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The Weekly Haftora Archives
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Haftorah Shabbos Chazon

"Wash yourselves, purify yourselves!" (Isaiah 1:16)

"Return to Torah study." (Targum, ibid.)

At this time of the year, Jews lament the destruction of the Temple and pray for its restoration. We envision in our mind's eye the multitudes of Jews who once surged through the Temple gates, together looking upon the Temple service and collectively participating in a communion with the Divine. We long for those bygone times when Jews could palpably experience their bond with Hashem. And we resolve to become better people in order that those days may return soon.

But not everyone sees it that way. Esau, for one, saw things quite differently.

Esau was the firstborn son of Isaac, but he sold his birthright to Jacob in return for a pot of lentils. On this the Torah says, "And Esau spurned his birthright." Rashi (to Ezekiel 35) explains: he knew that as firstborn he would have the right to perform the Temple service, and he didn't want to sully himself with the blood of the sacrifices.

Israel envisions the Temple service and sees a communion with the Divine. Esau envisions it and sees a soiled, disorderly mess.

Do we, indeed, know what we're looking for when we pray for the rebuilding of the Temple? No, we don't--not unless we make it our business to become educated Jews; to study the Torah in order to acquire a Torah perspective on the world, to be able to see life from the Torah's vantage point. If we fail to do that, we might find that our vision is all askew and we're looking for all the wrong things.

"Wash and purify yourselves." How? Return to Torah study!

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer

Haftorah Shabbos Nachamu

A voice says, "Proclaim!" And the rejoinder comes: "What am I to proclaim?" "All flesh is like grass, and its kindness like the blossom of the field ... The grass dries and the blossom withers, but the word of Hashem endures forever!" (Isaiah 40:6-8)

The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, 1838-1933) commented that in each generation people come up with new ideas to replace the "outdated" precepts of the Torah. They advance new ethical principles, they proudly wave aloft their "modern" beliefs.

And then the next generation comes along and tosses those new beliefs into the wastebasket, and advances new ideas of their own.

Yet those who remain true to the Torah's ethical system find that, amazingly, its ideas are as fresh and as relevent today as they were when they were first taught at Sinai thousands of years ago.

So we need not be overly impressed by the "new" ideas we hear propounded today. Let us simply be aware that given just a few years, all the new ethics will join its predecessors in the refuse- bin of history.

The grass dries, the blossom withers. Only one system has endured amid a kaleidescope of different cultures and different eras: "The word of Hashem endures forever."

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


"And it will have been kings who were your nursing-fathers, and their princesses your nursing-mothers." (Isaiah 49:23)

This haftorah is the second of the "seven of comfort" (sheva d'nachemta) which are read on the seven weeks following Tisha B'av. These readings speak of our hopes for the future. But more than that, they invite us to take a new look at the subject matter of the readings which we read on the Shabbosos preceding Tisha B'av: the exile and the dispersion of the Jewish people.

In our verse we are taught, writes Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, that in time to come we will view our exile-relationship with the "kings and princesses," who for so long held us in captivity, in a new light. Always we had seen them as the oppressors who prevented us from doing what we wanted to do, from being what we wished to be.

But at the time of the Redemption we will understand that these mighty rulers were merely puppets in the hand of Hashem. They held us captive because this was Hashem's will, because He wished us to live through the consequences of our endeavor to escape our special role as Hashem's people.

The message of consolation isn't just about the future. There is consolation in the present, too. For in truth, we haven't ever been forsaken by Hashem: even today He guides and educates us, shaping our destiny and preparing us for our future.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


"All of your children will be disciples of Hashem, and abundant will be the harmony of your children." (Isaiah 54:13)

When we will all become disciples of Hashem, then there will no longer be any infighting within the family of Israel. For then we will all share in a common goal, and all will work together to achieve it.

Our Sages (Midrash Shocher Tov 21) offer a startling comment about the role of the Messiah. "The Messiah will come but to give six mitzvos to the nations of the world. But the Jews will learn Torah from Hashem himself, as it it written, 'All of your children will be disciples of Hashem.'"

All the nations will be a part of the Messianic era. But with a difference: the nations aren't expected to be able to devote themselves entirely to the study of Hashem's wisdom. From them it is expected only that they perform certain basic mitzvos.

The Jews, in contrast, have the potential for a vastly greater achievement. We can go beyond looking upon the mitzvos as something imposed upon us from without. Instead we can transform ourselves into disciples of Hashem himself, dedicated to studying His teachings and putting them into practice.

So it will be the job of the Messianic king to stand over the Gentiles and make sure that they perform the commandments which are given to them. But the Jews will study under Hashem, and will find their freedom of thought and expression within His teachings.

The goal of drawing together all Jews from all backgrounds--elusive as it may appear today--will be realized when that time comes.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


"I am always I, Who comforts you--who are you that you fear mortal man, the son of humans, who is made as grass? You have forgotten Hashem, your Maker, Who spread out the heavens and founded the earth, and you fear continually all day long, before the oppressor's fury when he prepares to destroy--but where is the oppressor's fury?" (Isaiah 55:12-13)

The purpose of the sheva d'nachemta--the seven haftoros which are read on the weeks which follow Tisha B'Av--is to infuse us once again with hope, to revive within us the feeling that we are capable of regaining all that we have lost. So we read of the splendor and the glory which will be ours in time to come.

But what about the present? Each of us goes through times of difficulty and hardship. And somehow, when things are tough it's hard to feel comforted by the thought that the difficulties will end sometime in the future.

Yet in truth the collective history of our nation is proof that Hashem has never really left us. For if He had, then long ago we would have succumbed to those powerful historic forces which swept away all the other nations that inhabited the planet centuries and millenia ago. Our fate has been different from theirs, because throughout all the ages, we have been guided by the unseen hand of Hashem.

Our haftorah invites us to contemplate this, and to find solace even in the present. "I am always I, Who comforts you," says Hashem--I am eternally there for you. But where are you? Is it possible that you have forgotten Me, and you fear every mortal being who threatens you?

"I am I [anochi anochi]"--eternal and unchanging in My relationship with you.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer

Ki Seitzay

"Broaden the compass of your tent ... lengthen your tent-ropes, and strengthen your pegs!" (Isaiah 54:2)

The Midrash (Bereishis Raba 5) comments on this verse: from here we learn that the Jerusalem of the future will have an infinitely greater spiritual capacity than it has ever had in the past.

In other words, the Midrash tells us that this verse speaks metaphorically not only of the simple geographical confines of the city. More than that: we are talking about the essential nature of the city itself.

Rabbi Yakov Kranz, the Maggid of Dubno, cites the Talmudic statement that when Hashem create the world it expanded further and further outward until Hashem cried, "Enough!" Upon hearing that cry, it all came to a halt. Explains the Dubno Maggid: we see from here that the world really contains much more than we are able to take from it today. There is a vast potential locked up within, and we'd readily see it if not for the cry of Hashem, thundering yet today in the heavens: "Enough!"

For in fact we are only able to obtain, out of all the wondrous resources of the world, that precise measure which will best enable us to serve Hashem.

But one day the world will yield its innermost secrets. The Jerusalem of the future will expand and expand--and on that day we will be able to behold the earth in all of its true splendor.

When we see all the wonderful technological breakthroughs that contemporary science has achieved, we must bear in mind that all this is but the tip of the iceberg. It is all nothing more than a taste of the things which are to come--on that day when we will be trusted to harness it all for its intended use.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer

Ki Savo

"I am Hashem--in its time, I will hasten it!"

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) records that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi once encountered the Messiah, who was dressed in rags and living amongst the poor people of Rome. Rabbi Yehoshua asked the Messiah, "When will Your Honor come to us?"

The Messiah answered, "Today."

The day passed and the Messiah did not come. Later, Rabbi Yehoshua met the Messiah once again. He said, "You said that you would come today--why did you not come?"

Answered the Messiah, "You did not understand my response. I was paraphrasing the verse in Psalms: 'Today, if you will but listen to His voice.'"

For us, who have found our niche in the American scene, it's difficult to imagine ourselves just leaving with the coming of the Messiah. We see ourselves firmly anchored right where we are. But we are mistaken.

For in reality, we are only guests here.

The heart and soul of the Jew is in another time and place, where he will be completely free to become the person he can become, where he will be able to partake of the fullness of the Torah/mitzvos experience.

And that time is as near as this very day.

"Today, if you will but listen to His voice."

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


"For as the earth sends forth its growth, and as a garden causes its seeds to sprout, so will the L-rd Hashem cause righteousness and praise [of Israel] to sprout forth before all the nations." (Isaiah 61)

It is a curious things, writes the Maggid of Dubno, how the farmer goes about planting his field. For he must first break down the field. The farmer traverses the length of the field again and again with his ox, who pulls the plow. The plow breaks down the soil--destroying the once pristine, smooth appearance of the field and replacing it with unsightly mounds of earth.

Only then does the farmer cross his field once again, dropping seeds along the length of each furrow. And from those seeds the field will eventually bloom forth with life.

So too with the Jewish people.

The long centuries of our exile have not been without purpose. For it is only through the travails and the difficulties which our people have encountered during those times, that we have been forced to search deep within ourselves and find heretofore undreamed-of strengths. And in the course of time, we have grown and matured.

In order to build us up, to enable us to find ourselves, it has been necessary to first break us down.

"As the earth sends forth its growth"--so will the fullness of Israel's potential slowly but surely be realized.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer

Haftorah Rosh Hashana: First Day

"And she grieved to her soul, and she prayed before Hashem and cried bitterly." (I Samuel 1:10)

Hannah was childless, and she prayed before Hashem for a child. Not "prayed to Hashem," but "prayed before Hashem."

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch explains that the Hebrew word "mispallel," to pray, is derived from "pallel," to judge. "Mispallel" really means "to judge oneself."

For in fact, when we pray to Hashem we are not asking Him for handouts. No: a prayer is a solemn declaration that although we may not have merited this thing in the past, we now affirm that we are prepared to change to improve ourselves. The new "I" is not the same as the old; I shall become a better person, one more deserving of Hashem's beneficience.

Hannah prayed "before" Hashem. In the presence of the Almighty she undertook a soul-searching self-examination, and she vowed that she would be a worthy recipient of Hashem's gift. And so Hashem heard her prayer, and she merited to bear a child.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer

Haftorah Yom Kippur

The Yom Kippur haftorah calls upon man to undergo a true repentance--one that brings about a transformation of mind and heart, not just a repentance of outward appearances. We are told that just fasting and bowing our heads will not in themselves bring about any meaningful change in us. Rather, we must actively search out ways to change our lives and our practices, to keep Hashem's mitzvos and to be generous and charitable toward our fellow man.

Thereupon, we are taught--

"Through you will be rebuilt ancient ruins; the foundation for future generations you will erect--and they will call you 'repairer of the breaches, restorer of the paths for habitation.'"

For our repentance must effect a change not only in ourselves.

We are called on to become the kind of people that others will look upon and will seek to emulate. The image that we present before the world will then be one that even those who are far from Torah will appreciate and admire, so that they in turn will be drawn nearer to Torah.

That is the end-goal of the repentance path which we trod--we want to be counted among those who lay down the foundations of future generations. By our example, we can help ensure Jewish perpetuity.

Let us begin today.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer

Haftorah Succos: Second Day

"I have built a place of habitation for You, the foundation for Your
dwelling for all time."

Thus spoke Solomon at the inauguration of the Temple.

Tzav'rei Shalal cites R' Avrohom Rozanes, who raises a question: the Torah tells us that the heathen nations who originally inhabited the land of Israel placed statues of idols on all of the hills. If so, how is it fitting that the Temple of Hashem be built on the Temple Mount? Hadn't this hill, too, been defiled by having earlier been the site of idol worship?

In answer, Rabbi Rozanes cites the Midrash that at the creation of the world, the Divine Presence rested upon the Foundation Rock (even shesiyah) upon which the Temple was later built. Thus, the Divine Presence had already "acquired" the site for itself. It could not be wrested away by idolators.

This idea is conveyed by our verse. "I have built a place of habitation for You." How? " ... the foundation for Your dwelling for all time." Right from the beginning of time, this site had been Hashem's resting-place, and so the idolators could do nothing to defile it.

On the Festival of Succos we take the sanctity of the Day of Atonement and bring it into our life-experience. For one week we live in the succah, beneath the "shade of the Divine." We want to get a head start on the coming year. For we know that in the course of the coming year we will be beset by temptations and pitfalls, and we want to fortify ourselves right from the start. Thus forearmed, we may confidently enter the coming year.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer

Haftorah Simchas Torah

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander writes in his book Sifsei Chaim that during the festival of Succos, we endeavor to insulate ourselves from those elements of our mundane world which might turn us away from the path of Torah and truth.

We seclude ourselves in the succah, beneath the shelter of Hashem and away from all the influences of the world at large.

But this alone is not enough.

Man cannot live a life of seclusion. And so immediately following Succos we celebrate Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, and we fill ourselves brimful with the joy of the Torah. Infused with this joy, we are prepared for whatever the frigid winter months might bring.

In a similar vein we read in our haftorah:

"Only be strong and firm, to conscientiously act in accordance with all of the Torah ... You shall meditate upon it [the Torah] day and night."

Thus is Joshua exhorted, on the eve of his leading the Jewish people into the Promised Land. For it is now--at the outset--that Joshua must dedicate himself to Torah, and imbue his life-mission, and that of his people, with the fullness of the Torah spirit.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer


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