself took place in a seven-day period preceding Sukkot. It was followed immediately by the observance of Sukkot – forming a fourteen-day period of consecutive celebration, followed by a concluding day on Shemini Atzeret. This poses an obvious problem, as Yom Kippur would fall during the dedication ceremony. The commentators offer several theories to explain this situation. One theory is that the dedication ceremony did indeed proceed on Yom Kippur, but everyone fasted on that day. Another theory claims that Yom Kippur was cancelled for that year. Rada”k presents both theories, whereas Rashi presents only the second one. The conundrum remains unanswered, similar to the three-day fast of Esther cancelling out the Seder night prior to the execution of Haman.

 

For additional commentary on the content of the Haftarah, see the entry for Pikudei.

 

(See additional note on Four Special Portions.)

 

 

Haftarah of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Sukkot

               The Haftarah of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Sukkot comes from Ezekiel 38:18-39:16. It deals with the War of Gog and Magog that precedes the advent of the Messianic Era. The Haftarah of the First Day of Sukkot, from Zechariah, also deals with the pre-messianic wars. Zechariah does not identify the aggressors, whereas the prophecy of Ezekiel, at the beginning of chapter 37, identifies the enemy as Gog from the Land of Magog, the chief of Meshech and Tubal. Magog, Meshech, and Tubal are all sons of Japheth, son of Noaḥ. Although the identity of these nations cannot be verified exactly, they are considered paradigmatic of the enemies who will attack Israel during the pre-Messianic period. The past century has seen the destruction of a full third of our people during the Shoah. Could this upheaval have been the War of Gog and Magog? Such a proposition is not beyond realm of possibility.

               In Jewish tradition, the transition to the Messianic Era is not necessarily expected to be smooth. One Talmudic sage states that he hopes that the Son of David will come, but does not want to be present when he arrives. On a more comforting note, Kabbalistic tradition tells us that the enjoyment of the three Sabbath meals offers protection from three tribulations: the birth pangs of the Messiah, the judgment of Gehinnom, and the War of Gog and Magog.

               The war will be so fierce that the prophet predicts that it will take the Jewish people seven months to bury the dead attackers. The corpses will be buried in a valley called The Valley of the Masses of Gog. Our sages have said that the invaders from the Land of Magog merited an honourable burial as a reward for their ancestor Japheth treating his father Noaḥ with respect after he became drunk. On the day of the victory, Gd’s Name will be sanctified in the world. Ezekiel states, “My Name will be magnified and sanctified.” The opening words of the Kaddish prayer, recited numerous times during the daily prayer services, come from this verse.

               On Sukkot, when we turn our thoughts to spiritual pursuits, it is fitting to read the prophecies relating to the advent of the Messiah and the resolution of all the worldly ills. On Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Pesaḥ, we read of the resurrection of the dry bones, and on Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Sukkot, we read of the ultimate Jewish victory in the pre-Messianic wars.

              It is interesting to note that, on this Shabbat, the Haftarah focuses on the End of Days. On the upcoming Shabbat, Shabbat Breishit, the Haftarah will focus on the creation of the world. As with the weekly Torah portions, which conclude on Simchat Torah and then immediately restart, the Haftarot have gone through a cycle which will recommence on Shabbat Breishit.

               When the first day of Sukkot falls on Shabbat, there will not be a Shabbat during Ḥol HaMoed, and this Haftarah will not be read. As this can happen two years in a row, there can be a three-year gap between the reading of this sobering Haftarah.

 

(See additional note: Gog and Magog)

 

 

Haftarah of Shemini Atzeret

               The Haftarah of Shemini Atzeret comes from I Kings 8:54-9:1. This Haftarah is only read in the Diaspora.  In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is observed together with Simḥat Torah, so the Simḥat Torah Haftarah is read. This differs from all other Yamim Tovim, where the second day Torah reading and Haftarah are omitted in Israel.

               The Haftarah deals with the dedication of the First Temple by King Solomon. It follows the events of the Haftarah of the Second Day of Sukkot. After Solomon’s prayer of dedication, he blesses the nation effusively. The observance of the Sukkot holiday follows the seven-day dedication period. On the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret, King Solomon dismisses the people. They return to their homes happy and of good heart on account of all the good that Gd has done to David His servant and Israel His nation. Before leaving, the people bless their king. Our tradition states that even though the people were formally dismissed on the eighth day, they did not depart until the Yom Tov concluded.

               The theme of blessing is appropriate for Shemini Atzeret. We are now at the conclusion of an intense period of spiritual observances that has lasted for nearly a full month. The period opens with the fear and trepidation of Divine judgment in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah, and concludes with warm-hearted, good feelings on Shemini Atzeret and Simḥat Torah. The Torah reading of Simḥat Torah records the final blessings of Moses before his death. The Haftarah of Shemini Atzeret records the king’s blessing of the nation, and the nation’s return blessing to the king. It is our custom on these Yamim Tovim to raise a cup in toast (with moderation of course). We wish our friends well, and solidify the intense spirituality of the previous weeks. We leave the autumn holiday period with the taste of goodwill, camaraderie, friendship and trust that reinforces the spiritual growth of the Yom Tov season, and will carry us through the long winter to come.

 

 

Haftarah of Simḥat Torah

              The Torah portion of Vezot Habracha is read on Simḥat Torah. See the commentary of Vezot Habracha.

 

 

Haftarah of the First Day of Pesaḥ

               The Haftarah of the First Day of Pesaḥ is taken from Joshua 3:5-7, 5:2-6:1, and 6:27. Many communities skip the verses from the third chapter. The verses from the third chapter are from just before the miraculous splitting of the Jordan River and the crossing into the Land of Israel. Gd tells Joshua to prepare the people for the next day when miracles will occur. This is reminiscent of the crossing of the Red Sea 40 years earlier.

               The Haftarah resumes in the fifth chapter with the command to circumcise the people, as the rite of circumcision had not been observed throughout the 40 years in the desert. Then, the Children of Israel observe the first Pesaḥ in the Land of Israel. Our tradition tells us that the Pesaḥ offering had not been observed during the sojourn in the desert other than in the first year. The commandments of circumcision and Pesaḥ are connected on many levels. Unlike any other commandment, being circumcised is – for a male – a prerequisite for being able to eat the Pesaḥ offering. Both commandments have a connotation of blood. Circumcision and the Pesaḥ offering are the only two positive commandments that incur the severe punishment of excision [karet]. Both also have developed a connection with the Prophet Elijah. We pour a cup of wine and open the door for Elijah at the Seder night, and we reserve as special seat for Elijah at the circumcision ceremony.

               The Haftarah continues with Joshua meeting the angelic captain of Gd’s hosts, who commands Joshua to remove his shoes, as he is standing on holy ground. This is reminiscent of the events at the burning bush, when Moses was given his charge to take the Jews out of Egypt. The Haftarah concludes with a verse indicating that Gd was with Joshua and his renown had spread throughout the land.      

               On Pesaḥ night, we drink four cups of wine in commemoration of the four expressions of redemption used by the Torah: “And I will take you out from the oppression of Egypt,” “I will save you from slavery,” “I will redeem you,”  “I will take you unto Me as a people” (Exodus 6:6-8). There is a fifth expression for which we pour an additional cup but do not drink from it: “I will bring you into the Land.” In the Haftarah of the first day of Pesaḥ, the morning after the Seder, we read about the fulfilment of this fifth expression of redemption. The band of slaves, redeemed from Egypt 40 years earlier –  according to tradition at the 49th level of impurity [tumah] – has been forged into a nation, received the Torah, proudly crossed the Jordan River, and is now ready to begin the conquest of the Land.

 

 

Haftarah of the Second Day of Pesaḥ

               The Haftarah of the Second Day of Pesaḥ comes from II Kings, 23:1-9, 21-25. It is only read in the Diaspora. On the first day, we read about the first Pesaḥ observed by the Children of Israel after they entered the Land of Israel. The Haftarah for the second day describes a Pesaḥ observed toward the end of the first Jewish Commonwealth, 35 years before the destruction of the First Temple. King Josiah became king at the age of eight, following the 57-year period of his wicked father and grandfather, during which time the Torah was practically forgotten in Israel. After a Torah scroll was found in the Temple and read to the young king, he spurred a religious revolution, clearing the land of idolatry and restoring the worship of Gd. Unfortunately, this revolution did not last long, as King Josiah was killed in battle at the age of 39, after failing to heed the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, who counselled him to avoid confronting Pharaoh Necho of Egypt. A series of weak kings followed, and the destruction of the Temple took place 22 years later.

               The Haftarah describes the public gathering at which the Torah is read before the people, and an agreement is made to uphold the Torah. The king commands the High Priest Ḥelekiah to remove the idolatrous vessels from the Temple, and to destroy the idols throughout the land. The priests who had corrupted themselves with Baal worship are dismissed from their positions. Following the cleansing of the land, the king instructs the people to observe Pesaḥ in accordance with the laws of the Torah. This Pesaḥ took place in the 18th year of the reign of Josiah. The Haftarah tells us that such a widespread observance of Pesaḥ had never taken place since the days of the Judges. There had never been a king who returned to Gd with such sincerity, and no other king like Josiah arose again.

                The Tanach tells us of several Pesaḥ observances at critical junctures throughout Biblical history. The Torah describes the first Pesaḥ observed in Egypt, and the Pesaḥ observed in the desert one year later. The book of Joshua describes the first Pesaḥ observed upon entry into the Land of Israel. In the Book of Kings, we hear of a Pesaḥ observed by King Ḥezekiah as well as that of Josiah. The Book of Ezra describes the Pesaḥ observed by the returning exiles. In Jewish history, just as within our own lives, the observance of Pesaḥ is an annual constant, through times of comfort and oppression, in our national homeland and throughout the Diaspora, in poverty and in wealth. The Seder is often one of the last vestiges of Jewish observance remaining with those whose connection to their heritage is fraying. The annual commemoration of the national origins of our people is one of the prime threads that has held our people together for over three millennia.

 

 

Haftarah of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Pesaḥ

               The Haftarah of Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed Pesaḥ comes from Ezekiel 37:1-14. This Haftarah contains the famous vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones. When Gd asks Ezekiel to predict whether the bones can be revived, he responds that only Gd Himself knows. After a command issued by Ezekiel at Gd’s behest, the bones grow flesh, sinews and skin, but remain lifeless. After a second command from Ezekiel, the bones are given a spirit and are fully revived. Gd then informs Ezekiel that these bones are symbolic of the People of Israel, who may feel hopeless and abandoned, but will ultimately be renewed and restored to their Land.

               Ezekiel is not a passive bystander to this vision. Rather, he is prompted by Gd to issue predictions and commands at each stage. As is typical throughout the book, Ezekiel is referred to as “Son of Man.” The Son of Man is asked to participate with Gd in the resurrection of the dry bones. Yet, the Son of Man looks on in seeming disbelief as the unbelievable becomes reality.

              The two-stage revival of the bones is reminiscent of the Exodus, where the physical redemption of Pesaḥ was followed by the spiritual redemption of Shavuot. The resurrection of the dry bones may also be a foreshadowing of the future redemption, which may come in stages rather than as a single cataclysmic event. We cannot know for sure at this point in history, as we will only be able to perceive the fullness of redemption in retrospect. We hope and pray that the founding of the State of Israel is a significant step along this process, which will culminate with the advent of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple.

              This Haftarah is not read on years when the First Day of Pesaḥ falls on a Saturday or Sunday, as there is no Shabbat Ḥol HaMoed in such years. Since there are occasions when Pesaḥ occurs on a Saturday two years in a row, three years can elapse between readings of this Haftarah.

 

 

Haftarah of the Seventh Day of Pesaḥ

              The Haftarah of the Seventh Day of Pesaḥ comes from II Samuel, 22:1-51. In the Torah, we read the song that Moses and the Children of Israel sang after the crossing of the Red Sea. The Haftarah is the song that King David sang when he was saved from his enemies. This same song, with minor changes, is repeated in Psalms 18. When Ha’azinu is not Shabbat Shuva, this Haftarah is read for that portion, which also consists of a song.

               King David suffered from many difficulties in his life. He was pursued by King Saul, and during his reign he fought against the surrounding nations. He struggled with his own inclinations, and after his indiscretion with Bathsheba, King David suffered from revolts within his own family and the deaths of several of his children. It can be said that he did not have a moment of peace in his life. Yet he is known to us as the Sweet Singer of Israel.  (This phrase comes from the following chapter of II Samuel.) The prayers of the suffering and struggling King David, as recorded in the Book of Psalms, form the basis of the prayers of the Jewish people throughout all generations, during times of personal and national challenge, as well as during times of contentment and thanksgiving.

               King David begins by calling Gd his rock, fortress, and rescuer. There is no Gd but Gd. Gd has taught King David how to conduct battle, but has also provided the shield to protect him. Therefore, King David feels the need to thank Gd before all the nations. The Haftarah concludes with a verse that is included in the Grace After Meals: He is a tower of salvations to His king, and does kindness to His chosen one, to David and his descendants forever. This is the version of the verse that is used on Sabbaths and Festivals. On regular days, we use the version appearing in Psalms: Gd performs great salvations to His King…

               On a day dedicated to the Song of the Sea, it is fitting that the Haftarah consists of a song of thanksgiving. Even though the day is marked by songs of thanksgiving, in deference to the suffering of our enemies, we diminish our joy somewhat by reciting the Half Hallel. In Pirke Avot (4:19), we are warned against rejoicing at the fall of our enemies. Of course, one can offer thanksgiving for salvation, but one should not gloat over death and destruction. Although warfare was a necessary evil in the establishment of his kingdom, King David was told that he could not build the Temple, as he had experienced too much bloodshed in his own lifetime. King David would have preferred to sing a song of tranquility rather than a song of victory. However, when the course of his life made such a song necessary, he was at no loss for words.

 

 

Haftarah of the Eighth Day of Pesaḥ

             The Haftarah of the Eighth Day of Pesaḥ comes from Isaiah 10:32-12:6. This Haftarah connects to Pesaḥ in several ways. The opening verses allude to the sudden downfall of the Assyrian Army as it was poised to destroy the Kingdom of Judea during the reign of King Ḥezekiah. In the historical version of the story in II Kings 19, we are told that 185,000 troops of the Assyrian Army were struck down by a plague in the middle of the night. Our sages tell us that this deliverance took place on Pesaḥ night. Two hymns toward the end of the Seder mention this miraculous deliverance.

               Chapter 11 segues from the past deliverance to a graphic depiction of the Messianic age. The messianic ruler, a scion of Jesse, will be imbued with fear of the Lrd. He will judge with righteousness, and not be swayed by hearsay. Conflicts within the animal kingdom will resolve, as “the wolf dwells with the lamb, the leopard lies with the kid, and the calf, young lion, and ox are all led by a young child.” “There will be no more destruction and pain in Gd’s holy mountain, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lrd.” The various tribes of the Jewish People, as exemplified by Judea and Ephraim, will cease antagonizing each other. There is no more appropriate message for the conclusion of Pesaḥ than an outlook toward the Messianic era. Our sages state that on Pesaḥ we were redeemed, and on Pesaḥ we will ultimately be redeemed. After spending a week pondering the founding of our people, it is natural that we look beyond the often difficult present toward the glorious future era.

               The Eighth Day of Pesaḥ is not an entity unto itself. Like any additional Diaspora festival day, it is an extension of the previous day. Although it sounds awkward, the day is really the second day of the Seventh Day of Pesaḥ. As such, the themes of the splitting of the Red Sea and the Song of the Sea remain relevant. Both are alluded to in this Haftarah. The Prophet Isaiah states that on the day of redemption, Gd will once again destroy the Sea of Egypt, splitting it into seven streams so that the returning exiles can cross while wearing their shoes. On that day, just like on the day of the crossing of the Red Sea, the Jewish People will sing a song of thanksgiving to Gd, marking their deliverance and return to Zion. Several verses of this brief song have made it into the Havdalah service. One of them, “And you shall draw water with joy from the wellsprings of salvation,” has become a popular song with several different melodies.

               This Haftarah is not read in Israel. Due to the strong allusions to the ultimate redemption, it has been selected as the Haftarah for Yom Ha’Atzmaut in Religious Zionist circles (see entry for Yom Ha’Atzmaut).

 

 

Haftarah of First Day of Shavuot

               The Haftarah of the First Day of Shavuot comes from Ezekiel 1:1-28, with the addition of 3:12. This is the opening prophesy of Ezekiel, consisting of the vision of the Divine Chariot [Merkava]. It describes the four Living Creatures [Chayot] surrounding the chariot, the structure of the chariot, and the sound of the motion of the angels. It portrays the glory of Gd atop the chariot, surrounded by glittering electrum. At the conclusion of the vision, Ezekiel falls on his face and hears the sound of Gd’s voice. The final verse, from two chapters later, consists of the praise of the angels, “Blessed is the glory of Gd from His place.”  This verse is incorporated in the daily Kedusha prayer.

               This Haftarah is analogous to the Haftarah of Yitro. On Shavuot, the Torah Reading consists of the events at Mount Sinai and the declaration of the Ten Commandments by Gd. On Yitro, those two chapters are read as part of the annual Torah reading cycle. These Haftarot deal with the initiation of two of the three major prophets:  Isaiah at Yitro, and Ezekiel at Shavuot. Each initiation is accompanied by a glimpse into the celestial realm, reminiscent of the glimpse into the Divine realm experienced by the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Unlike the initiation of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the initiation of the third major prophet, Jeremiah, is not accompanied by such a celestial vision. Both Haftarot also include a verse of angelic praise, which the composers of Jewish liturgy incorporated into the daily prayer service.

               The Mishnah (Megillah 4:10) states that one is not to use the Merkava as a Haftarah. Rabbi Yehuda permits it, and we follow his view. Although the traditional Biblical commentators offer commentary on this section, no human can truly understand the true meaning. It is surely anthropomorphic and symbolic. The Kaballah attempts to make sense of these images of the celestial realms, but few are those who can even attempt to comprehend the essence. On the other hand, everyone hearing this Haftarah on Shavuot can sense a feeling of the grandeur of the Divine – albeit, and perhaps even because, it is shrouded in mystery.

               In the following chapters, Ezekiel describes the presence of Gd on the chariot departing from Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the Temple. Thus, the lofty description of the chariot of the first chapter of Ezekiel is a prelude to destruction and exile. This does not detract from the splendour of the vision. Although the Jews have endured destruction, exile, expulsions, torture, inquisitions, pogroms, and the Shoah, we have survived everything and continue to gather at Shavuot to reenact the grand event that started our people on our spiritual mission throughout history.

 

(See additional notes: Electrum and Chashmal, Amida and Kedusha Service.)

 

 

Haftarah of Second Day of Shavuot

            The Haftarah of the Second Day of Shavuot comes from Ḥabakkuk 2:20-3:19. This Haftarah is only read in the Diaspora. The prophecy of Ḥabakkuk covers three chapters, and is one of the books of the Twelve Minor Prophets [Trei Asar]. This is the only section of Ḥabakkuk used as a Haftarah.

               In the first chapter, Ḥabakkuk questions Gd regarding the tribulations suffered by the Children of Israel. Gd responds in the second chapter that these tribulations are due to the sins of the people, and are well deserved. The third chapter, comprising this Haftarah, is Ḥabakkuk’s prayer upon hearing Gd’s reasoning.

              The prayer is introduced with the term “Regarding Shigyonot”. Shigayon is one of the mysterious terms used in Psalms that may refer to a musical directive. The term Selah, frequently used in Psalms, also appears in the prayer of Ḥabakkuk. The prayer ends with a directive to the orchestra, as is frequent in Psalms. Some interpretations translate Shigyonot to be referring to errors (Shgiya is the Hebrew word for an error). According to this interpretation, Ḥabakkuk is acknowledging his error of judgment in questioning Gd’s ways.

               Ḥabakkuk describes the powerful might of Gd, and begs Him to be merciful even during His time of anger. In verse 3, he refers poetically to the giving of the Torah, hence forming the connection to Shavuot. This verse is similar to Deuteronomy 33:2, where Moses, in his final words to the Children of Israel, also reminisces about the giving of the Torah. Ḥabakkuk poetically portrays Gd’s anger, and moves on to describe Gd’s salvation for Israel. Ḥabakkuk is affirming that one cannot judge Gd’s deeds through any individual period of history. One can only do so with the retrospective of the entire journey of the Jewish people throughout history. Ḥabakkuk, like people of faith throughout the ages, struggled with the question of good and evil, and reached the conclusion that a full understanding of such is beyond one’s comprehension.

               A liturgical poem, Yetziv Pitgam, is inserted into the Haftarah after the second verse. This is the only poetic insertion made into any Haftarah, and it is analogous to the Akdamut preface to the Torah reading of the First day of Shavuot. On the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, we adorn our reading of the scriptures, both Torah and Haftarah, with liturgical hymns. Like Akdamut, Yetziv Pitgam is written in complex Aramaic. The poet asks that the Living King (Gd) always protect the nation that prays to Him. The nation should be blessed with fertility, abundant crops, and the ability to survive its enemies. These are wonderful thoughts for the Yom Tov on which we reflect on the events that initiated the role of the Jewish People as guardians of the Torah, as we reaffirm our commitment to continue on as faithful upholders of Gd’s word.

 

© 2019 by Jerrold Landau

 

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