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An Unusual Haftarah

Question #1: Haftaras Tzav

Why do we read the haftarah that we do this week?

Question #2: Shabbos Hagadol

What does parshas Tzav have to do with Shabbos Hagadol?

Question #3: Purim Meshulash

What is Purim Meshulash and what does it have to do with this week’s parsha?

Answer:

Although every chumash has a haftarah printed for parshas Tzav, in reality, we rarely read this haftarah, for several reasons:

(1) In all common (non-leap) years, which are 12 of our 19-year cycle, parshas Tzav falls on the Shabbos immediately before Pesach and is Shabbos Hagadol. On this Shabbos, accepted practice is to read the haftarah that begins with the words Ve’orvoh laHashem at the end of Malachi that closes the book of Trei Asar, the era of the prophets, and the section of Tanach that we call Nevi’im.

According to the Abudraham, Levush (Orach Chaim 428: 4), Knesses Hagedolah, and Elyah Rabbah (428: 5), the reason Parshas Tzav generally falls out on Shabbos Hagadol is that it mentions the halachos of kashering keilim (Vayikra 6:21), albeit regarding the korban chatas, thus reminding people of the preparations necessary for Pesach. In leap years, parshas Metzora is usually Shabbos Hagadol, and this parsha mentions kli cheres yishaver, that earthenware dishes cannot be kashered, again an appropriate reminder for Pesach.

(2) In leap years, parshas Tzav usually falls on parshas Zochor, in which case its haftarah discusses the war that Shaul fought against Amalek and how Shemuel admonished him. This haftarah, which is in the book of Shemuel, is usually referred to as Pakadti, as the haftarah begins with the words Koh amar Hashem Tzevaos pakadti eis asher assah Amalek le’Yisroel.

(3) On the occasional leap year when parshas Tzav does not fall on parshas Zochor, it sometimes falls on parshas Parah, in which case its haftarah is from the book of Yechezkel, often called Ben Adam, the first words of the second posuk of the haftarah. (We call it by the words of its second posuk, since the first posuk reads simply Vayehi dvar Hashem eilai leimor, “and the word of Hashem came to me, saying,” an expression that shows up several dozen times in sefer Yechezkel alone, as well as appearing many times in the seforim of both Yirmiyohu and Zecharyah.)

Thus, notwithstanding that the chumashim all instruct you that the haftarah for parshas Tzav is from the book of Yirmiyohu, in reality, the only time that we read the haftarah printed in the chumashim for parshas Tzav is (1) in a leap year, and when parshas Tzav is (2) neither parshas Zochor (3) nor parshas Parah. The only leap year when parshas Tzav does not fall on either parshas Zochor or parshas Parah is when Purim falls on a Thursday or Friday. In these years, Zochor falls on the Shabbos before Tzav and Parah on the Shabbos after.

In summary, the haftarah printed in the chumash for parshas Tzav is read only in a leap year when Purim falls on Thursday or Friday.

Purim Meshulash

To make things even more unusual, in a leap year when Purim falls on Friday, in Yerushalayim a special haftarah is read. This is because, in Yerushalayim, Purim is observed on the fifteenth of Adar, a day later than outside Yerushalayim. In a year when this happens, Purim everywhere else falls on Friday, but, in Yerushalayim, Purim falls on Shabbos. This creates a very complicated combination of practices commonly called Purim Meshulash, literally, triple Purim, so-called because, in common practice, the observances of Purim are divided among three days.

The Megillah is read and the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim is observed on Friday, the same day everyone else is observing Purim.

On Shabbos, the fifteenth of Adar, in Yerushalayim recite Al Hanissim, read Vayavo Amalek for maftir and a special haftarah in honor of Purim. This is the same haftarah that everyone reads for Shabbos Zochor, Pakadti. (In Yerushalayim, the same haftarah is read on two consecutive weeks!)

The mitzvos of Purim seudah and shalach manos are on Sunday, thus earning the observance its moniker of Purim Meshulash.

For the purposes of our topic, in those years, residents of Yerushalayim miss reading the haftarah of parshas Tzav. As a result, the only time in Yerushalayim the “regular” haftarah for parshas Tzav is read is in a leap year when Purim outside Yerushalayim falls on Thursday and in Yerushalayim on Friday – which is the case this year. So, this year is one of the very rare years in which the haftarah printed in the chumashim for parshas Tzav is read everywhere.

Everyone reads the same haftarah

On the other hand, when there is no “special Shabbos” on parshas Tzav, it appears that all the various different customs that we have, Ashkenazic, Chassidic, Sefardic and Italian, all read the same haftarah. Even the Abudraham, who upon occasion cites a different choice or choices for haftarah than we are accustomed to, also cites the same haftarah for this week. Although, in all likelihood, there once were places in which the custom was to read a different haftarah for parshas Tzav, I am unaware of any such custom. If any readers are aware of a different custom that exists or once existed, I would appreciate if you would let me know.

What is the name of the haftarah?

Although haftaros do not have a “name,” most of them are called by the words that open them or are near their beginning, similar to the way we name our parshi’os. In this instance, the first words of the haftarah are Koh amar Hashem Tzeva’kos Elokei Yisroel oloseichem sefu al zivcheichem, ve’ichlu basar,“So said Hashem of Hosts, the G-d of Yisroel: Add your korbanos olah to your korbanos shelamim that you bring – and eat meat!” (Yirmiyohu 7:21).

Since the first words of the haftarah, Koh amar Hashem Tzeva’kos Elokei Yisroel, “So said Hashem of Hosts, the G-d of Yisroel,” are not particularly descriptive of the uniqueness of this haftarah, it is usually called Oloseichem sefu, which is a brief way of referring to the unique words at the beginning of this haftarah. It is interesting that the naming of the parsha is also similar in this way in that its title, Tzav, is not in the first posuk of the parsha, but in the second, since there is nothing unique in the first posuk, Vayedabeir Hashem el Moshe leimor.

Where is the haftarah?

The haftarah is taken from one of the most difficult sections of the book of Yirmiyohu. The haftarah itself is not a pleasant one to read. The difficulty is not because the words are hard to translate, but because we do not want to think of the level to which the Jewish people (that means us) had fallen and the extent to which Yirmiyohu Hanavi was required to rebuke them – and apparently they (we) did not listen!

It is interesting to note that the haftarah that we read closes with the very same pesukim that close the haftarah that we read every year on Tisha B’Av, which begins with the words Asof asifeim (literally, “I will completely destroy them”). The reason for this is that Asof asifeim, which is taken from the same rebuke that Yirmiyohu was required to deliver, closes with a positive ending, “The wise man should not glorify himself with his wisdom, nor should the powerful man with his power, nor the rich man with his wealth. Only with this should someone glorify himself – by studying and knowing Me” (Yirmiyohu 9:22-23). The reading of Oloseichem sefu would end with a very negative closing (I refer our readers to Yirmiyohu 8:3), and so, custom developed to skip ahead and read the closing of Asof asifeim, in order to end the haftarah on a positive note.

What is the theme of the haftarah?

Yirmiyohu is telling the people, sarcastically — since you are not observing the mitzvos properly, why bother offering korbanos olah? Instead, eat them, and at least get the protein benefit from eating meat!

In a korban olah, the entire animal, except for its hide, is burnt on the mizbei’ach. The korban is called olah, an elevation offering, because it goes “up” entirely to Hashem, and, when bringing this korban, a person is to look at himself as completely submitting to Hashem’s Will – thereby, he “goes up” to Hashem, the same way.

In the case of korbanos shelamim, it is a mitzvah to eat the meat of the korban – some of the meat is given to the kohanim, who eat it with their families, and some of it is given to the person who offered the korban. This facilitated a huge celebration, since his family and friends would gather to eat the korban in Yerushalayim.

Yirmiyohu Hanavi is talking to the Jews in a derisive way. He takes issue with what had, apparently, become a very stylish observance of the Jewish religion in the period just before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. People had taken a much dichotomized approach to religion. Outside the Beis Hamikdash, they did whatever they felt like doing. Even such serious crimes as murder did not disturb them. But they would bring korbanos to the Beis Hamikdash and treat it with respect. Of course, this is not an acceptable observance of Hashem’s Torah.

According to Rav Yosef Breuer’s commentary on the posuk: If the Sanctuary no longer bears the message… to proclaim the truths symbolically taught — that the olah expresses moral dedication to Hashem, and the shelamim declares a vow to dedicate all of life’s joy to Him — then the “sacrificial cult” that remains is throwing animal flesh into the fire for no useful purpose. Instead, add your olah to your regular meals, and at least enjoy a decent meal!

Second posuk of haftarah

The second posuk of the haftarah looks at a similar theme, but from a different vantage point: Ki lo dibarti es avoseichem velo tzivisim beyom hotzi osam mei’eretz Mitzrayim al divrei olah va’zavach, “Because I did not speak with your fathers, nor did I command them on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning the korbanos olah and shelamim.” The navi notes that the people have made the “sacrificial cult” of the korbanos into the most important aspect of their being Jewish. Yet, no mention of these mitzvos was mentioned when the Jews were redeemed from Egypt and became a nation! Korbanos are to be observed as part of a framework of keeping all the mitzvos – they are never the primary focus.

We don’t identify with this view that Judaism is a sacrificial cult, because we have no Beis Hamikdash. However, people who park their observance of Torah in shul, and do not allow it to spill over into their personal or business lives are guilty of the same fallacy! Someone who wears Jewish garb, but runs his business without constantly recognizing Torah, is guilty of the same crime.

Therefore, Yirmiyohu tells the people: Since you lack the basic acceptance of the values and requirements of the Torah, why not just eat the korban. At least this way, you are getting some nutrition from the animal, whereas when slaughtering as a korban without any commitment to the Torah, you are getting no benefit from the korban, and it is a complete waste.

Why this haftarah?

An obvious question is: Why was Oloseichem sefu designated as the haftarah for parshas Tzav? Before answering this question, we need to analyze why we read the haftaros altogether.

Haftarah History

Early sources present two completely different reasons for the origin of the mitzvah to read the haftarah.

Reason #1:

Some early sources report that, in ancient times, a haftarah was recited towards the end of Shacharis every day of the year. At the point of davening when we recite Uva Letziyon, they would take out a sefer Navi and read about ten verses together with their Aramaic translation, the common Jewish parlance at the time. Then, they recited the two main pesukim of kedushah, Kodosh Kodosh Kodosh Hashem Tzvakos melo kol ha’aretz kevodo, and Boruch kevod Hashem mi’mekomo, together with their Aramaic translation. In those days, all men used to study Torah for several hours after davening, before occupying themselves with their daily livelihoods. The Navi was recited to guarantee that people fulfilled the daily requirement to study some Biblical part of the Torah, in addition to the daily requirement of studying both Mishnah and Gemara (Teshuvas Ha’ge’onim #55).

Why did this practice end?

This daily practice of incorporating some “haftarah” reading ended when people needed to spend more time earning a living (Teshuvas Ha’ge’onim #55). To ensure that this practice of studying some Tanach daily at the end of davening would not be forgotten, they still recited the verses of kedusha, a practice mentioned in the Gemara (Sotah 49a). Around the recital of these two verses developed the prayer we say daily that begins with the pasuk “Uva Letzion.”

Although the daily “haftarah” ceased at this time, on Shabbos and Yom Tov, when people do not work, the haftarah readings continued. As a result, there is no need to mention Uva Letzion immediately after  kerias haTorah on Shabbos and Yom Tov, since that is when we recite the haftarah.  For this reason, Uva Letzion is postponed until Mincha (Shibbolei Haleket #44).

A second reason for the haftarah

Other, later authorities cite a completely different historical basis for reciting the haftarah. At one time in antiquity, the gentiles prohibited the public reading of the Torah, but they did not forbid reading from the Nevi’im in public. Therefore, in lieu of krias haTorah, Jewish communities began reading selections from the Nevi’im that would remind people of the Torah portion that should have been read that day (Abudraham). Many of the haftarah readings were chosen to remind people of the observances of the day, such as the special haftaros for the Yomim Tovim, the four parshi’os, Shabbos Hagadol, Shabbos Shuva, and mochor chodesh, or to remind and console people for the seasons. Examples of the latter include the three haftaros read during the Three Weeks, and the seven haftaros, called the shivah de’nechemta,that are read from the Shabbos following Tisha B’Av until Rosh Hashanah.

Although the gentiles eventually rescinded the prohibition against the public Torah reading, the practice of reading the haftarah continued, even after the reinstatement of the Torah reading. At that time, it was instituted that the person reading the haftarah should first receive an aliyah to the Torah, which we call maftir (Megillah 23a), in order to emphasize that the words of the Nevi’im are not equal to the Torah in kedusha or in authority.

It is noteworthy that although the second reason is better known and is quoted frequently by halachic commentaries (from the Bach, Orach Chayim 284, onwards), I found the first reason in much earlier sources. While the earliest source I found mentioning the second approach was the Abudraham, who lived in the early fourteenth century, the first source is found in writings of the Geonim, well over a thousand years ago.

I suspect that both historical reasons are accurate: Initially, the haftarah was instituted when the Jews were banned from reading the Torah in public; they instituted reading the haftaros as a reminder of the mitzvah of public Torah reading. After that decree was rescinded and the mitzvah of kerias haTorah was reinstituted, Jews continued the practice of reading the Nevi’im and even extended it as a daily practice to encourage people to study the Written Torah every day. When this daily practice infringed on people’s ability to earn a living, they limited it to non-workdays.

According to the second reason, each week’s haftarah should serve as a reminder either of the Torah reading that should have transpired or of some other special occasion that Chazal wanted us to remember.

Haftaras Tzav

At this point, we are in a position to answer our opening question: Why is it that we read specifically this haftarah this week?

Some answer that the reason is to teach people that we should not lose sight of the reason why the korbanos are offered. Someone might think that the korbanos are, inherently, of the greatest importance, without realizing that their purpose is to bring us closer to Hashem in our observance of all the mitzvos (Commentary of Rabbi Mendel Hirsch).

Conclusion

I remember, as a child, assuming that the word haftarah was pronounced half-Torah, because it was always much shorter than the Torah reading. Unfortunately, I occasionally hear adults mispronounce the word this way, too. Although there are several interpretations of the word haftarah, it is usually understood to mean completing, as in “completing the reading of the Torah” (Levush, Orach Chayim 284:1). Recital of the weekly Haftarah is an ancient custom and a takanas Chazal,and must be treated with respect. The entire purpose of its reading is to ensure our study of some of the Written Torah, and to incorporate its eternal messages into our lives.