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The Weekly Haftora Archives
- Vayikra


Haftorah Parshas Zachor

"Zachor!" we are enjoined--remember! You must forever remember what Amalek did unto you on the road out of Egypt, when you had just experienced the wonderful miracles of the manna and the Red Sea and the clouds of glory. Unprovoked by you, Amalek nonetheless launched an all-out attack against your people.

Why did Amalek do this? Not because his land or his people were in any danger. Rather, he did it because his world-view was threatened. Amalek glorifies violence and blood and lust, and he sensed that the Jews, striding proudly through the desert under the banner of Hashem, posed a threat to his values and his lifestyle.

And so we are taught never to forget this attack, never to forget that even Amalek recognizes that his way of life can never mix with ours. For in fact there is a danger that we may ourselves forget this; that we may come to think that we can adopt some element of these foreign values for our own. So the Torah commands us to remember for all time that the battle between Amalek and us can never be brought to a halt. The very existence of the Amalek value-system is a contradiction to the role of the Jewish people in the world.

Our haftorah describes the victorious campaign King Saul waged against the Amalekite people. The story concludes with the death of Agag, king of Amalek, at the hand of the prophet Samuel. Agag had been taken captive during the battle. Samuel commanded that Agag be brought before him, and--"Agag came to him in good spirits. And Agag said, 'Truly the bitterness of death has passed away.'

Agag knew that he was about to be put to death. Then why did he say that "the bitterness of death has passed?" Because, writes Me'am Loez, Agag was now satisfied that he would die the death of a hero. He had been concerned that his death would be at the hand of some nameless executioner and would go unrecorded by posterity. But now that he was to be executed by the great Samuel himself, he was satisfied. Surely the history books would make much of this epic event: the final confrontation between the great Agag and the prophet Samuel.

This, the final picture we are shown of the Amalekite king, portrays for us the essence of Agag in stark relief. Agag is going to his grave; he leaves behind nothing of endurance. His country lies in ruins. Yet he is satisfied, for he leaves behind him a proud trail emblazoned with the crimson blood of all the victims of his lifetime of butchery, and his death will provide a fitting conclusion for the drama of his life.

The life-work of the servant of Hashem is perhaps less dramatic. His work seldom makes headlines. But when he leave this earth, he leaves a world which is just a bit better for his having been there.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Tzav

"I scattered them amongst the nations ... And they came to the nations to whom they came, and they desecrated My holy name, for it was said of them: these are the people of Hashem, yet they have had to leave His land!" (Ezekiel 36:20)

An important principle is expressed here.

The Name of Hashem is bound together with the fate of the Jewish people. If we are sent into exile because of our sins, and all the world sees the sorry plight of the people of Hashem, then we must bear the responsibility for the resulting desecration of Hashem's name.

The Rabbis of the Talmud (Yoma 86a) add the following observation:

"'You shall love Hashem your Lord'--[this means] that the name of Hashem shall become beloved through you. For you shall learn and study ... and deal pleasantly with your fellow man. Then what will the people say of you? 'Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah! Fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah! So-and-so who studied Torah--look how pleasant are his ways, how proper his actions!'

" ... But he who learned and studied ... and yet his business dealings are dishonest and he does not speak pleasantly with people, then what do the people say of him? 'Woe to his father who taught him Torah! Woe to his teacher who taught him Torah! So-and-so who studied Torah--look how crooked are his actions, how unpleasant his ways!' And of him it is written, 'And they desecrated My name, for it was said of them, these are the nation of Hashem, yet they have had to leave His land!'"

In its context, our verse speaks of the Jewish people as one collective entity. Collectively, we are certainly responsible for our actions, for in the eyes of the world they reflect the ways of Hashem's teachings.

But perhaps we could have thought that we need not be concerned about our private dealings as individuals. After all, who will take note of what we do in private?

Here is where the Sages of the Talmud have taught us otherwise. Every single Jew represents the entirety of Israel in the eyes of the world. If even one Jew stoops to act in an improper manner, we may be sure that we will hear the chorus: "These are the people of Hashem, and this is how they act!"

Every single one of us is a standard-bearer for Hashem--in every action that he takes.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Haftorah Parshas Hachodesh

"The king will enter by way of the forecourt of the gate from the outside, and he will remain standing at the doorpost. And the priests will offer his elevation-offering and his peace offering." (Ezekiel 46:2)

Let us supply a bit of background material for this verse.

The Torah provides for a dual leadership in Israel. The Kohen Gadol, or High Priest, was the spiritual leader and directed the service in the Temple. The king, as the political leader, headed the government. As might be expected, at times there was an unwanted friction between these two leaders.

For example, in Ezekiel 21:37 the prophet reprimands the king:

"So has Hashem the Lord said: will you remove the mitznefes (the High Priest's headpiece) and raise up the crown [of the king]? This [the crown] and not that [the mitznefes]? ... Then this [the crown] too will not endure."

In other words, the king is accused of usurping the power which rightfully belonged to the High Priest.

Compare this with the image depicted in the Book of Zacharia of the mutual relationship which the two will enjoy in time to come:

"Behold, a man [the Messiah] ... he will build the Temple of Hashem ... and he will sit and reign on his throne, and the Priest will be on his throne, and there will be an understanding of peace between the two." (Zach. 6:12)

This is the backdrop for our own verse in this week's haftorah.

On the Sabbath day and on the Day of the New Moon, the king will go to the Temple and there he will publicly offer certain prescribed sacrifices. He will remain "standing at the doorpost" while inside the Temple the priests will offer his sacrifices at the Altar.

This posture of the king is a critical point here.

The king of Israel holds a position of great importance. But in time to come, he will understand also where his authority ends. In contrast to the practice of some Israelite kings of the past, who attempted to whittle away from the authority of the priesthood, the future king will recognize that at the gateway of the Temple even he must surrender his exalted status whilst in the presence of the Temple and its service.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Tazria

Our haftorah tells of Naaman, the Syrian general who was afflicted by leprosy. He traveled to Elisha the Prophet in search of a cure.

"And Elisha sent a message to him saying, 'Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will return to you and you will be cleansed.' "But Naaman grew angry and went away, and he said, 'Lo, I had thought he would come out to me in ceremony and he would call out in the Name of Hashem his Lord, and he would wave his hands at the place and the leprosy would be cured.

"'Are not Avana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not have washed in them and become clean?' And he turned and left in anger." (II Kings 5:10-12)

Eventually Naaman's servants prevailed upon him to at least try heeding the words of the prophet, and he bathed in the Jordan and was cured.

We have here a graphic depiction of Naaman's idea of how Hashem ought to act. Certainly what Hashem does must be accompanied by lots of fanfare, solemn incantations and plenty of ceremony. Now THAT would be a miracle worthy of the name!

But Hashem has something to teach Naaman: none of this is necessary at all. He can accomplish His ends by having Naaman take a quiet dip in the waters of Israel.

Perhaps we too can learn something from this point.

We expect that if we hear of a cataclysmic event, one that comes complete with a thunderous roar and all kinds of visual effects, then we may search there for the hand of Hashem. But it isn't only in events of that magnitude that Hashem manifests Himself and sends us His messages. In the quiet happenings, the ones that go almost unnoticed by most people, therein too we may find Hashem's hand at work--if we only have the perceptiveness to look for it.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Haftorah Shabbos Hagadol

"For lo! the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the sinners and the doers of evil will be like straw, and the sun which comes will consume them." (Malachi 3:19)

The Midrash adds: The Gehinna of the time to come will be none other than the sun, which will come and consume the wicked.

According to Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, this Midrash contains an important lesson. So often, he writes, people delude themselves into thinking that their lives are chock-full of good deeds. They aren't interested in examining themselves closely to discover where they need improvement. So they simply convince themselves that they're already just fine.

But there will come a day when they will be placed beneath the harsh merciless light of the stark, unadulterated truth--and then they will no longer be able to maintain this fiction. All through their lives they managed to delude themselves. but the light of that forthcoming day will be their Gehinna.

Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, the noted thinker and ethicist, was wont to tell a story about his father, who had been a successful lumber merchant in Russia. When the Bolshevik uprising began, with all the turmoil and instability that it engendered, he sold his holding and converted it all into cash, which he placed in a large chest. He planned to restart his business after things quieted down.

But the Bolsheviks emerged victorious, and one of the first things they did was to invalidate the old currency and issue a new one in its place. The entire chest of cash was rendered worthless.

So it is, said Rabbi Dessler, with our own lives. We convince ourselves that we've amassed a great big chestful of accomplishments which we'll one day proudly exhibit up in heaven. But woe to us if when we arrive, we discover that it's all in a coinage which isn't accepted there!

We've got to carefully examine the currency while we're ammassing our chestful of deeds, right here on this earth.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Haftorah Pesach

This Shabbos we read Ezekiel's vision of the Restoration of the Dead.

The spirit of Hashem descended upon the prophet Ezekiel, and in the prophetic vision he felt himself carried into a valley which was full of dried bones. As he watched, the spirit of Hashem entered these bones, and they came together and were covered with sinews and flesh, and then they came back to life.

Then Hashem tells Ezekiel the lesson of the vision: these bones represent the entire House of Israel. The people have said: our bones are dried out, our hope is lost; we have been cut off. Yet, says Hashem, I will reopen your graves and you will live, and I will bring you back into the land of Israel.

According to Tur (Orach Chaim 490), we read this haftorah on Pesach because the Restoration of the Dead will in fact take place on Pesach.

Chida adds that this vision is not just a portent of an event which will occur sometime in the future. Rather, it has something to teach us about our own identity. For two thousand years the Jew has had to wander from land to land. We have been buffeted and tossed by the vicissitudes of the times; always we have felt ourselves at the mercy of foreign cultures. And so we may come to feel dispirited, to feel that somehow we have lost the right to a national identity.

Yet in truth, says the prophet, we are the One People who have a future, who have acquired the right to an eternal place in the world. All the mighty nations around us will decay and come to ruin, and in the end only we--the people of the dried bones--will emerge dominant. And if untold centuries ago the prophet Ezekiel was shown the dried bones coming back to life, this is because already then, dispirited and lost though we may have felt, at our core we were a people with a future. True, our national image has temporarily lost its lustre. But our real identity is that of the people that we once were, and which one day we shall again become.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Acharei Mos

"On that day I will erect the fallen booth of David ... and I will rebuild it as in the days of old. So that they will inherit the remnants of Edom and all the other nations ... the word of Hahsem who will do all this." (Amos 9:11-12)

Radak explains that the "booth of David" refers to the Davidic dynasty, the line of kings in Israel which began with King David. It is recorded in the Book of Kings that David subjugated Edom and the other surrounding nations, and during his rule these were subservient to Israel. Thus Hashem states that "I will erect the fallen booth of David" so that it will regain the grandeur of the days of old, and "they will inherit Edom and the other nations" just as David did in his day.

Why is Edom singled out here from amongst all the nations which David conquered?

The answer is that the king of Israel is measured not merely by his military prowess, but more particularly by how he makes use of his abilities in order to further the aims and will of Hashem.

Edom, the descendents of Jacob's twin brother Esau, endeavors throughout all of history to undo all that Israel does to bring the world closer to Hashem. And it is thus of special significance that during David's reign he succeeded in conquering Edom. In doing so he demonstrated not only his superior military abilities, but also he showed that he understood the purpose for which these were meant to be used.

This, we are told, will also be the hallmark of the scion of David who will reign in time to come. He will be one who understands that the restorations of the Davidic monarchy has a larger purpose: "So that they will inherit the remnants of Edom ..." Only in these terms is the king's success measured.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Kedoshim

"I shall scatter you amongst the nations, and disperse you amidst the lands; and I shall cleanse you of your impurities." (Ezekiel 22:15)

The dispersion of Israel among the nations has a purpose: it forces them to come to their senses and return to Hashem.

When we study the Prophets, we do so with an eye to discovering parallels to the problems of our own day. And in this context it is noteworthy that in Ezekiel's time, there was a strong "nationalist" sentiment among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. "Son of man! Your brothers [in exile] ... to whom the dwellers of Jerusalem have said, 'Move away from Hashem! --for it is ours; the land has been given to us as an inheritance.' Therefore say ... though I have sent them to far-off nations and dispersed them amidst the lands, yet I shall be a small Sanctuary for them in the places to whence they came." (ibid, 11:15-16)

The people who remained in Jerusalem taunted the exiles: the land is ours! And you who no longer dwell in the land--you have no place in the nation of Israel.

But in truth, an allegiance to the land which isn't bound together with a devotion to Hashem's teachings is meaningless. The residents of Jerusalem had long since ceased to be faithful to Hashem's commands, and so their feelings toward the Land did not impress Him. Rather, Hashem says, I Myself will go along with the exiled people into whichever lands they are driven.

Certainly it is a great privilege to live in the land of Israel. But that must go hand in hand with a wholehearted allegiance to Hashem's Torah. And when that essential element is lost, it may become necessary for Hashem to send His people away from the Land, in order that they may come to appreciate their Land for what it really is.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Emor

"But the Kohanim, the Levites, the descendents of Zadok who kept the charge of My Sanctuary when the Jews strayed from Me--they will approach Me to serve Me. And they will stand before Me to offer unto Me the [sacrificial] fats and the blood: the word of Hashem the Lord." (Ezekiel 44:15)

During all those dark years when the people of Israel strayed far from Hashem and worshipped idols and foreign deities--in all that time the descendents of the priestly clan of Zadok remained firm in their beliefs and true to their traditions.

Therefore, when the Temple will be rebuilt, it will be these Kohanim who will have the privilege of standing before Hashem to offer the sacrifices.

Mendel Hirsch, in his commentary of the Haftoroth, learn an important lesson from here.

The Kohanim, he writes, have a special role. They alone are permitted to don the priestly garments and to offer the Temple sacrifices. But if they fail to see in this privileged status a prod to transform themselves to become G-dly people, then their Temple service and their priestly garments have been robbed of their essence. For it is not merely the rote performance of the rituals that Hashem wants of us; rather, we must learn the lesons that these rituals have to teach us. And we must assimilate those lessons until we ourselves embody the ideals which they represent.

In performing the sacrificial order in the Temple, one demonstrates his own personal fidelity to the service of Hashem. So it is specifically the descendents of Zadok, who remained faithful to Hashem in the darkest of times--it is they who will be able to perform the service in the Temple of the future.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


B'har

That which has long been foretold is finally coming to pass.

For years the prophets have been remonstrating the people, warning them that if they do not change their ways, the Temple will be destroyed and the people will be sent into exile. The people have scoffed at the prophets, mocking them and proclaiming loudly that never would they be forced to forfeit their land.

But now the Jews can no longer ignore what is taking place before their eyes. "The beseigers' ramps have reached the city"--Jeremiah cries in our haftorah--"and the city is being delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans."

In the face of all this, Jeremiah offers a prayer before Hashem. And he prefaces his prayer with an expression of that which the people finally understand now, with the beseigers' ramps at the city gates.

"O Hashem ... Great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes look upon all the ways of humankind, to repay each man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his actions."

Here, writes Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe in his book Alei Shur (Volume II), is the essential point that Jeremiah must teach. It is not sufficient to recognize that there is a metaphysical being up there who looks down on the world. The people had always realized that, and yet it didn't stop them from their misdeeds.

No: our perception must go beyond that. No only does Hashem "look upon the ways of humankind," but He is also intimately involved with the doings of the world. And each action that we do has an impact on the way that Hasehm Himself deals with His world: "Whose eyes look down upon the ways of mankind, to repay each man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his actions."

That message, if it hits home, has the ability to prod us into changing our way of living.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Bechukosai

"Hashem is my Might and my Stronghold, my refuge in time of distress. Unto You shall nations come from the ends of the earth, and they will say, 'Only falsehoods have our forefathers bequeathed us, vanity in which there is no avail.'" (Jeremiah 16:19)

Long ago--so it is taught in the Midrash--Hashem offered His Torah to the peoples of the world.

The descendents of Esau asked, "What is written there?" They were informed that the Torah prohibits thievery. Thereupon they summarily turned it down, saying, "Our lives are built upon theivery!"

The people of Yishmael asked, "What is written there?" Hashem answered that adultery is prohibited. Upon hearing this, they refused the Torah. They said, "Our culture is founded upon incest and adultery."

Then Hashem offered the Torah to the Jews, and they immediately said, "We will do and we will hear!"

Writes Nachal Sorek: Generations ago the nations of the world rejected the Torah, because its dictates were contrary to their lifestyles and their ideals. They could not even entertain the notion of giving up these ideals.

But someday the nations will see for themselves how mistaken they were. Then they will return to Hashem, crying, "Only falsehoods have our forefathers bequeathed us!"

So if we see that the world around us is caught up in today's cultural icon, we mustn't be overly impressed. For we take a longer view. And we look ahead to the day when all the world will accept upon themselves a lifestyle which embodies the enduring values of the Torah.

CORRECTION: Oops! We inadvertantly mixed up the reasons given by the nations for rejecting Hashem's Torah. As recorded in the Midrash (Mechilta Yisro), Esau couldn't accept the prohibition against murder. Ammon and Moab couldn't accept the prohibition on incest, and Yishmael couldn't accept the prohibition against thievery. I'm glad that this was brought to my attention, for it proves that someone is actually reading this. Also, it gives me a chance to correct my mistake. "Shabeshta," says the Talmud, "Keivan d'al, al!"

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


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