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The Weekly Haftora Archives
- Bereshis


Noach

"Why do you weigh out your silver without receiving bread, your energies without receiving sustenance? Listen to me and you shall feast well, and your soul will delight in delicacies." (Isaiah 55:2)

Rabbi Meir Leibish Malbim (1809-1879) explained this passage as follows: Toward the end of the first Temple era, the people began increasingly to seek direction from false prophets, who prophesied in the name of idols. These prophets would demand top dollar for their services and, having received their payment, would mouth platitudes which did nothing to satiate the spiritual hunger within the people's hearts.

Hashem asks the people, "Why do you give of your money to hear these words, which in the end will leave you with nothing to show for the effort? Heed instead the words of my prophets, whose call you will find echoed within your own hearts. The ideas they express, and the G-dly service they ask of you, represent an achievement which you will truly experience with a sense of fulfillment."

Today we don't encounter any false prophets, of course. Yet all too often, we find ourselves expending our precious energies on the "false idols" which are found thin our own lifestyles. If we filled our lives instead with Torah and mitzvos, we would surely find the experience infinitely more enriching.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Vayerah

A woman, the wife of one of the prophet's disciples, cried to Elisha, "Your servant, my husband, has passed away. You know that your servant was a G-d-fearing man; and now the debtor has come to take my two children as slaves." (2 Kings 4:1)

How was the woman so certain that Elisha knew that her husband had been a G-d-fearing man?

Answers the Ralbag, Rabbi Levi ben Gershom: she was certain, because in fact every single one of the prophets' disciples was a G-d-fearing individual.

Let us examine this idea.

In a number of places in Scriptures, we find that each of the great prophets had a group of students studying under him, learning to attain prophecy. What did their discipline consist of?

For one thing, they would meditate upon the greatness of Hashem, to try to become close to Him and experience His presence. (See Maimonidies, Yesode Hatorah 7:1.) But hand in hand with that, the aspiring prophet would work upon his own character traits and his own spiritual identity, endeavoring to perfect himself to the point where he would become a worthy receptacle for the Divine spirit. In a passage in the Talmud (Avoda Zara 20b), Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair outlines the step-by-step system in aspiring to self-perfection that one must climb, bit by bit, until he may be worthy of the Divine spirit (Ruach Hakodesh).

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the great eighteenth-century scholar, wrote an entire work, Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Upright), in which he elaborates in detail on each of the steps in Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair's system. This volume has become a classic in the sturdy of ethics, perused by countless people who strive to better themselves.

Prophecy was not, Heaven forbid, an occult science. Rather, each and every one of the prophets' discriples was a living Messilas Yesharim--and it was this that prepared him for the prophetic experience!

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Chayei Sarah

"His father had never reprimanded him, saying, 'Why have you acted thus?'" (I Kings 1:6)

The haftorah recounts the story of King David's son Adoniyahu, who attempted in David's old age to usurp the throne for himself. We are told that there had been a problem with Adoniyahu's upbringing. His father, David, had never reprimanded him for his misdeeds; had never said, "What have you done?"

The Chida (Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, leading eighteenth-century Sephardic scholar) notes that the verse does not use the present tense: "What are you doing?" Certainly, when David caught Adoniyahu in the act of doing wrong, he stopped him immediately. The point of the verse is that if the misdeed had already been committed, David allowed bygones to be bygones and trusted that Adoniyahu would act properly in the future. He felt that Adoniyahu's instinctsand judgement were sound and could be trusted. Eventually, when Adoniyahu's instincts told him that he was the most fitting successor to David, he trusted himself and didn't question his own judgement.

I once heard an explanation from Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon on the verse (Proverbs 22:6), "Educate your child according to his way; then when he grows old he will not depart from it." This verse, said Rabbi Solomon, teaches us about the importance of constantly educating, always attempting to learn more about one's own capabilities and responsibilities. If we inculcate this habit into our children when they are yet young, it will become a way of life with them. Then even when they are old, they will not depart from this constant process of self-examination.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Toldos

In this week's haftorah, the prophet Malachi complains bitterly about the people's disdainful attitude toward the Temple service. He describes how they would offer blind sacrifices, or animals that were lame or sick. They held the Altar of Hashem in contempt. And he cries in the name of Hashem: Who among you will close the doors, so that my Altar will not be kindled in vain!

What is surprising about this is that in Malachi's time, the Temple had not been in continuous existence for centuries, when over time the people might have become disdainful of it. Rather, Malachi prophesied right near the beginning of the Second Temple. The Temple and its service were yet new to the Jews, and the excitement and the clamor of the Inauguration still sounded in their ears. How could they have tired of it so quickly?

To understand this, we must take note of a basic distinction between the First and Second Temples. Although the Jews, after a seventy-year period of exile, were able to return to their land and rebuild the Temple, nevertheless we are taught that the Second Temple was not a true replacement of the First: it was in fact of a markedly lower spiritual quality. Whereas in the First Temple, the Divine Presence was openly perceived by all who entered, in the Second Temple the Divine Presence was in a state of concealment. It was there, to be sure. But those who served in the Temple were not able to sense it and be invigorated by it.

At such a time, when the priests who serve in the Temple fail to see their efforts bear fruit, there is a grave danger. Gradually they, along with the people, may lose their excitement in the service of the Divine, until eventually the service is performed by rote in a mechanical fashion. And indeed, the prophet saw this happening before his very eyes. What might rekindle the enthusiasm of the people? And is there a lesson here for us?

The solution is offered by the prophet Malachi himself. "Remember the Torah of Moshe My servant, which I commanded unto him at Horeb." (Malachi 3:22) If we put our efforts into studying the Law, in becoming fluent in it and learning its meaning, then we shall never be in danger of neglecting it and stooping to mere mechanical observance of its details.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Vayetzei

"Assyria will not save us, on horses we shall not ride; and no longer will we call the work of our hands, 'our God.'" (Hoshea 14:4)

"On horses we shall not ride"--Why not?

In Chapter 30 of Isaiah, there is a lengthy passage in which Hashem chastises the people of Israel for turning to Egypt for succor instead of looking to their Creator. "For so said Hashem ... in placidity and ease shallyou be saved, in peace and tranquility shall be your might. But you did not desire this. And you said, 'No! We will instead flee on horses.'" (ibid., verses 14-15) Egypt was a great military power, and its might lay in the splendid Egyptian horses for which they were world-renowned. The people of Israel had made a pact with them, and they placed their trust in the Egyptian military might and in the strength and speed of their horses.

In Scriptures, Egypt is seen as a land of materialism and decadence. The Jewish people had dwelled there for two centuries in the era before they received the Torah, and even long afterward they would sometimes demonstrate that they had never succeeded in completely severing their ties to Egypt. "And he [the king] shall not send the people back to Egypt in order to increase his supply of horses, for Hashem has said to you, 'You shall not ever return on this road.'" (Devarim 17:16) There was an ever-present danger that the people would slip back into their old habits and the old way of thinking to which they had become accustomed in Egypt.

The "horses" of the haftorah are actually a symbol for the misplaced values of the people. As discussed in Isaiah, they had adopted a value system which ought to have been foreign to them; which came from a culture which was not theirs. They had taught themselves to think in the terms and ideas of their Gentile neighbors, when in reality these should have been of no significance to a nation capable of living under the guiding hand of Providence.

"On horses we shall not ride." We promise Hashem that no longer will we put our faith in these mundane means. We have our own worldview and our own culture, worthy of a spiritual people, and we have our own Divine means of protection. We need not stoop to those of our foreign neighbors.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Vayishlach

"And they, the saviors, will ascend Mount Zion to judge Mount Esau, and the kingdom will be Hashem's." (Ovadiah 1:21)

The commentators explain that the last phrase, "And the kingdom will be Hashem's," teaches us that when even the children of Esau accept Hashem's sovereignty over themselves, then will Hashem's kingship be complete.

Our portrait of the ultimate perfection of the world includes not only ourselves. Even the children of Esau, who throughout the ages endeavored to thwart Hashem's plan for the world and to establish instead a world based on their own designs--even they will have their place. Hashem's majesty will be brought out through the very fact that even Esau's descendants will accept His dominion.

Esau's children, though, have their own ideas about their future. "For you have said, 'The two nations and the two lands shall be mine and I will inherit them.' ... But you will know that I am Hashem; I have heard all of your hate-filled statements about the kingdom of Israel, saying, 'They are desolate! They shall be mine to consume.'" (Ezekiel 35:10-12) Esau understands that his future is intertwined with that of Jacob. And in his mind's eye, he sees himself as the victor, dominant over both nations--his own and Jacob's--and both lands.

There is a stark difference between the two visions. Esau's ascendancy comes about by destroying others. If Jacob's ideals are indeed antithetical to his own, then Esau feels that he must lay waste to their land and their people. He sees himself as the sole survivor amid a field of charred devastation, standing alone and hoisting his flag to proclaim himself the victor.

Our Sages have taught in the Midrash that Rome, and all of Western/Christian civilization which is founded upon it, are the succesors to Esau, seeking to perpetuate and actualize his goals. Collectively their civilization is called "the kingdom of Edom" in the Midrashim (cf. Genesis 36:1, "Esau is Edom."). And indeed, history has taught us the extent to which the modern-day Esau is prepared to go in destroying others in order to further his own ends.

We are taught to think and to believe otherwise. The ultimate fulfillment of Hashem's kingship is built not on the destruction of Esau and the other peoples of the world, but rather upon bringing even them within the scope of Hashem's sovereignty.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Haftorah Chanuka

"And he called out and said to me, 'This is the word of Hashem to Zerubavel: Not with armed force nor with strength, but rather through My spirit, says the L-rd of Hosts.'" (Zechariah 4:6)

Rashi explains: "But rather through My spirit"--I will place My spirit upon Darius [King of Persia] and he will permit you to build the Second Temple.

How the once-mighty nation has fallen! A people accustomed for centuries to receiving the word of Hashem himself through his prophets, accustomed to miracles and wonders in the Temple; and now when Hashem promises them "My spirit," it means only that Darius's heart will be swayed!

This passage, one of the last of the prophecies, addresses the people of a new era.

In our haftorah, the prophet Zecharia is shown a vision of the Menorah being filled with oil not through human hands, but by means of conduits through which the oil flows on its own. And then he is given the explanation to relate to Zerubavel: not with your might or your strength, but rather through My spirit. Zerubavel, viceroy of Judea and scion of the House of David, could have been the Messiah had the people merited it (cf. Malbim 10 Chagai 1:1). Instead, since the people did not rise to the moment, he was reduced to the status of a vassal under the mighty Darius, King of Persia. He himself, and the House of David which he represented, were but a pale shadow of what they might have been.

It was a time when things looked bleak indeed. Was this the salvation which the people had been anxiously awaiting? Why, they had not even been released from the dominion of the Persian Empire! Indeed, throughout almost the entire period of the Second Temple, Judea was ruled by foreign kingdoms. And for this epoch, Hashem sent a special message: the vision of the Menorah. They were shown that even when it would appear that they themselves were unable to illuminate the darkness, when they had not the means to do it themselves, Hashem himself would provide the light. True, it would not be in a miraculous or supernatural manner. But the people, if they would but look for it, would always be able to find the light of Hashem penetrating the gloom.

This is the enduring message of the Menorah.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Miketz

This haftorah is almost never read, since Miketz nearly always coincides with the festival of Chanukah. If you have a very good memory, you might remember it from the last time it was read, in 1977. If not, listen up. You won't hear it next until 2001, and then again in 2021.

The haftorah tells the well-known story of King Solomon's judgement inthe case of two harlots who appeared before him. Both of the women had given birth to infants. One of the babies had died in the night, and each woman claimed that the living one was hers. Solomon ordered that the infant be cut in half. Upon hearing this, the true mother pleaded with him to give the baby to the other woman instead, while the other womancalmly accepted the verdict. This proved to everyone the identity of the true mother. The commentators explain that Solomon's wisdom was not demonstrated by the verdict itself, which appears quite startling. Rather, based upon particulars of the story and of Solomon's own words, they show that he had already succeeded in identifying the imposter, whose arguments had betrayed her as a jealous person whose real objective was to deprive her friend of that which she herself could not have. Having identified the villain and her motives, Solomon set out a trap to snare her. It was in this that Solomon's uncanny understanding of human nature was made visible to all.

Dr. Mendel Hirsch, eldest son of Samson Raphael Hirsch, finds an important lesson in this story. The story begins by setting out the background: "He [the king] made a feast for all of his servants. Thereupon two harlots came ..." It appears that they came at the time of Solomon's great feast. These women certainly did not belong to the highest stratum of society, and we would have expected that Solomon would send them to a lower court, or at least tell them to come back another time. Instead, he promptly dropped everything that he was doing and devoted all of the formidible powers of his intellect to deciding their case. For all that he was one of the most powerful monarchs of his time, for all of his great achievements in Torah and wisdom, Slomon remained devoted heart and soul to the people he ruled. Their problems and their difficulties were his own concerns.

This trait was not limited to Solomon alone. The Talmud (Berachos 4a) records how Solomon's great father, David, described the difference between himself and the other monarchs of his time. All the other kings put on airs and parade their riches ostentatiously, said David, but I "soil my hands" and work to better the spiritual and material lot of my people. And this concern for the plight of each and every individual has been the hallmark of the great Jewish leaders though all time.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Vayigash

Our haftorah discusses the eventual reunification of the tribes of Israel in time to come, when we will all be one nation once again. Long ago, when ten of the Jewish tribes broke off from the kingdom of Rechavam, son of King Solomon, and formed a separate kingdom under Yerav'am ben Nevat the Ephraimite, the Jews lost their sense of being one indivisible people. The nation of Ephraim under Yerav'am, and the kings who succeeded him, was led further and further astray from the teaching of the Torah, and away from the remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who remained true to the Torah's dictates. Now the prophet Ezekiel is told by Hashem to take two sticks, inscribed respectively "Judah" and "Ephraim," and to hold them together as one in his hand. Miraculously, the sticks actually joined to become one. The miraculous act served to demonstrate to the people that eventually they would be reuninted.

Jewish unity, or achdus, is a theme which is very much on our minds today. And sometimes we find it quite difficult to see how we will ever be able to achieve it. The differences which separate us from those of our brethren who come from backgrounds and cultures other than our own, seem to form an impenetrable barrier to achdus. In our haftorah we are told that it will indeed take a miracle to do it--but that the miracle will be there when we need it. The first step, though, is incumbent upon us--we have to find ways to respect one another in spite of our differences, and indeed to appreciate one another for what he is. Then Hashem will supply the miracle and we will be able to come together in harmony. "And you shall hold them in your hand, one and one, as one stick--and they will become one in your hand."

How will we achieve this achdus? Will we sacrifice some portion of the Torah and mitzvos, in order to accomodate those who choose to reject them? Let us look to our haftorah. "And my servant, David [i.e. his descendent, the Messiah], will be king over them, and one shepherd shall lead them all. They will follow My laws, and My statues they will observe." Achdus for the people of Israel has but one meaning: the unification of all the divergent strains within our people to serve Hashem together. Any other kind of achdus is meaningless, and in fact is not achdus at all, for in the end it will only splinter apart. The glue that can hold us together is the single goal that we will all share: the desire to serve Hashem, each in his own unique manner.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Vayichi

This week's haftorah contains David's last will and testament to his son Solomon. David adjures his son to follow the path of Hashem, and also gives him instructions regarding certain individuals. The passage begins, "The time of David's death drew near, and he commanded his son Solomon: I am going the way of all the earth; be strong and you shall be a man. And you shall keep the rules of Hashem your Lord, maintaining His statutes and His commands ... as it is written in the Law of Moses."

Malbim, one of the classic commentators, takes note of the dual nature of this admonishment. Solomon is to show himself to be a man--he must have the courage to make his own decisions and to act upon them. He will have to demonstrate independence and leadership ability. Yet he must never think that his kingship gives him the right to abrogate any portion of the Law of Moses, given by Hashem at Sinai. The Law is immutable, and even the most powerful ruler in Israel may not deviate from it even one iota.

Actually this passage, David's last words to Solomon, has a parallel in the Book of Psalms. Psalm 72 is titled "Of Solomon." Therein, David prays to Hashem for the welfare of Solomon's future kingdom; that he may be successful in his endeavors and that he may have compassion for all of the people. The psalm ends with the words, "Blessed be Hashem the Lord ... and may his glory fill the earth, Amen and Amen. So end the prayers of David, son of Yishai." In other words, this is David's final psalm, composed just before his death. Samson Raphael Hirsch finds yet an additional meaning in the last sentence of the psalm. He explains that only when this concept, that Hashem's honor shall fill the world, will actually be realized, will David feel that his dreams are fulfilled.

It is significant that this message serves as the conclusion to David's words of prayer for his son Solomon's future. David understood that it is impossible to view Solomon's success in his kingship as an independent goal, Rather, this goal must necessarily be tied together with all mankind's dream: the universal acceptance of Hashem's dominion in all corners of the world. Solomon himself, for all of his might, is but a representative of the true Ruler.

Herein lies the common denominator between David's final words of admonition to his son, in our haftorah, and his last prayer to Hashem on this very subject. To be sure, Solomon will have to assert himself and demonstrate his independence in his thinking and planning. But he will find his fulfillment in doing all this within the bounds of Hashem's Law. And he must direct his own actions to actualizing Hashem's own plan for the world.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Rabbi Levi Langer


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