Ben Rothke

Book review – From Creation to Redemption: The Deeper Meanings of the Haftaros

To those uninitiated with Aggadah, the non-legalistic stories that appear in the Talmud, they may initially seem like random anecdotes in an attempt to give over a message. But the Maharal in his commentary explains that the particulars in Aggadic narratives are far from random. The Sages of the Talmud used laser precision in creating these narratives. Every character and theme is chosen specifically for a message. With countless possibilities for a message, the Sages, in their genius and exactness, imparted specific messages by their choices.

Nothing embodies that like the aggadic piece described in the sea travel stories of Rabba bar bar Chana as detailed in tractate Bava Basra. The goals of the stories are meant to strengthen one’s faith. The challenging endeavor, though, is making sense of those 15 tales, given they are written in codified and cryptic style. A simple reading of the texts leaves the message utterly incomprehensible, given that the cast of characters includes enormous sea creatures, traveling Rabbis, Bedouin guides, giant geese, and more.

Rabbi Bezalel Naor has masterfully taken Rav Kook’s commentary and made it readable and comprehensible to the English reading audience in The Legends of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah with the Commentary of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook

But it is essential to consider that these same Sages who so brilliantly crafted these Aggadic tales are the same who set up the Haftoras for the weekly Torah readings. And while the selection of Hafatoras may initially seem somewhat random, they are, in fact, guided by that same level of precision as their approach in Agadah. And just as there is meaning in Aggadah, so too is there meaning in the Sages selections of Haftora readings.

In From Creation to Redemption: The Deeper Meanings of the Haftaros (Mosaica Press), Rabbi Chaim Willis has written an extraordinary overview detailing those connections. Just as Aggadah is not random, so too are the Haftoras not random. And in chapter after chapter, Willis brings his wisdom to the reader.

The selection of a specific Haftora is often easy to discern, given the close connection to the weekly parsha. Other times, the connections are much more tenuous. But the book is based on the presumption that the Sages must have meant to teach us more than the superficial connections found in most, but not all, the haftaros.

In each parsha, Willis details the connections and messages the Sages intended to impart. He also concludes each chapter with Toras Chaim, practical messages for life. Many of these messages stem from Rabbi Noach Weinberg of Aish HaTorah. Willis, one of the early Aish students, spent decades close to Rabbi Weinberg. As one of Rabbi Weinberg’s closest students, he can share that authentic Toras Chaim of Rabbi Weinberg.

Many of the haftorah are historical in nature, and in the haftorah for Parshas Shmos, Willis writes of the patterns of Jewish history. The Jews’ sojourn in Egypt found themselves in a country of extreme physicality and immorality. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzraim, which means boundaries. Egypt set a boundary of physicality from which no one could escape. The Sages say that, before the Jews, no enslaved person ever escaped from Egypt. Once they were there, they were there for good.

Willis describes Egypt as a spiritual black hole. A black in space is where the gravity is so strong that nothing has enough energy to escape it. Nothing can escape from within the black hole unless it can travel faster than light or have infinite energy.

God’s bringing the Jews into the black hole of Egypt was a test to see if they could survive. And it was only through God’s infinite energy and power that they could escape the black hole of Egypt.

Proof that it took infinite energy to get the Jews out of Egypt is found in the fact that even though Pharoah and the Egyptians were devastated by the plague of the firstborn, which broke them into letting the Jews leave. A week later, when the emotional impact of the plague on the firstborn had worn off, they were chasing the Jews at the Red Sea.

In an era where much content is superficial, and TL;DR is the de facto answer to asking people to consider meaningful content, From Creation to Redemption: The Deeper Meanings of the Haftaros is not too long, and a must-read.

About the Author
I’m a senior information security and risk management professional, based in New York City. I speak at industry conferences, and write on information security, social media, privacy and technology. My book reviews are on information security, privacy, technology, and risk management. My reviews for the Times of Israel focus on Judaism, Talmud, religion and philosophy.
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