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December 10, 2009

Haftarah for the First Sabbath of Hanukkah

December 12, 2009
Zechariah 2:114-4:17

This year the Haftarah for the first Shabbat of Hanukkah displaces the normal reading for Parashat Va-Yeshev. The haftarah and the Torah readings each provide another link to the festival of lights. If one examines the liturgy it quickly becomes obvious how these texts were so consciously woven together.

On this special Sabbath a second Torah is removed from the ark and a selection from the seventh and eighth chapter of the book of Numbers is read. The portion begins with an explanation that Moses “finished setting up the Tabernacle.” This creates a link to the Hanukkah story when the Temple was once again set up and re-dedicated. This connection is further amplified through the special haftarah reading which is taken from the book of Zechariah where the prophet announces that God “will dwell amongst us” which echoes the words in Exodus 25:8, “Let them make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.” Hanukkah, of course is concerned with God returning to dwell in his sanctuary. It is interesting to note that during the first Sabbath of Hanukkah that the scroll of Antiochus, a scroll which is no longer included in our liturgical devotions was chanted. It completed the connection and provided a detailed account of the Maccabean victory.

Part of Zechariah’s mission was to challenge the people to rebuild the Temple. He was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai and began to prophecy in 520 B.C.E. The Temple reconstruction began at this time and was completed four years later in 516 B.C.E. His vision of a menorah and his presence during the rebuilding of the Temple secured him a place in our liturgy.

What is the message? That God is a loving God who will forgive us for our sins. Forgiveness is demonstrated by permitting the Temple to be rebuilt. Forgiveness is present through the efforts of the Hasmoneans and forgiveness and love will always be with us if we desire to receive it. Can we do it? Can we accept that type of relationship with God? It remains to be seen. Light a candle and think about it.

Va-Yeshev: Ashkenazim: Amos 2:6-3:8

Historical Background:

Who was Amos?

Amos, the shepherd of Tekoa was a cattle breeder and a “tender of sycamore figs” and one who followed the flock” He was a farmer not a professional prophet. He lived and prophesied during the reign of King Jeroboam 2 of Israel (784-748 BCE) and King Uzziah of Judah (769-733 BCE). This is what we call the mid-eight century which was a major time for a number of prophets. Both King Uzziah and Jeroboam 2 came to power during a time when Assyria's power was in decline. During this period, some of the Kingdoms in the Region, Aram and Phoenicia were seeking independence and promoted anti-Assyrian activity. Jeroboam took advantage of the power vacuum to expand his territory. His military expansion stimulated the economy but resulted in the corruption of the institutions of the day and the proliferation of unjust business practices.

Does this speak to us?

Amos speaks of buildings being luxuriously constructed and the excessive opulence of the wealthy. Amos also refers to the unfair business practices that were prevalent at the time.

The book of Amos is the third book in the anthology known as “The Twelve”. This anthology was theoretically arranged chronologically beginning with Hosea, followed by Joel and then Amos. Hosea and Amos are both linked to the reigns of King Uzziah and Jeroboam 2 in the mid eight century. Amos was a contemporary of Hosea whose prophecy was read last week.

The haftarah's link with the Torah reading is a direct one. The haftarah is concerned with the unjust business practices that were common in the eighth century. The author of our text juxtaposes the selling of Joseph to the Ishmaelites in the Torah for twenty pieces of silver to the unjust practices of his time where the righteous are sold for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.

Two of the most interesting phrases in this selection are verse 7 and verse 8. Verse 7 states;“And make the humble walk a twisted course.” This could imply that the legal system was so corrupt that the humble had to lie and cheat in order to obtain justice.

Verse 8, the final verse of this section comments that “A lion has roared, who can but fear? My Lord God has spoken, Who can but prophecy?”

What an interesting statement. It appears that the prophet can only speak out when God wishes it.Sometimes corruption is so rampant that it cannot be tolerated. Sometimes we witness it and have to assume responsibility. Silence is no longer an option for Amos. It screams to him as if it were a lion roaring and he speaks out. The prophet challenges us to consider how could anyone not act in a similar fashion? Amos speaks to us across time and challenges us to become activists and to speak out against corruption and injustice. Could that be hearing the word of the Lord?

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.

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