|March 6, 2010
1 Kings 18:20-39
This morning's haftarah for the special Sabbath called Shabbat Parah replaces the haftarah for Shabbat Ki Tissa. The haftarot for the four special Sabbaths that precede Passover are in many cases more closely connected thematically than many of the consecutive haftarot. In this instance the ritual of the red heifer the connection is the ritual cleansing described in the Torah portion which permits a person who has been in contact with a dead body to be purified and restored to the community; is paralleled by a prophecy describing how a nation will be purified and restored by God.
The haftarah is one of consolation and hope offered to the Judean exiles in Babylon. It can be dated around 585 B.C.E. It is divided into three parts, and highlighted by phrases that refer to having clean water sprinkled over them in order for them to be cleansed and that we/they will be given a new heart, a new spirit.
It is interesting to note that while our people's cleansing and return, are conditional upon our behaviors, they are also a result of God's realizing that his name has been diminished by his punishing of us. It seems that God failed to take into account how Judah and God would be perceived by other nations once Jerusalem fell. In short, God failed to fully consider the consequences and implications of God's actions.
Serious decisions call for serious planning. The making of choices challenges us to consider the implications of our actions before we act. Decisions that are poorly thought through can have negative implications for our loved ones and for those whom we respect. Shabbat Parah and Passover preparation calls on us to do more than simply clean our homes and purify our thoughts. The haftarah reminds us to consider the implications of our actions and decisions so that our lives may reflect a new hope and a new spirit.
1 Kings 18:20-39
King Ahab (871-852 B.C.E.) was a King of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and according to (1 Kings 16:29-33) built a “high alter” to the deity Baal in Samaria. He was married to a Phoenician woman named Jezebel who also promoted idolatrous worship. Jezebel, whose name later became synonymous in literature and film as a person of questionable values, is also reported to have persecuted prophets.
One can imagine the influence these two had upon worship in the Northern Kingdom. Alters and Temples to Baal were constructed resulting in open Baal worship and in addition an emerging religious tradition that attempted to meld ancient Israelite practices with the religion of Baal. One can only imagine how distasteful these practices must have seemed to people living in the South. One can only imagine the reaction from God's prophet, Elijah.
In one sense this can be compared to the way many of us react when we come in contact with Hebrew-Christians or the so called Jews for Jesus. Their rhetoric asserts that they are fulfilled or completed Jews. Their rhetoric puts a non-Jewish twist onto our most sacred rituals. For example the breaking of the matzah at our sederim reflects in their eyes the breaking of his body. The eating of the afikomen which takes place at the end of our seder and is explained as a symbol of desert is re-imagined by them to describe a portent that Jesus will be resurrected and return at the proper time.
On another level and perhaps much closer to home, the haftarah can ask us to consider how many of our young adults seek to blend the our traditions with a larger more dominant culture in an effort to become true citizens of the nation? I realize this is a bit farfetched but haftarah and Torah study can serve as catalysts and allow us to leap from one idea to another. While the story in the haftarah does not adequately describe this situation it can lead us to consider the reasons that our younger people choose not to remain active Jews and it can develop in us an understanding of the way the people living in the Southern Kingdom at the time might have been feeling.
The haftarah reflects Elijah's greatest moment when he attempts to ridicule the prophets of Baal and help our people to realize that they were worshipping a false God.
This morning's Torah reading recalls our people's greatest apostasy, the worshipping of the Golden Calf. It is linked to the haftarah through the apostasy that takes places in both places at different times. Moses and Elijah both ascend mountains and both fight on behalf of their God, our God. Each of them forces our people to choose for God and to destroy the blasphemers. The haftarah challenges us to consider the nature of what we worship and to recognize that our faith can be displaced or mislead by the governing culture. It also reminds us that we have the power to choose.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish"
Jewish Lights Publishing.
Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/
The FJMC weekly haftarah commentary is one of the few haftarah commentaries available on line. The USCJ through its Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem has also been posting a weekly haftarah commentary for a number of years. We highly recommend it. If you are interested you can find a link on the left side of our weekly commentary and click through.
In 2003 the FJMC commissioned a Sefer Haftarah, a scroll consisting of all the Haftarot which follows the Haftarah order that appears in the USCJ and Rabbinical Assembly Torah translation and commentary Etz Hayim. The FJMC Sefer Haftarah visits a different synagogue in North America every week.This scroll contains vowels and cantillation and allows the haftarah reader to experience the Haftarah in a more personal way. FJMC also produces individual personalized Haftarot for those who wish to recognize a special occasion. Scrolls of Haftarot have been in use since the early middle ages.