Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

Vayikra. Do not lose faith in our future!

Haftorah for Va-Yikra

 Isiah 43:2144:23

The words of this week’s haftorah are told through Isaiah in chapter 43 verse 21– chapter 44 verse 23. The opening words are an ominous warning for the Judeans living in Babylon following Cyrus’s edict allowing our people to return to Eretz Yisrael. The opening is a rebuke to many of our people who chose to remain in Babylon even after Cyrus’s decree. Isaiah criticizes our people for violating the sacrificial cult and for practicing idolatry.

Isaiah’s language then changes from rebuke to redemptive near the end of chapter 43 (beginning in 43:25), as he calls upon our people to recall the miracles performed by G-d for our people. Israel is called to remember its intimate bond with G-d (in chapter 44 verse 21). The final sections of our haftorah include a long polemic against idol worship, which had grown prevalent during the Babylonian exile.

The haftorah seems relevant to our parsha reading and to the importance of witnesses in the realm of morality and theology. In our parsha’s reading from Leviticus chapter 5 verse 1, recall that we read if a person who has heard of a crime committed or seen and chooses to go his way without providing testimony, he incurs guilt. Correspondingly, as we read in our haftorah, the people of Israel, who stand witness to the miracles of G-d, have chosen to not stand faithful to their tradition incurs guilt.

Expanding these messages unto ourselves, if we do whatever we want without standing as a living testament to the miracles of G-d to our people, we also incur guilt. To forgive our birthright, or identity, for idolatry, we incur guilt. WhileBabylon may long be gone, we can still live in a type of Babylon here in America, Israel, or anywhere. It is a state of mind, a place of faithlessness. When choosing to live in a Babylon of sorts, whether because it is easier or because it is what we are most familiar with, we also incur guilt.

May this haftorah message provide guidance in our many challenging days moving forward. In the weeks and months ahead, it will prove to be easier to forgive certain things. Some things, we will have to give up. We must be safe, first and foremost. However, most of all, it will be easy for us to lose faith in our future. However, so long as we continue to affirm our identities and strengthen our communal bonds, we will endure as a people. Whether online, in an e-mail, over-the-phone, or on Zoom, we can still affirm our connection, our identity, and our faith in G-d.

Keyn Yehi Ratzon

About the Author
Shmuel Polin is an imminent rabbi from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). A Greater Philadelphia/New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations. Currently living in Cincinnati, he is finishing up his studies at HUC-JIR, while serving as the rabbinic intern of Adath Israel.
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