|September 30, 2011 / 2 Tishri, 5772
By Rabbi Charles Simon
It is possible to consider this week's haftarah to be the first part of a three haftarah unit. The second part is the haftarah chanted Yom Kippur morning and the third, Jonah, is chanted Yom Kippur afternoon. Each of these haftarot focuses on our ability to turn, to repent, to change.
This week's haftarah is composed of selections from two prophetic books in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions. Ashkenazim read from Joel and Sephardim read from Micah. Our ancestors frequently combined selections from different books because they understood the collection of books which we call the Minor Prophets or the Trei Asar (the twelve) as one book for liturgical purposes. Centuries ago, our ancestors connected two separate festivals, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur into the “ten days of repentance” but one could say that the Sabbath of Repentance is where the connection should begin.
The core of the text in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions is Hosea. Hosea was a Northern Prophet who lived between 798-748 B.C.E., during the reign of Jeroboam the 2nd. In this selection he urges the nation to return to God, request forgiveness and ask to be taken back. At that same time his words resonate to the individual, as it should because the act of changing one's life of turning or repenting begins with an acknowledgement of error and a desire for either forgiveness or a desire to be able to change oneself.
Joel also speaks to the nation. He calls for a national assembly and a public fast. His national vision includes the priesthood who will gather near the outer alter and attempt to attract God's attention through their tears and prayers.” Let the priests, the Lord's ministers, weep and say: “Oh, spare Your people, Lord! Let not your possession become a mockery,”
I can understand why Joel would believe that priests had this ability in his day, but am perplexed that the rabbis living several hundred years after the Temple's destruction some eight hundred odd years later would include these verses in the haftarah. Yohanan ben Zacchai who lived during the second Temple's destruction and was responsible for the establishment of the academy in Jabneh consciously limited the influence of the priests and actively promoted the individual's ability to repent and change their behaviors. Could our ancestors have been driven by some sort of historical nostalgia? I am more inclined to follow Johanan's lead and spend this shabbat seriously thinking about teshuva, tefila and tzedakah.
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.
The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.
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