The Haftarah for Pinchas

This week is the next to last week that the Eretz Yisroel community and the chutz la’aretz community are still reading different parshios, still due to the fact that acharon shel Pesach fell on Shabbos. This means that in Eretz Yisroel the haftarah for Parshas Pinchas is not one of the three read during the three weeks.

In most years, Parshas Pinchas falls during the three weeks and, as a result, its haftarah is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is the first of the telasa deparanusa, the three special haftaros we read during the “Three Weeks” of our national mourning (Rishonim quoting Pesikta). This haftarah is usually printed in the chumashim as the haftarah for Parshas Matos.

Since in Eretz Yisroel this is one of the fairly rare years when Parshas Pinchas is read before the fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz, there the haftarah printed in the chumashim for Parshas Pinchas is read. The haftarah, which is from the book of Melachim and begins with the words Ve’yad Hashem, describes how Eliyahu admonishes the wicked monarchs Achav and Izevel. Since the Torah reading and the haftarah reading respectively mention the attributes of zeal demonstrated by Pinchas and Eliyahu, this haftarah is very appropriate for this Shabbos. Furthermore, the Midrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Midrash Rabbah on this week’s parsha) states that Pinchas was Eliyahu, thus providing another reason to read this haftarah on this Shabbos.

It is actually unclear whether the Midrash means that Pinchas and Eliyahu were the same person, particularly since other sources in Chazal identify Eliyahu as being either from the tribe of Binyomin or of Gad (Bereishis Rabbah 71:9), both of which are impossible if Eliyahu was Pinchas, who was a kohen. The Gemara may simply mean that Eliyahu exhibited the same personality traits as Pinchas, since both displayed tremendous zeal in upholding Hashem’s honor.

The haftarah quotes Eliyahu as saying to Hashem: Kano kineisi laHashem Elokei Tzeva’os ki azvu berischa bnei Yisrael, I have acted zealously on behalf of Hashem the G-d of Hosts, for the Children of Israel have forsaken your covenant (Melachim 1:19:10), an allegation Eliyahu soon repeats (ibid. Verse 14). According to the Midrash, Eliyahu accused Bnei Yisrael of abrogating bris milah. As a response, Hashem decreed that Eliyahu will be present at every bris to see that the Jews indeed fulfill this mitzvah. Chazal therefore instituted that there should be a seat of honor for Eliyahu at every bris (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 29; Zohar 93a).

Indeed, Jews view the mitzvah of bris milah dearly, and have accepted to observe this mitzvah in extremely difficult circumstances. Since the mitzvah of milah is so dear, we celebrate it as a happy occasion even during the three weeks and the nine days, periods of time in which we otherwise are accustomed to mourn. For this reason, the mohel, sandek, and parents of the baby may shave or get a haircut in honor of the bris, and during the Nine Days we serve meat meals in honor of the occasion.

We should also remember that Eliyahu is not only the malach habris, the angel who attends the bris, but also represents Pinchas, the bringer and angel of peace.

Since the discussion for haftarah of Pinchas is fairly short, I am adding another short article about a different, anomalous kerias haTorah situation:

How can this happen?

Kwiz Kwestion:

Someone received revi’i, the fourth aliyah, Shabbos morning, and, later that day, received back-to-back aliyos?

This question is not at all theoretical. I actually experienced it once. How did this happen?

Explaining the question fully provides a bit of a hint at the answer. Ordinarily, the only time someone receives back-to-back aliyos is when there is no levi in shul, in which case the kohen who receives the first aliyah also receives the second aliyah, that usually reserved for a levi. A kohen receives the aliyah because kohanim are members of the tribe of levi, and the same kohen receives the aliyah, rather than spreading the wealth around by giving a different kohen the second aliyah because of a rule ein kor’in lekohen achar kohen “We do not call up two consecutive kohanim.” Chazal ruled that this is prohibited because of concern that someone will think that, after calling up the first kohen, they discovered a halachic problem with his status and therefore needed to call up a different kohen (Gittin 59b).

Now, as a kohen I can tell you that it is a very common occurrence that I receive back-to-back aliyos, one as a kohen and the other bimkom levi. But how did I manage to get revi’i without the gabbai making an error? A kohen always receives either the first aliyah of the Torah, maftir, or acharon. Now, since revi’i is never maftir or acharon, how could a kohen ever receive the aliyah of revi’i?

One Shabbos I attended a family bar mitzvah, where the minyan was only family members. Not only am I a kohen, but so are all my brothers and sons, as well as my nephew, the bachur habar mitzvah. Virtually everyone else in attendance at the minyan made in honor of the bar mitzvah was a kohen. The only non-kohanim in attendance were the bachur’s maternal grandfather, who is a yisroel, and a family friend who is a levi. Thus, the first three aliyos were: a kohen (one of the family members), the levi guest and the maternal grandfather, who received shelishi.

Now is where the fun starts. All other attendees at the minyan were kohanim, and yet we have four more aliyos, plus maftir to give out! What is a gabbai supposed to do?

Fortunately, this question is discussed by the rishonim, with a wide variety of answers. The Beis Yosef cites four opinions what to do for the four remaining aliyos.

1. Call up the same three people who were called up as kohen, levi, and shelishi, as revi’i, chamishi and shishi, and then call up the original kohen for a third time as shevi’i.

2. The yisroel who was called up as shelishi should be called up again for revi’i, chamishi, shishi, and shevi’i since he is the only yisroel in the house.

3. Call up children for the remaining four aliyos.

4. Call up different kohanim for the remaining four aliyos.

What are the reasons behind each of these approaches?

1. Call up the same three people again

Although Chazal required that we call up seven people for aliyos on Shabbos, nowhere does it say that one may not call up the same person twice. As we see from the case when the kohen receives the aliyah of the levi, someone can be called up twice and count as two people receiving aliyos. Thus, our best way to resolve this situation is to call up the same three people again, which avoids calling up two kohanim one after the other. We also avoid calling up a kohen for an aliyah that implies that he is not a kohen, except for the one kohen who already was called up as kohen. Thus, no one should make a mistake that a kohen has any problem with his pedigree.

2. Call the yisroel for five consecutive aliyos

At the time of the Mishnah and Gemara, there was no assigned baal keriyah, and the person who received the aliyah was expected to read for himself. The institution of an assigned baal keriyah began in the time of the rishonim, when it became a common problem that someone called up for an aliyah was unable to read the Torah correctly, thus calling into question whether the community fulfilled the mitzvah of kerias haTorah.

However, even during the days of the Mishnah it occasionally happened that a minyan of Jews did not include seven people who could read the Torah correctly. The Tosefta, a source dating back to the era of the Mishnah but not included in the Mishnah, discusses a case in which there is only one person in the minyan who is capable of reading the Torah. What do we do? The Tosefta (Megillah 3:5) rules that we call this person up to the Torah seven consecutive times in order to fulfill the mitzvah of seven aliyos.

Based on this Tosefta, some explain that since we cannot call up two kohanim one after the other, when we have only one Yisroel in attendance, we call him to the Torah for all the yisroel aliyos (Beis Yosef, based on his understanding of the Mordechai).

3. Call up children

Our practice is that we do not call a child up to the Torah because it is not a sign of respect that a child read the Torah for a community (see Megillah 23a). From this comment, we see that, other than this concern, a child may have an aliyah, even though he is underage to fulfill a mitzvah.

Therefore, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that, in the situation at hand, we should call up children for the remaining aliyos. Apparently, he considers this to be a better solution than calling up someone who has already received an aliyah. The only time we can give someone two aliyos is to a kohen when there is no levi in shul. Therefore, our only alternative is to suspend the community honor and call up children for the missing aliyos.

If there are no children in attendance, Rabbeinu Yeruchem rules that we cannot continue the reading of the Torah!

4. Call up consecutive kohanim

All the approaches we have quoted thus far contend that there is never any exception to the rule that one may not call up two kohanim consecutively. However, there are rishonim who dispute this assumption, contending that, when it is obvious to all attendees that the reason you called two kohanim consecutively was because there were no other alternatives, there is no concern that someone will think one of the kohanim has a yichus problem, and therefore Chazal were not gozeir.

The Rashba contends that when everyone in attendance realizes that there are only kohanim in the minyan, we simply call up consecutive kohanim. There is no concern not to call one kohen after another in this instance.

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the halacha follows the Rashba, and, to the best of my knowledge, this approach is accepted by all late halachic authorities. Thus, we now have answered our opening conundrum: How did I receive revi’i, the fourth aliyah, on Shabbos morning, and, later that day, receive back-to-back aliyos?

Missing the Reading II

Question #1: The Missing Speaker

The audience waited patiently for the guest speaker from America who never arrived, notwithstanding that he had marked it carefully on his calendar and was planning to be there. What went wrong?

Question #2: The Missing Reading

“I will be traveling to Eretz Yisroel this spring, and will miss one of the parshiyos. Can I make up the missing kerias haTorah?”

Question #3: The Missing Parshah

“I will be traveling from Eretz Yisroel to the United States after Pesach. Do I need to review the parshah twice?”

Question #4: The Missing Aliyah

“May I accept an aliyah for a parshah that is not the one I will be reading on Shabbos?”

Introduction:

As we explained in the first part of this article, this year we have a very interesting phenomenon — there is a difference in the weekly Torah reading between what is read in Eretz Yisroel and what is read in chutz la’aretz for over three months  – until the Shabbos of Matos/Masei, during the Three Weeks and immediately before Shabbos Chazon. Since the Eighth Day of Pesach, Acharon shel Pesach, falls on Shabbos, in chutz la’aretz, where this day is Yom Tov, we read a special Torah reading in honor of Yom Tov that begins with the words Aseir te’aseir. In Eretz Yisroel, where Pesach is only seven days long, this Shabbos is after Pesach (although the house is still chometz-free), and the reading is parshas Acharei Mos, which is always the first reading after Pesach in a leap year (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 428:4). On the subsequent Shabbos, the Jews of Eretz Yisroel already read parshas Kedoshim, whereas outside Eretz Yisroel the reading is parshas Acharei Mos, since for them it is the first Shabbos after Pesach. This phenomenon, whereby the readings of Eretz Yisroel and chutz la’aretz are a week apart, continues until the Shabbos that falls on August 6th. On that Shabbos, in chutz la’aretz parshiyos Matos and Masei are read together, whereas in Eretz Yisroel that week is parshas Masei, parshas Matos having been read the Shabbos before.

Anyone traveling to Eretz Yisroel during these three months will miss a parshah on his trip there, and anyone traveling from Eretz Yisroel to chutz la’aretz will hear the same parshah on two consecutive Shabbosos. Those from Eretz Yisroel who spend Pesach in chutz la’aretz will find that they have missed a parshah.

As I mentioned, there are several halachic questions that result from this phenomenon. Is a traveler or someone who attended a chutz la’aretz minyan on Acharon shel Pesach required to make up the missed parshah, and, if so, how? During which week does he review the parshah shenayim mikra ve’echad Targum? If he will be hearing a repeated parshah, is he required to review the parshah again on the consecutive week? Can he receive an aliyah or “lein” on a Torah reading that is not “his” parshah? These are some of the questions that result from this occurrence.

Searching for a Missing Parshah

At this point, let us examine some of our opening questions. “I will be traveling to Eretz Yisroel this spring, and will miss one of the parshiyos. Can I make up the missing kerias haTorah?”

To the best of my knowledge, all halachic authorities rule that there is no requirement upon an individual to make up a missing parshah (Yom Tov Sheini Kehilchasah, page 239, notes 40 and 41, quoting Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach, Rav Elazar Shach, and disciples of Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his name). Nevertheless, there is a widespread practice to try to find ways of reading through the entire extra parshah. Among the approaches I know are the following:

  1. Read the entire missed parshah together with the kohen’s aliyah.
  2. On the Shabbos mincha of the week before one leaves chutz la’aretz, read the entire coming week’s parshah, rather than only until sheini, as we usually do (Yom Tov Sheini Kehilchasah, page 241).

Individual versus tzibur

We should note that there is a major difference in halachah whether an individual missed the week’s reading, or whether an entire tzibur missed the reading.  There is longstanding halachic literature ruling that, when an entire tzibur missed a week’s Torah reading, a situation that transpired occasionally due to flooding, warfare or other calamity, the tzibur would be required to make up the reading that was missed by reading a double parshah the following week (Rema, Orach Chayim 135:2, quoting Or Zarua).

Which parshah?

At this point, let us examine the next of our opening questions:

“I will be traveling from Eretz Yisroel to the United States after Pesach. Do I need to review the parshah twice?”

Let me explain the background to the question. The Gemara (Brachos 8a-b) states: “A person should always complete his weekly parshiyos with the community by reading the Scriptures twice and the targum once (shenayim mikra ve’echad targum).” The targum referred to here is the Aramaic translation of the chumash known as Targum Onkelus. We will leave the details of this mitzvah for a different time, but we should be aware that the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 285:2) states that one who “fears Heaven” should read both the targum and Rashi.

Our questioner is asking as follows: He will have read each parshah according to the weekly schedule in Eretz Yisroel, and then he will be traveling to chutz la’aretz, where the previous week’s Eretz Yisroel reading will be read. Does the requirement to read the weekly parshah “with the community” require him to read the same parshah again, the next week, since for this week, he is part of that community, notwithstanding that he just read through that entire parshah the week before?

This exact issue is raised by Rav Avraham Chaim Na’eh, one of the great halachic authorities of mid-twentieth century Yerushalayim. Rav Na’eh, usually referred as the Grach Na’eh, authored many Torah works, among them Shiurei Torah on the measurements germane to halachah, and Ketzos Hashulchan, which is an easy-to-read, practical guide to daily halachah. Aside from being a very excellent source of halachah that can be studied by both a layman and a skilled talmid chacham, the Grach Na’eh had a specific unwritten goal to accomplish. Whenever the Mishnah Berurah disputes an approach of the Gra”z (also known as the Shulchan Aruch Harav), the Grach Na’eh presents a brilliant approach explaining how the Gra”z understood the topic and thus justifying that position. The Grach Na’eh himself was a Lubavitcher Chassid, and, therefore, felt a personal responsibility to explain any difficulty that someone might pose with a halachic position of the Gra”z, the founder of Chabad Chassidus.

Returning to our original question, the Grach Na’eh (Ketzos Hashulchan, Chapter 72, footnote 3) rules that a ben Eretz Yisroel is not required to read shenayim mikra ve’echad targum a second time the next week, since he already fulfilled the mitzvah of reading it together with the Israeli tzibur. However, a ben chutz la’aretz who is in Eretz Yisroel should read shenayim mikra ve’echad targum for both parshiyos the week he is in Eretz Yisroel. Since he will be part of an Eretz Yisroel tzibur, he should read that parshah, and he also must read the one of chutz la’aretz, because otherwise, he’ll completely miss studying that parshah this year.

Which one first?

This last point leads us to a new question. Assuming that our chutz la’aretz traveler is now required to read through two parshiyos during the week that will be his first Shabbos in Israel, which parshah does he read first? Does he read the two parshiyos according to their order in the Torah, or does he read first the Eretz Yisroel parshah, which is second in order in the Torah?

Why would he read the two parshiyos out of order?

The reason to require this is because the mitzvah is to read the parshah with the tzibur, and the Torah reading our traveler will be hearing that week is the second parshah since Eretz Yisroel’s reading is a week ahead.

We actually find a responsum on a related question. The Maharsham, one of the greatest halachic authorities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, was asked a question by Rav Yitzchak Weiss, who is identified as a rav of Pressburg, Hungary. (You won’t find this city in any map of Hungary today, for two very good reasons: This city is known today as Bratislava, and it is no longer in Hungary, but serves as the capital of Slovakia.)

The question concerns someone who did not complete being maavir sedra one week. Should he complete the parshah that he is missing before beginning the current week, in order to do his parshiyos in order, or should he do the current week first, and then make up the missed part of the previous week?

The Maharsham concludes that he should do the current week first and then the makeup (Shu”t Maharsham 1:213). If we consider our case to be parallel to his, then one should do the two parshiyos in reverse order. However, one could, perhaps, argue that our traveler has an equal chiyuv to complete both parshiyos, since he is now considered a member of two different communities regarding the laws of the week’s parshah. In this case, he should do them in order.

Which aliyah?

At this point, let us look at our final question. “May I accept an aliyah for a parshah that is not the one I will be reading on Shabbos?”

All halachic authorities that I have heard contend that one may receive an aliyah and/or lein without any concerns. The basis for this approach is that there is no requirement to hear a specific Torah reading each week. One is required to hear a Torah reading, and that reading should follow a consecutive pattern. But these details are not requirements that govern an individual’s mitzvah.

This year in Jerusalem…

In these occasional years when Matos and Masei are read separately, parshas Pinchas falls out before the Three Weeks — and we actually get to read the haftarah that is printed in the chumashim for parshas Pinchas, Ve’yad Hashem, from the book of Melachim. In all other years, parshas Pinchas is the first Shabbos of the Three Weeks, and the haftarah is Divrei Yirmiyahu, the opening words of the book of Yirmiyahu, which is appropriate to the season. The printers of chumashim usually elect to print Divrei Yirmiyahu as if it is the haftarah for parshas Matos, and then instruct you to read it, on most years, instead as the haftarah for Pinchas. What is more logical is to label Divrei Yirmiyahu as the hatarah appropriate for the first of the Three Weeks, and to print both Ve’yad Hashem and Divrei Yirmiyahu after Pinchas; Ve’yad Hashem for the occasional year when Pinchas falls before the 17th of Tamuz, and Divrei Yirmiyahu for the far more frequent year when it falls after, and instruct people that when there is a haftarah to be read just for parshas Matos, they should read Divrei Yirmiyahu which is located as the second haftarah printed after parshas Pinchas. But, then, the printers do not usually ask me what to do, electing instead to mimic what previous printers have done. This phenomenon affects practical halachah, but that is a topic for a different time. However, the printers’ insistence to call Ve’yad Hashem the “regular” haftarah for parshas Pinchas has lead to interesting questions.

Wrong haftarah

The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, was asked the following shaylah. A shul read the haftarah Ve’yad Hashem for parshas Pinchas when it fell during the Three Weeks, which is the wrong haftarah (they should have read Divrei Yirmiyahu), and now it is parshas Matos/Masei. Which haftarah do they read, Divrei Yirmiyahu which is the one for the first of the Three Weeks, or the one for the second of the Three Weeks, which begins with the words Shim’u dvar Hashem?

He says that because these two chapters, Divrei Yirmiyahu and Shim’u dvar Hashem are next to one another, they should begin with Divrei Yirmiyahu and read them in order, both together, as one long haftarah (Shu”t Tzemach Tzedek, quoted by Maharsham). Those who are unhappy about this decision of reading what is, in essence, a doubled haftarah, should take it up with their gabbai, or, if they prefer, with the printers, who should have placed Divrei Yirmiyahu after parshas Pinchas!

End of Shim’u dvar Hashem – Nice or near?

By the way, there is a difference between the way the Sefardim and the Ashkenazim end this haftarah. The passage Shim’u dvar Hashem does not end on the most pleasant topic, and we try to close our haftaros on a positive note. For this reason, both Ashkenazim and Sefardim skip ahead to find a nice way to end the haftarah, but we don’t jump to the same place. Ashkenazim skip to the pasuk Halo Mei’atah, which is twelve pesukim ahead, whereas Sefardim jump ahead further, to the two heart-warming pesukim that begin with Im tashuv Yisroel, which are over thirty pesukim ahead. In this instance, it appears that Sefardim elected to go with the nicer conclusion, whereas Ashkenazim elected the nearest appropriate ending.

Conclusion

We see the importance of reading through the entire Torah every year. We should place even more importance in understanding the Torah’s portion well every week and putting it into practice.

 

Parshah Insights: The Case of the Missing Haftarah

This week I am presenting an article by a guest author, Rabbi Yehuda Spitz. The original article was written for a common year. I have modified the article to make it appropriate for a leap year.

Parshah Insights: The Case of the Missing Haftarah

By Rabbi Yehuda Spitz

Because this Shabbos, Parshas Acharei Mos in chutz la’aretz and Parshas Kedoshim in Eretz Yisroel, falls on erev Rosh Chodesh, the accepted reading in most communities is from the book of Shemuel, because the words at the beginning of the haftarah are Mochor Chodesh, “Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh.” However, as we will soon see, whether this is the correct haftarah for this Shabbos is a subject of dispute. There is also a dispute regarding what haftarah is read next Shabbos.

It is fairly common that the Haftarah on parshas Kedoshim is not the one listed in the Chumash. I have even seen times when the haftarah reading commenced in the shul, while a concurrent dispute was carrying on with some congregants arguing that the Ba’al Koreh was reading the wrong haftarah!

To understand properly whether the “wrong haftarah” was read, some background is needed.

Haftarah History

According to the Abudraham and Tosafos Yom Tov, the haftaros were established when the wicked Antiochus (infamous from the Chanukah miracle) outlawed public reading of the Torah. The Chachamim of the time therefore established the custom of reading a topic from the Nevi’im similar to what was supposed to be read from the Torah.[1] Even after the decree was nullified, this became minhag Yisrael.

Most haftaros share similarity with at least some concept presented in the Torah reading. For example, the Gemara (Megillah 29b-31a) discusses the proper haftarah readings for the various holidays throughout the year.

An interesting halachah germane to us is which haftarah is read when there is a double parshah. The Abudraham cites two minhagim which are based on a dispute in halachah: one, to read the first parshah’s haftarah; two, the “Rambam’s minhag” to read the second. Most Rishonim, including the Sefer Haminhagim, Mordechai, Ramban, Hagahos Maimoniyos, Shibbolei Haleket, and Tur rule that one should read the second parshah’s haftarah.[2] This second approach is codified as the proper psak by both the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 284; 7) and the Rema (Orach Chaim 428: 8), and, as far as this author knows, this is accepted by all of Klal Yisrael.[3] The main reason to do so is to enable reading a haftarah that is related to what was just concluded in the Torah leining, which is the second parshah, not the first one.

Acharei Exclusion

Yet, when it comes to the parshiyos of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim, it seems that it is not so simple. Although the Shulchan Aruch does not mention any difference between these and other double parshiyos, the Rema, citing the Sefer Haminhagim and the Mordechai, writes that the haftarah of the first parshah, Acharei Mos, is the proper one to read.

The reason for the uncharacteristic change is that the haftarah of Parshas Kedoshim, “Hasishpot,” from sefer Yechezkel, includes what is known as “Toavas Yerushalayim,” a revealing prophecy of the woeful spiritual state of the Jewish communities and the terrible things that will occur to the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael for not following the word of G-d. The Gemara (Megillah 25b) relates a story of one who read such a haftarah in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer, and whose own family’s indiscretions subsequently exposed. It was suggested that this passage not be read as a haftarah. Ultimately, though, the Gemara concludes that Hasishpot can be read as a haftarah.

Despite this halachic conclusion, it seems that the custom developed that, whenever possible, we avoid reading this condemning passage as the haftarah, whenever there is an easy alternative. Additionally, the content of Acharei Mos’ haftarah, “Halo K’Bnei Kushiyim” (from Amos in Trei Asar, Ch. 9) relates to Parshas Kedoshim, as well. Therefore, the Rema rules that when the Torah reading is the double parshiyos of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim, the haftarah of Acharei Mos is read, as opposed to every other double parshah, where the haftarah of the second parshah is read.

The Levush argued vehemently against such a switch, and suggested that the earlier authorities, who are quoted in support of the Rema’s position, never held this way. The Levush contends that it was a printing mistake to suggest such a switch.[4] Nevertheless, the Rema’s rule is followed by virtually all later poskim and Ashkenazic Kehillos.[5]

It should be noted that the Rema’s ruling here was not accepted by the Sefardic authorities. When Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are combined, they do indeed read Kedoshim’s haftarah, Hasishpot.[6]

Hazardous Haftarah?

Let us now take this question to the next step. How far do Ashkenazim go to avoid reading Hasishpot (Kedoshim’s usual haftarah) when Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are read on separate weeks?

This is where it gets interesting. The Gemara (Megillah 31a) states that whenever Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos, a special haftarah is read: “Hashamayim Kis’i,” as it mentions the concepts of both Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh.[7] If Rosh Chodesh falls out on Sunday, then on the preceding Shabbos, the haftarah of ‘Machar Chodesh’ is read, as it mentions the following day being Rosh Chodesh.

Rav Akiva Eiger[8] mentions that when Parshas Acharei Mos falls on Erev Rosh Chodesh and its haftarah gets pushed off for ‘Machar Chodesh’, then the proper haftarah for Parshas Kedoshim the next week is… Acharei Mos’s haftarah, and not Kedoshim’s! Rav Eiger’s reasoning is that since we find precedent not to read Kedoshim’s haftarah when the two parshiyos are read together, due to its explicit content, the same should apply for any other time Acharei Mos’s haftarah was not read; it should replace Kedoshim’s haftarah! Indeed, although not the common custom elsewhere, there is even an old Yerushalmi minhag not to ever read the haftarah of Kedoshim; and even when the Parshiyos are separate, Acharei Mos’s haftarah is read two weeks in a row.[9]

Although not universally accepted,[10] Rav Akiva Eiger’s rule is cited as the halachah by the Mishnah Berurah, and the proper Ashkenazic minhag by the Kaf Hachaim.[11] The Chazon Ish, as well as Rav Moshe Feinstein, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky,[12] rule this way as well. That is why in 5774/2014, when Acharei Mos was Shabbos Hagadol and its usual haftarah was not read, but replaced by the special haftarah for Shabbos Hagadol, many shuls read Acharei Mos’ haftarah on Parshas Kedoshim, instead of Kedoshim’s usual one. The same question will occur next week in chutz la’aretz: which haftarah do we read?

In fact, that is how both Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin’s authoritative Ezras Torah Luach and Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky’s essential Luach Eretz Yisrael rule as the proper minhag.[13]

To sum up, the next time you are trying to figure out what happened to the missing haftarah of Kedoshim, be aware – you may have to go back to Acharei Mos!

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author: yspitz@ohr.edu.

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U’Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim.

 

[1] As per the Tosafos Yom Tov (Megillah, Perek Bnei Ha’Ir, Mishnah 4 s.v. l’chisidran), citing the Sefer Hatishbi (Shoresh Petter). A similar background is provided by the Abudraham (Seder Parshiyos V’Haftaros).

[2] Abudraham (Seder Parshiyos V’Haftaros), Sefer Haminhagim (Minhag Shel Shabbos), Mordechai (end Maseches Megillah, 831; and not like the Ravyah citing the Ri Halevi), Ramban (Seder Hatefillos Kol Hashana, end par. Hamaftir B’Navi; ‘v’zu haminhag b’rov hamekomos’), Hagahos Maimoniyos (Hilchos Tefillah, Ch. 13: 20), Shibbolei Haleket (80), and Tur (Orach Chaim 428).

[3] See, for example, Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 118: 17), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (79: 6), Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 428: 7), Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 51), and Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 484: 6).

[4] Levush (Orach Chaim 428: 8 and 493 s.v. l’Parshas Kedoshim; at length). He adds that that haftarah, although discussing To’avas Yerushalayim is not the actual one discussed in the Gemara that Rabbi Eliezer held should not be read (which is found in Yechezkel Ch. 16). Additionally, Hasishpot is mentioned by several early authorities as being the proper haftarah for several other parshiyos (some Sefardim and Yemenites, in fact, read it for Parshas Shemos). Therefore, he maintains, how can we now say that it should not be read? Moreover, if the reason we read the second parshah’s haftarah is because the haftarah should be similar to the Torah reading just concluded, why should that change because of a specific haftarah’s content? He concludes that several other important authorities, including the Tikun Yissachar (Minhagos Haftaros pg. 84), hold not to switch, and when Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are combined, Kedoshim’s haftarah should still be read.

[5] Including the Agudah (cited by the Magen Avrohom, Orach Chaim 428: 10), Bach (ad loc. s.v. u’mah shekasav), Matteh Moshe (424), Magen Avrohom (ibid.), Elyah Rabbah (493: 17; and Elyah Zuta 16, following his ‘Zikno HaGaon  z”l’ — citing it as the minhag of Prague), Tosafos Yom Tov (Malbushei Yom Tov ad loc. 3; citing it as the minhag of the Maharash), Ba’er Heitiv (Orach Chaim 428: 9), Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 118: 17), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (79: 6), Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 428: 7), Mishnah Berurah (428, 26), and Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s Shoneh Halachos (ad loc. 22). The Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 52) cites this as the prevalent Ashkenazic minhag.

[6] Kaf Hachaim (Orach Chaim 428: 52) rules that Sefardic minhag is to follow the Kenesses Hagedolah (ad loc.) and Tikkun Yissachar (ibid.), and read Hasishpot, the haftarah of Kedoshim. This approach is also implied by the Shulchan Aruch, since he makes no mention of reading a different haftarah. Yalkut Yosef (ibid.) and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu’s Darchei Halachah glosses to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (79: 3) state this as well.

It is interesting to note that there are actually two different haftaros from Yechezkel known as ‘Hasishpot,’ (Ch. 20 and Ch. 22) and that both discuss Toavas Yerushalayim. When Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are combined, Sefardim generally read Hasishpot from Yechezkel Ch. 20, which is also Kedoshim’s regular haftarah for Sefardim. The remarkably similar Hasishpot that Ashkenazim read for Parshas Kedoshim is from Yechezkel Ch. 22, which Sefardim generally read on Parshas Acharei Mos, rather than Halo K’Bnei Kushiyim that Ashkenazim read.

[7] See also Shu”t Noda B’Yehuda (Tinyana, Orach Chaim 11).

[8] Hagahos Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Orach Chaim 428, on Magen Avrohom 10).

[9] See Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer’s Shu”t Even Yisrael (vol. 8: 38). He even mentions years and places where this was actually the practice!

[10] The Sefer Haminhagim (ibid.), who rules that when Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are combined, one reads the haftarah of Acharei Mos, explicitly writes that when Acharei Mos’s haftarah is not read due to Rosh Chodesh, on the next week, Kedoshim’s haftarah should be read and not that of Acharei Mos. This author has since heard that the Belzer minhag is to follow the Sefer Haminhagim and not Rav Akiva Eiger.

[11] Mishnah Berurah (ibid.) and Kaf Hachaim (ibid.). It is also cited lemaaseh by several other sefarim including the Shulchan Hakeriah (28), Leket Kemach Hachodosh (vol. 3, Tomer Devorah 85), Shu”t Beis Yisrael (Taussig; vol. 8: pg. 206), and Zer HaTorah (Ch. 10: 133, haghah 176). See also the excellent maamar by Rabbi Moshe Eliezer Blum in Kovetz Ohr Yisroel (vol. 52: Sivan 5768) citing several proofs that the halacha follows Rav Akiva Eiger.

[12] See Shoneh Halachos (ad loc. 22); Rav Kanievsky adds that this was also the Chazon Ish’s psak. See also Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim vol. 1: 36), where, although dealing with what to do if one already made a brachah on the wrong haftarah for Parshas Acharei Mos/Kedoshim [if reading from a Navi, Rav Moshe rules that Hasishpot should be read instead of making a new brachah; however if from a Chumash then one should read just  Acharei Mos’ haftarah], Rav Moshe mentions that, generally speaking, the haftarah for Kedoshim is rarely read, and cites as a davar pashut that anytime there is a conflict of haftaros, Acharei Mos’s haftarah is read instead. According to Rabbi Dovid Heber, author of Shaarei Zemanim, most Ashkenazic Kehillos read the haftarah of Hasishpot only 14 times in the Tur’s (Orach Chaim end 428) 247 year cycle, making it practically the rarest of all haftaros. In contrast, and as mentioned above in the footnotes above, many Sefardim read Hasishpot three times in some years (Shemos, Acharei Mos, and Kedoshim).

[13] Luach Ezras Torah (5774, Parshas Kedoshim) and Luach Eretz Yisrael (5774, Minhagei Hashana, Nisan, s.v. Kedoshim).

An Unusual Haftarah – That of Parshas Mishpatim

Question #1: A Rare Occurrence

Why is the haftarah for parshas Mishpatim read at such irregular intervals?

Question #2: Haftarah in Reverse

Why do we read the verses of this haftarah in a different order from how they appear in Tanach?

Question #3: Are We Ignoring Chazal?

How are we permitted to read this haftarah out of order, when Chazal prohibited this practice?

Introduction:

The section from sefer Yirmiyahu (34:8-22) beginning with the words Hadavar asher hayah leYirmiyahu discusses the laws of eved ivri, a Jewish slave. For this reason, it is an extremely appropriate haftarah for parshas Mishpatim. At the same time, as the questions above note, there are three unusual and curious aspects of this haftarah, which I will now explain.

Sporadic haftarah

The first question posed above is that, notwithstanding the appropriateness of Hadavar for parshas Mishpatim, in most years we read different haftaros this Shabbos. Furthermore, Hadavar is read in a fairly sporadic pattern. For example, we read it this year, and, under our current fixed calendar system, we will read it again in three years, in 5779 (2019), in 5782 (2022) and in 5785 (2025). This seems like a fairly regular schedule of every three years. However, this is followed by an interlude of ten years before we read it again — not until 5795 (2035). Why is the reading of Hadavar so erratic, when Mishpatim is read very predictably every year, the Shabbos after Yisro and before Terumah?

Driving in reverse

The second question raised above concerns the unusual structure of the haftarah. It consists of reading fifteen pesukim that begin with the words Hadavar from the book of Yirmiyahu (34:8-22) and then closes by reading two pesukim that are nine verses earlier in the sefer (Yirmiyahu 33:25-26). This is the only time that we close a haftarah by reading an earlier passage. Why do we read the passages in an order different from the order in which they appear in sefer Yirmiyahu?

Are we ignoring the Gemara?

The third question is a continuation of the previous one, although it necessitates an introduction. Chazal instituted several rules about reading the haftaros, one of which is called ein medalgim lemafrei’a, which prohibits going back to read an earlier section after we have read a later part. Thus, after reading Chapter 34 of Yirmiyahu, how are we permitted to return to Chapter 33?

Why so sporadic?

Having presented the three issues, allow me to answer these questions in the order in which they were asked. The first question was that the scheduling of this haftarah is both infrequent and sporadic. In most years, we read a different haftarah for Shabbos Mishpatim, and, occasionally, there is a gap of many years between one reading of Hadavar and the next. The reason for this is not as complicated is it sounds. Parshas Mishpatim almost always falls on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar. In non-leap years, on that Shabbos we read parshas Shekalim for maftir and, therefore, we read the special haftarah for Shabbos Shekalim which is in sefer Melachim. As a result, almost the only time we read Hadavar is in a leap year, when Shekalim is read on or immediately before Rosh Chodesh of the second Adar – since it is the month immediately preceding Nissan – and Mishpatim falls before the first Adar. (There is a very occasional common year, such as 5785, when parshas Terumah falls on Rosh Chodesh Adar and is therefore the Shabbos on which we read Shekalim. In those years, we indeed read Hadavar on Mishpatim in a common year.)

Even in a leap year, when Shekalim never coincides with Mishpatim, there are years when Shabbos Mishpatim falls either on Rosh Chodesh or on Erev Rosh Chodesh. In these instances, we read the special haftaros for Rosh Chodesh or for Erev Rosh Chodesh. As a result, at times, many years go by until we again read Hadavar.

Haftarah in reverse

The second question concerned the unusual structure of the haftarah, in which we close by reading two pesukim that are a bit earlier in the sefer. Why do we read the haftarah in an order different from how it appears in sefer Yirmiyahu?

Happily ever after

The answer to this question requires our examining an accepted custom – not to end an aliyah, a haftarah or a megillah at a negative point. This concept is already mentioned by Rashi in his last comment on Eicha, where he notes that four seforim of Tanach Eicha, Yeshayahu, Trei Asar and Koheles – end on a negative tone, so we repeat the next to last pasuk afterwards to end on something positive. (The source for this idea is in Talmud Yerushalmi, Brachos, 5:1.)

In accordance with this approach, where the natural end of a haftarah closes on something negative, we often skip ahead a bit to find a more pleasant place to end the haftarah. The unusual aspect of Hadavar is that we do not skip ahead, but backwards, to find a pleasant ending. The reason we do this is because the next several chapters of Yirmiyahu do not include any pesukim that would be considered an appropriate ending for the haftarah. From a reader’s perspective, the most appropriate, pleasant place to stop is a few pesukim before Hadavar, which is why the custom developed of adding these two pesukim at the end.

Shuva versus Vayeitzei

An interesting related question: The haftarah for Shabbos Shuva begins towards the end of Hoshea, one of the twelve prophets whose writings comprise Trei Asar, with the words Shuva Yisroel. The final words of Hoshea are that Hashem’s ways are straight, yet sinners will stumble over them, u’poshe’im yikashlu bam. On Shabbos Shuva, we consider this to be a negative way to end the haftarah, and therefore we continue by reading elsewhere in Trei Asar in order to close with a pleasant ending. (There are many different customs how to accomplish this; I am aware of at least five.) However, the haftarah that most Ashkenazim read every year for Vayeitzei, which begins earlier in Hoshea, ends at the end of Hoshea with the words uposhe’im yikashlu bam. Why are these words considered positive enough to be an appropriate ending when we read this haftarah on Vayeitzei, but an inappropriate place to close on Shabbos Shuva? (It should be noted that the Mishnah Berurah [428:22] and many calendars published in Eretz Yisrael include reciting additional verses when this haftarah is read on Vayeitzei, in order to end more positively. However, most chumashim do not include these additional verses, and it is not the common practice in chutz la’aretz.)

I would like to suggest the following: The stumbling of the evil is not inherently a bad thing, and, for this reason, this is considered an appropriate place to end the haftarah on Vayeitzei. Nevertheless, on Shabbos Shuva, ending with u’poshe’im yikashlu bam, the sinners will stumble, is inappropriate, because the first Shabbos of the year should have a more encouraging conclusion. Alternatively, mention the sinning of the evil is an inappropriate closing during the aseres yemei teshuvah, when our entire theme is that everyone will do teshuvah.

Parshas Kedoshim

It should be noted that there are aliyos and readings that, indeed, do end in negative places, the most obvious example being the end of parshas Kedoshim, whose closing discusses a case of capital punishment. Why are we inconsistent – ending some aliyos in negative places, yet in others skipping or repeating verses to avoid this?

It seems that ending in a negative place is, in general, not forbidden but, rather, a custom that developed to try to find a pleasant ending, wherever this does not distort the reading. However, if finding a pleasant place to end an aliyah will complicate matters, we stop at a convenient place, even though it is negative. Alternatively, the division of the parshiyos predates the custom that we not end an aliyah at a negative point, and these divisions were left in place, even after the custom developed.

The tochachah

We can prove that ending an aliyah in a negative place is a custom that developed, but is not halachically required, from the Gemara and early halachic authorities, in their discussion concerning the public reading of the tochachah. In two different places, parshas Bechukosai at the end of sefer Vayikra and parshas Ki Savo in Devorim, the Torah describes in great detail the calamities that befall Klal Yisroel, should we fail to observe the Torah properly. This part of the Torah is customarily called the tochachah, literally, the admonition, although the Mishnah (Megillah 31a) calls it the curses. Chazal (Megillah 31b) discuss whether one may divide the tochachah into different aliyos. The Gemara concludes that the tochachah in Bechukosai, which is the harsher of the two, may not be divided into aliyos, whereas the tochachah of Ki Savo may be divided. Thus, we see that, other than the tochachah of Bechukosai, one may conclude an aliyah at an unpleasant point.

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 13:7) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 428:6) already note that, although it is permitted to end aliyos in the middle of the tochachah of Ki Savo, the custom developed to avoid doing this. This custom was extended to include any place where an aliyah would end in an unpleasant place. However, where accommodating this practice would result in an unusual division of the parshiyos, such as at the end of parshas Kedoshim, we do end the parshah at its natural division, notwithstanding its being a negative place.

Are we ignoring Chazal?

At this point, we will discuss the third question I raised above. How are we permitted to read this haftarah out of order, when Chazal prohibited this practice? Let me explain the question.

Chazal established several rules regarding the reading of the haftarah. One beraisa provides the following directives:

One may not skip from one book of the prophets to another. However, one may skip from the reading of one prophet to another prophet within Trei Asar, provided that one does not skip from the end of the book to its beginning (Megillah 24a). I will refer to this last rule as the prohibition of ein medalgin lemafrei’a, literally, “not to skip backwards.”

Switching prophets midstream

The Gemara is ruling that although one may skip ahead within the same book of the prophets, one may not skip from the writings of one navi to another, such as from Yirmiyahu to Yeshayahu. Rashi explains that skipping from one navi to another confuses people, which is explained by the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 144:2) in the following manner: When Hashem brings the presence of His Shechinah onto a prophet, the prophet perceives a vision and a message, which he will later describe. The way the prophet experiences his vision and how he expresses himself bear the mark of aspects of his personality. This is called ein shnei nevi’im misnabe’im besignon echad, literally, “no two prophets prophesy in the identical style” (Sanhedrin 89a). If the haftarah were to shift from one prophet to another, the audience listening would be required to adjust suddenly to the style and mindset of a different prophet, which is confusing. As a result, the listeners would not absorb the full impact of what is being taught, which is why Chazal forbade switching prophets in mid-haftarah.

The Gemara continues by explaining that within Trei Asar, a book composed of the writings of twelve different prophets, Chazal permitted skipping from the writings of one navi to another. Presumably, the reason is that people expect style changes within Trei Asar, so they are not confused.

Ein medalgin lemafrei’a

Returning to the original beraisa, which states: One may not skip from one book of the prophets to another. However, one may skip from the reading of one prophet to another prophet within Trei Asar, provided that one does not skip from the end of the book to its beginning. The question is whether the rule prohibiting medalgin lemafrei’a, reading verses of a book out of order, applies only to the book of Trei Asar, or is it prohibited in any sefer navi. If it refers only to Trei Asar, then reversing direction at the end of the haftarah of Hadavar, which is from the book of Yirmiyahu, does not present any problem.

The authorities dispute which interpretation of the beraisa is correct. The Kesef Mishneh, indeed, rules that ein medalgin lemafrei’a applies only to Trei Asar and nowhere else. However, the Magen Avraham disagrees and understands that ein medalgin lemafrei’a applies to the works of any of the prophets. It is possible that our custom of skipping backwards when reading Hadavar is based on the Kesef Mishneh’s understanding of the Gemara. However, since most late authorities follow the Magen Avraham’s approach, it is unusual that common custom should conflict with his ruling. Are there other approaches to justify the practice?

Foreign additions

Prior to presenting two other approaches to justify the practice of reading the end of the haftarah Hadavar out of order, we should examine a different controversial custom that dates back many hundreds of years. In the times of the rishonim, on the Shabbos after someone married, the haftarah was concluded by adding two or three verses from Yeshayahu (61:10) beginning with the words Sos Asis, because these verses refer to a chosson and kallah (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 144). The problem with this custom is that whenever the week’s haftarah is from a book other than Yeshayahu, reciting Sos Asis skips from one navi to another.

There was also another, similar practice that seems to violate Chazal’s dictates. When Rosh Chodesh begins on Sunday, a special haftarah from Shmuel is usually read that begins with the words Vayomer Yonasan mochor chodesh. A custom developed that, when Rosh Chodesh fell on Shabbos and Sunday, after reading the haftarah of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, which is from the closing words of Yeshayahu, the first and last verses of the haftarah mochor Chodesh were read as a reminder that the next day is also Rosh Chodesh. Yet this practice runs counter to the Gemara’s prohibition of switching prophets in mid-haftarah!

The Terumas Hadeshen

One early authority, the Terumas Hadeshen, suggests why these customs do not violate the takkanah. He comments that there are two disputing reasons why one may not switch from one navi to another while reading the haftarah. As we noted above, Rashi explains that the reason is to avoid confusing the listeners. However, other rishonim provide a different reason why one may not skip from one navi to another: closing one navi scroll and opening a different one, while the congregation is waiting, constitutes tircha detzibura, literally, “inconveniencing the congregation.” According to the latter approach, the Terumas Hadeshen explains why the takkanah not to switch prophets in mid-haftarah no longer applied in his day.

Bound Bibles

Although the Terumas Hadeshen lived before the invention of the printing press, he notes that, in his day, they no longer wrote the works of the prophets as scrolls but, instead, they were written as manuscript pages and then bound into books. Among the practical advantages of the bound edition is that one can place a marker in the different places from which one intends to read and then simply turn the pages at the correct time to the appropriate marker. As a result, switching to the writings of a different prophet in mid-haftarah does not involve any tircha detzibura, as opposed to closing a scroll and opening a new one, which takes far more time. For this reason, the Terumas Hadeshen contends, those who explain that Chazal prohibited switching prophets in mid-haftarah because of tircha detzibura will conclude that this is permitted when the haftarah is in book form. He concludes that this is the rationale for those who add verses from Sos Asis or Mochor Chodesh on the appropriate occasions.

However, the Terumas Hadeshen notes that, according to those who prohibit changing prophets in mid-haftarah because the style-change is confusing, it will make no difference whether one is reading from a bound book or a scroll. In both instances, switching to a different author confuses people and may not be done.

Justified conclusion

Based on this approach of the Terumas Hadeshen, we may be able to permit going back to two earlier pesukim to conclude the haftarah of Hadavar, if we assume that the prohibition of ein medalgin lemafrei’a is because of tircha detzibura.

When more is less

However, the custom is not yet out of the woods. Another aspect that impacts on this ruling is the following: When people read the haftarah from a bound volume, the heter mentioned by the Terumas Hadeshen applies. However, today many yeshivos and yeshivah-type shullen have the mehudar custom of using handwritten scrolls of nevi’m for the reading the haftarah. (An explanation for this custom is a topic for a different article.) The Terumas Hadeshen’s rationale will not permit reading Sos Asis, Mochor Chodesh or the last verses for Hadavar from a scroll at the end of a haftarah. This would result in the rather anomalous situation in which the chumra of reading the haftarah from a scroll may ultimately lead to violating a takkanas Chazal!

Another answer

All is not lost, and we can still find justification, even for the scroll readers. Other authorities provide a different reason to permit reading Sos Asis after a haftarah from a different navi. They explain that these verses are not considered part of the haftarah but a concluding song after the haftarah (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 144, quoting Nemukei Yosef; Levush ad loc. 144:2). This is true, despite the fact that these pesukim are read before the brochos of the conclusion of the haftarah. Similarly, reading the verse Mochor Chodesh after the haftarah does not violate the takkanah of Chazal not to switch prophets in mid-haftarah because this is considered an announcement and not part of the haftarah.

Conclusion

According to this last approach, adding some verses for a pleasant conclusion is not considered part of the haftarah, and therefore does not violate the takkanas chachamim.

As an aside, I have been told that Rav Chayim Kanievsky, shlit”a, advises people who read the haftarah from a scroll to read the last two verses of this week’s haftarah from a regular, printed chumash. This emphasizes the fact that these are not considered part of the haftarah and therefore do not violate the takanas chachamim.

 

What’s Being Served for Haftarah This Week?

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Question #1: What Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read on Shabbos Parshas Shemos?

Question #2: Why do we read this Haftarah?

Question #3: What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

Before providing the clues to answering these questions; let’s first understand some background.

The Word Haftarah

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).

What Should We Read?

Chazal established specific Haftaros for some Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim (Megillah 29b- 31b). During weeks when no specific Haftarah was instituted, we should recite a Haftarah appropriate to the parsha.

Sometimes, the Haftarah relates not to the parsha, but to the season, such as during the Three Weeks and on the seven consecutive Shabbosos following Tisha B’Av. We also find that some places had a custom on a Shabbos aufruf to read the Haftarah from Yeshayahu that concludes, “And as a chosson rejoices with his kallah, so shall Hashem rejoice with you” (Terumas Hadeshen #20).

On most Shabbosos, when there was no requirement to read a specific section of Navi, each community would choose a selection of Navi reminiscent of the parsha. Indeed, if one looks at old Chumashim and books of community minhagim, one finds many variant practices. In addition, several sefarim mention different customs, and the Encyclopedia Talmudis provides a very extensive listing. Particularly, Sephardic and Ashkenazic practices often vary from one another, especially regarding minor differences, such as exactly where to begin or end the Haftarah, or whether to skip certain verses.

However, our Chumashim usually mention only the most common selections of Navi that have become generally accepted, only mentioning the differences between Sefardic, Ashkenazic and occasionally Italian practices.

Every Three Years

Today, the universal practice is to complete the entire Torah reading every year. However, in the times of the Gemara and for many centuries afterward, some communities read much smaller sections of the Torah every week and completed the Torah reading only every three years. Those communities also divided the Haftarah into three-year cycles by reciting a Haftarah that corresponded to their shorter readings. I have seen photographs of old manuscript Haftarah books based on the three-year system, where each sub-parsha has the name of the first words of the week’s portion. In the selection I saw, Parshas Vaeschanan was divided into three parts named Parshas Vaeschanan, Parshas Az Yavdil Moshe, and Parshas Shema Yisroel.

How is Parshas Shemos Unique?

Now is the time to address the questions I raised above:

Which Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read this Shabbos?

Why do we read this Haftarah?

What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

There are many different customs regarding which Haftarah to read. On no other Shabbos am I aware of as many different customs as this Shabbos. I am aware of five completely different choices for the Haftarah reading for Parshas Shemos! On many weeks, Ashkenazim and Sefardim either begin or end in different places, or add or skip certain pesukim, but the basic reading is the same. The five selections I saw mentioned for this week’s Haftarah are all from Neviim Acharonim, but they are five completely different readings. The Abudraham, who lists different customs regarding what to read on each week’s Haftarah, cites three alternate haftaros for Parshas Shemos, each from a different one of the three major seforim of Nevi’im Acharonim: Yeshayahu, Yirmiyohu and Yechezkel. And yet, the standard Haftarah read in Ashkenazi communities for this Shabbos is not any of the three that Avudraham quotes, which is highly unusual.

What do Ashkenazim read?

To the best of my knowledge, all Ashkenazic communities nowadays read Haba’im Yashreish Yaakov, from the Book of Yeshayahu (27:6 – 28:23). There does not seem to be any obvious reason to associate this passage from Yeshayahu with parshas Shemos. Why do we read this Haftarah? Rashi, in his commentary to the first words of the Haftarah, notes that the first words mentioned by Yeshayahu refer to the Bnei Yisroel going down to Mitzrayim, similar to the first words of this week’s Torah reading. Thus, although the rest of the Haftarah has little connection to the parsha, the beginning allusion was sufficient to choose this particular Haftarah for this week.

What do Sephardim and Edot Hamizrah read?

Some oriental communities, particularly those originating from parts of Yemen or Iraq, read from Yechezkel: Ben Adom Hoda es Yerushalayim (Yechezkel 16:1- 14), which is one of the three selections mentioned by Abudraham. This portion is also mentioned by the Rambam as the Haftarah for this week, which is probably the source for the Yemenite communities. Reading these words of Yechezkel, one can readily see why this was chosen for this week’s Haftarah. It describes the bleak origins of the Jewish people. Some of its verses have found their way into the Hagadah that is recited on Pesach-night, for the same reason.

However, most Sephardic communities read the beginning of the book of Yirmiyohu, Divrei Yirmiyohu. This Haftarah is very familiar to Ashkenazim because it is read on the first of the Three Weeks, usually parshas Pinchas, but occasionally on Parshas Matos.

Since this Haftarah discusses the impending attack of the Babylonians on Israel, it seems extremely appropriate to the Three Weeks; but why do Sephardim read it on parshas Shemos? Some note that several analogies between Moshe and Yirmiyohu surface in the parsha and Haftarah. Both Yirmiyahu and Moshe are beginning their careers as prophets, reluctantly. Yirmiyahu says that he is unable to speak, as he is little more than a child, and Moshe claims that he cannot speak due to physical impediment.

However, I must admit that I am baffled why it has become more commonly accepted to read either of these two haftaros: Habaim Yashreish Yaakov or Divrei Yirmiyohu, rather than Yechezkel Chapter 20, whose relationship to our parsha is more obvious. This passage mentions that Hashem made Himself known to the Jewish people in Mitzrayim, and that the Jews should not assimilate and follow Egyptian idolatrous practices. Indeed, this Haftarah was read by many Yemenite communities, yet it failed to gain acceptance in most other communities, either Ashkenazi or Sephardi, and furthermore, is not one of the three haftaros mentioned for this parsha by the Avudraham. (I refer our readers to Rav Mendel Hirsch’s commentary on the haftaros, where he suggests a connection between our Haftarah and parshas Shemos.)

Thus, I find two very surprising factors about the Haftarah we read this week.

  1. There are, or probably more accurately now, were at least five different accepted customs followed in choosing the Haftarah for this week, more than I am aware of for any other Shabbos.
  2. The ones standardly read in accordance with most Ashkenazi or Sephardi customs are the least obvious choices – meaning they are choices where we must strain to understand why they were chosen rather than other, more obvious candidates.

Conclusion:

We thus see that recital of the weekly Haftarah is an ancient custom and should be treated with respect. We may wonder why certain passages were chosen to be read on any given week; and at times, cannot even say that these were the most appropriate choices. In any event, we should pay attention to the Haftarah reading. We can gain much from understanding the inspiring messages that the navi is teaching.