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The Twice-Read Haftorah

04/11/2023 02:19:04 PM


Each Shabbat and holiday has a unique haftorah, but there are exceptions. The haftorah that we will read on Thursday, from Isaiah chapters 10-12, is read once a year, twice, or not at all, depending on your perspective. Despite being the haftorah for Passover, it barely touches on the Exodus. Instead, it focuses on the coming of the Messiah, a time where violence will cease, to the point where “the lion will lay down with the lamb.” This reading is appropriate for the closing days of Passover, which speaks not just of the redemption from Egypt, but of the salvation yet to come in the future. That time is currently obscured for us, as we live in a world where conflict and violence seem to only grow fiercer. Israeli society continues to be wracked by internal conflict regarding the direction of its future, while its residents mourn victims of terror, including members of the Dee family, a mother and daughters murdered earlier this week as they traveled from their home in Efrat.

In Israel, no 8th day of Passover is observed, and that haftorah of Isaiah’s hope will not be read on Thursday. Instead, however, some synagogues in Israel (and here) will read that haftorah in two weeks, as they observe Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel's independence day. In 1949, the rabbis who worked with Israel’s founders were deliberate in repurposing the Passover haftorah for this new holiday. It is not merely that they did not wish to let a good haftorah go to waste. They saw that Israel’s creation was in fact a sign of hope, and that the conflict and violence that it might face in its early years were only birthing pains of a greater peace that would arrive. 

In that sense the redemption of the world that we now seek will follow the pattern of the ancient redemption from Egypt. In the Exodus, plagues, signs and split seas were be followed by Manna and a promised land, but it took 40 years. We are now 75 years into Israel's  journey, and though we do not know how much longer it will take, we have great hopes for its peaceful conclusion. The haftorah speaks not only of the return of Israel’s exiles, and the end of foreign oppression, but also of peace and deep understanding between the different factions of our Jewish people.

A lot can happen between the two readings of this same haftorah, on two continents. I hope that a week from now, I will be in Israel with 30 members of our congregation among 200 participants in the Federation mission, and that two weeks from now, I will be celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut with our community, and sharing insights from our journey. This Thursday, we will hear the words of Isaiah immediately before the solemn Yizkor service, remembering those whom we have lost. In Israel, those words will be read the day after Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance of Israel’s fallen. May we privileged to witness the fulfillment of those words, a day where no more names are added to those lists.

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784