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The Weekly Haftora Archives
- Bamidbar


Bamidbar

"It will be on that day, says Hashem, that you will call, 'My Husband,' and you will no longer call Me, 'My Baal [Master].'" (Hoshea 2:18)

In our struggle to live as good Jews, we sometimes find that our observance of Torah and mitzvos causes obstacles to be thrown up in our path. It isn't hard to find examples of this. We cannot make use of some of the non-Jewish forms of entertainment. Or our lifestyle may make it difficult for us to "get ahead." And at times we may come to think of the mitzvos as an imposition, as something forced upon us.

But the truth is that it is through observance of the mitzvos that one achieves one's full potential. The mitzvos serve to bring out one's capacity for experiencing the fullness of life.

And one day, explains Mendel Hirsch, we will cease calling Hashem 'Our Baal' (Our Master), for our understanding of Hashem's service will go beyond that. On that day, we will finally have fully recognized that our service of Hashem is not something imposed from without. Rather, it is through this that we can find our true selves.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Haftorah Shevuos

"Before Him went forth a Word." (Habakuk 3:5)

"I have found in a Midrash that when Hashem gave the Torah to the Jews, He busied the Angel of Death in other matters so that he would not stand and accuse, saying, 'A nation which is going to deny You [and worship the Golden Calf] in but forty days time--to them You are giving the Torah?'" (Rashi ibid.)

To be sure, Hashem is all-powerful, and if He chooses to give the Torah to the Jews then nothing will be able to stop Him. But on the occasion of the giving of the Torah, Hashem issued a "word" of command to the Angel of Death to ensure that he wouldn't be present. For the Jews were destined to sin just forty days later, and Hashem didn't want anyone to bring up this fact.

This approach was adopted by Hashem, not because He needed to resort to it, but because contained therein is a lesson for us.

Each of us has moments of inspiration when we feel inspired to go beyond our ordinary abilities, to accomplish something special. But just when we are fired with enthusiasm, right then we hear a still, small voice within ourselves, whispering, "You know that isn't you! Tomorrow you'll be the same person you always were--so whom are you kidding?"

Don't listen.

For it is those very moments--the times when we reach beyond our capabilities--which define what we really are. True, we won't remain on those heights indefinitely. But it is at those times that we show just what abilities lie within us.

On Shavuos, many people follow the custom of staying awake the entire night, studying Torah. We know that we can't do that the whole year. But just the same, on Shavuos we do it. And that's how we demonstrate what kind of people we really are.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Beha'aloscha

"Hear now, Joshua the High Priest! For you and your companions who sit before you are people of far-reaching importance. For lo! I bring My servant [the Messiah] like a growing plant." (Zechariah 2:8, Hirsch translation)

In the book of Ezra we read that at the inauguration of the Second Temple, all the young people rejoiced greatly. Yet the sound of their rejoicing was hardly audible over the wailing of the older people who had seen the grandeur and the majesty of the First Temple, with the Divine Presence that dwelt there. They could see that the Second Temple was but a pale shadow of the First, and instead of rejoicing, they mourned the greatness of the First Temple which had not been regained.

Joshua, the subject of our haftorah, was the first High Priest in the Second Temple. And he knew that what had been lost with the destruction of the First Temple had not been brought back. Thus the prophet has special words of exhortation for him. He is told that although it might appear that the people's accomplishment in rebuilding their Temple was a pitifully small one, yet buried within were the seeds of all the future greatness of the nation. "You are people of far-reaching importance," he is told, "for ... I bring My servant like a growing plant."

And so it was. The Second Temple, though its stature was far less than that of the First, succeeded in instilling in the people an enduring sense of mission. Even through all the many centuries of our exile since the Second Temple's destruction, our nation has remained true to its beliefs, thanks to the spiritual stamina which we acquired during the Second Temple era.

There is a parallel to this idea in our personal lives too. We may think that our achievements are small and unimportant, that they have no real significance. But let us make no mistake. Even the smallest positive action of ours has, in the end, the power to move mountains. And if that isn't evident to us now, we might consider the words of the prophet to Joshua, telling him that his service was like a "growing plant"--reaching slowly but surely to ever greater heights.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Sh'lach

"For we have heard how Hashem dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt ... We heard and our hearts melted, and no man's courage remained within him." (Joshua 2:10-11)

Thus spoke Rahab to the two spies whom Joshua had sent before him into the land of Israel.

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:13) recounts that Alexander of Macedonia (Alexander the Great) envisioned the earth as a globe surrounded by a "bowl" of water. So he had a great statue erected, depicting himself with a globe in his hand--symbolic of his dominion over the entirety of the earth's land mass. Asks the Midrash: and why did he not also place a bowl in the statue's hand, to portray his dominion over the seas? The Midrash answers, because he recognized that in fact he did not truly dominate the seas. Only Hashem holds dominion over both land and sea.

Chida writes that this Midrash explains why the people of Canaan were particularly awestruck by the splitting of the Red Sea, as Rahab told the spies. They recognized that in demonstrating His authority over the sea, Hashem showed that His power far surpassed that of any human authority.

For the Canaanites recognized their own limits, even as did the mighty Alexander.

Let us consider this: even Alexander the Great saw that there was an area which was out of his bounds, and thereby he found some measure of humility. "And why did he not place a bowl in the statue's hand?" --Because he realized that only Hashem can dominate even the seas.

If we want to introduce Hashem into our own lives, then we would do well to be honest with ourselves and to come to grips with our own limitations. True, modernity and science and technology are wonderful achievements. But we must not allow all these to cause us to become arrogant. The scope of man's achievements will always be circumscribed, and it is through recognizing our limitations that we may find Hashem's sure hand guiding His universe.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Rosh Chodesh

"So has Hashem spoken: The heavens are My throne, and the earth is My footstool--what home could you possibly build for Me, and what would be My resting-place?" (Isaiah 63:1)

When Solomon erected the Temple to serve as the House of Hashem, he was fully cognizant of the fact that in truth no edifice, impressive as it might be, could truly house the Divine Presence. At the Temple's inauguration Solomon spoke of this. "For the heavens and the highest celestial spheres cannot encompass you--and certainly not this House which I have built!" (I Kings 8:29)

The purpose of the Temple is not to serve as a home for Hashem, for He needs no home. Rather, its function is to serve as a locus, as a certain point toward which we may direct our service. Each day we pray facing the direction of the Temple site. And during the Temple era, all of the men, women and children of Israel would gather together in Jerusalem to the courtyard of the Temple, there to commune with the Divine.

The Temple is there for us, not for Hashem. It is from the Temple that we draw our spiritual energy, which we are to carry with us back to our homes and our daily lives.

And in Solomon's day, all the people understood this.

But by the time of Isaiah, centuries later, this idea had been lost. The people saw the Temple as the home of Hashem, an edifice which could contain Him within its confines. This, writes Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, is the message of our verse. The heavens are My throne and the earth My footstool! Do you imagine that you can banish Me into a house?

We have no Temple today. In its stead we pray in our houses of worship. But if we delude ourselves into thinking that we can "box in" the Divine service into those houses, and once outside them we can live entirely as we please, then we have failed to learn the lesson of our haftorah.

The synagogue is where we take in a measure of spiritual uplift, which must saturate the entirety of our lives.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Chukas

"Yiphtach the Gileadite was a mighty man of arms, and he was the son of the hostess of an inn." (Judges 11:1)

Why does Scriptures find it important to mention that Yiphtach's mother was an innkeeper?

Me'am Loez notes that according to the Talmud, the charity that a woman proffers is better than that of a man. For the woman offers prepared foods from her kitchen, whereas the man can only give money, which the poor person must then convert into something he can use.

Yiphtach's mother was an innkeeper, who was in the business of supplying wayfarers with their needs. Therefore she merited to have a son who would save the Jews in battle.

For in fact, a righteous person need not be someone with no connection to the mundane matters of the world, who devotes his whole life to the pursuit of other-worldly, spiritual matters.

The righteous person can be an innkeeper: one who pursues this occupation with the understanding that in addition to providing a means of financial support, it is a way to help out others. If one keeps that thought in mind, then this too becomes a lofty spiritual occupation.

It's the thought that counts.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Balak

"My nation, what have I done to you and how have I wearied you? Speak up against Me! For I took you out of Egypt, and from the house of slavery I redeemed you, and I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam ... " (Michah 6:3-4)

Rabbi Yaakov Kranz, the famed Maggid of Dubno, remarked that we see people who actively and energetically immerse themselves in their business occupations for hours on end, without becoming fatigued. Yet these same people, when they enter the synagague afterwards to pray their evening prayers, suddenly become drained of all their stamina and can hardly keep their eyes open. Why is this?

The difference, answered the Dubno Maggid, is this. When someone feels that the activity he is involved in will bring him palpable reward, then he has no trouble finding the stamina to keep himself going. It is when he sees no reward in sight that he can't find it in himself to keep on going.

And this is the meaning of our verse. Hashem looks down on us from the heavens and He sees that we perform the mitzvos, to be sure; but with what lack of energy! It is as though the act of performing Hashem's mitzvos is so difficult and wearying that it pushes us to the limit, sapping us of all our strength.

Says Hashem: You must have forgotten who it is that is truly providing for you! Look back into your history: "For I took you out of Egypt ... and I sent before you Moses ..."

If you remembered that, then you would surely find it possible to perform the mitzvos with energy and exuberance!

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Haftorah Three Weeks: First Week

"Holy is Israel unto Hashem, the first [tithe] from His produce; all who consume them shall be made desolate and evil will befall them: the word of Hashem." (Jeremiah 2:3)

In our haftorah the prophet Jeremiah is told of the impending disaster which looms before the people of Israel. Their many sins have finally caused matters to come to a head, and now the "evil from the North"--the Babylonian army, led by Nebuchadnezzar--will invade the land and will mete out Hashem's punishment upon His people.

But the Haftorah concludes with a statement about the enduring nature of Israel's relationship with Hashem, even in the darkest moments. "Holy is Israel to Hashem"--even in times like these. "The first tithe from His produce." Radak explains: the Jewish people are compared to terumah, the first tithe, which must be consumed by the kohen and is prohibited to anyone else. So too with the Jewish people. It is true that at times Hashem chooses to punish His nation. But that does not mean that they are abandoned before any passerby, to loot and despoil them as he wishes. No, all who persecute the Jews will be brought to account: "All who consume them will be made desolate."

Our haftorah makes for difficult reading, with its strong criticism of the Jewish nation. But after all the harsh words of rebuke, the prophet concludes with this final statement, which sums up Hashem's conception of our destiny even in these dark and stormy days: "Holy is Israel unto Hashem."

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


Haftorah Three Weeks: Second Week

"The young lions will roar against it and will give voice; they will lay waste to its land ... Even the people of Nof and Tachpanches will break your skull!" (Jeremiah 2:15)

This haftorah continues the theme of last week's reading--the prophet delivers ominous tidings of the impending destruction. Here he states that even the people of Nof and Tachpanches will take part in the carnage. Why is this significant?

Malbim notes that Nof and Tachpanches were cities of Egypt, the nation with which Israel had long maintained an alliance. The Egyptians were pledged to come to Israel's assistance any time that the Jews would be threatened by the armies of a foreign empire.

Yet at the time of the destruction, Egypt itself actively assisted Israel's enemies. And in the ensuing passage the prophet himself comments on this phenomenon. He continues, "Is it not that you have forsaken Hashem your Lord, when he attempted to lead you on the true path, that has brought this upon you?"

The Jews forged alliances with their neighbors and felt secure. They forgot about Hashem. But in due time they were shown the real nature of Egypt's "friendship."

We've learned this lesson only too often in our history. The true strength of the Jewish nation is found within our own heritageand our own teachings. We do ourselves no good when we try to cash these in and replace them with substitutes.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


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