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Shalom Orzach

The Haftarah Not Taken

The Haftarah, the reading from the prophets, not read for the portion of Tzav, because it is replaced by the one for Shabbat Hagadol, really ought to get a mention. It is fascinating and a curious choice that from first impressions appears counterintuitive. Technically the Haftarah is translated and understood as the finale, the conclusion (of the reading), the term will also aptly evoke, the legal dictum brought in Mishnah Pesachim 10:8 אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן One does not conclude after the Paschal lamb with an afikoman. Meaning that at the time when the Paschal lamb was the climax of the seder service no food, desert, was allowed to be consumed after it. Perhaps as one of the many ways we conjure curiosity and questioning, for the child in all of us, we now have adopted the very “Afikoman” that should not be eaten to represent that item that must be eaten last!

The portion of Tzav outlines the arduous details of sacrifices the priests were charged to carry out on behalf of the community every morning and evening. Additional information highlights the centrality of this worship. We would therefore expect the Haftarah to further develop this core theme and reinforce its importance. Yet the fiery passages from Jeremiah do exactly the opposite. The prophet asserts 7:22;

כִּ֠י לֹֽא־דִבַּ֤רְתִּי אֶת־אֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ וְלֹ֣א צִוִּיתִ֔ים בְּי֛וֹם (הוציא) [הוֹצִיאִ֥י] אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם עַל־דִּבְרֵ֥י עוֹלָ֖ה וָזָֽבַח׃ 

On that day when I freed your fathers from the land of Egypt, I did not speak with them or command them concerning burnt offerings or sacrifice.

כִּ֣י אִֽם־אֶת־הַדָּבָ֣ר הַ֠זֶּ֠ה צִוִּ֨יתִי אוֹתָ֤ם לֵאמֹר֙ שִׁמְע֣וּ בְקוֹלִ֔י וְהָיִ֤יתִי לָכֶם֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים וְאַתֶּ֖ם תִּֽהְיוּ־לִ֣י לְעָ֑ם וַהֲלַכְתֶּ֗ם בְּכל־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲצַוֶּ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֔ם לְמַ֖עַן יִיטַ֥ב לָכֶֽם׃ 

But this is what I commanded them: Do My bidding, that I may be your God and you may be My people; walk only in the way that I enjoin upon you, that it may go well with you.

Jeremiah implies that there was never really an intention to have sacrifices. Rather lead a righteous life as outlined in the Laws you received, at Marah, that very day that God took you out of Egypt. There, after providing the people with water, God enjoins the people, Shemot 16:26;

וַיֹּאמֶר֩ אִם־שָׁמ֨וֹעַ תִּשְׁמַ֜ע לְק֣וֹל ׀ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ וְהַיָּשָׁ֤ר בְּעֵינָיו֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֔ה וְהַֽאֲזַנְתָּ֙ לְמִצְותָ֔יו וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֖ כָּל־חֻקָּ֑יו כָּֽל־הַמַּֽחֲלָ֞ה אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֤מְתִּי בְמִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לֹא־אָשִׂ֣ים עָלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה רֹפְאֶֽךָ׃

“If you will heed your God diligently, doing what is upright in God’s sight, giving ear to God’s commandments and keeping all God’s laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I God am your healer.”

These references only strengthen the case for perhaps reading this on the shabbat before Pesach! 

Jeremiah is emphasizing the core idea of listening to MY – God’s, voice, not one’s own. He is repulsed by the self(ish) serving practices of his generation; corruption, misguided leadership and the abhorrent acts of child sacrifice. Prophets remind us from “that very day” of the exodus from Egypt to look back at that tyranny in disgust, to become the people that leaves the mentality and norms of Egypt, to protect the rights of the other and vulnerable. As poignantly expounded by Micah 6:8

הִגִּ֥יד לְךָ֛ אָדָ֖ם מַה־טּ֑וֹב וּמָֽה־יְהוָ֞ה דּוֹרֵ֣שׁ מִמְּךָ֗ כִּ֣י אִם־עֲשׂ֤וֹת מִשְׁפָּט֙ וְאַ֣הֲבַת חֶ֔סֶד וְהַצְנֵ֥עַ לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃ 

“He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God.

These core ideas are certainly worth a mention as we approach Pesach and surely in these dire times. 

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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