Haftorah for Second Day Rosh haShanah

Sep 21, 2006
Megillah 31a points to this as the appropriate text for the second day of Rosh haShanah, but refers to it by the last verse, “ha-ben yakir li Efrayim, Efrayim is a dear son to me.” In addition, the gemara assumes we will read a different Torah portion than we actually do, so it is not their connecton to each other that makes this most appropriate.Rashi sees the end of the verse, “zachor ezkerenu od, I will yet remember him” as the important part, a promise that God will remember us in a good light, essential for us on Rosh HaShanah.

That leaves two questions: First, why read the whole chapter, if all we care about is the last verse? We could easily have started a few verses later than we do. Second, it is possible that the gemara only cared about the end of that verse, but it would be prettier if the verse the gemara quotes was also an important part of the reason the selection was chosen. Beauty is not always required, but if we can explain the choice of this section both plausibly and beautifully, how much the better, no?

Verses 1-5: The Experience of the Desert Created Eternal Love
The first five verses of the haftarah have Hashem reminding us that we found favor in the desert, having fled the sword of Egypt (as Rashi explains), seeking rest in Israel. In response to that, or to the Patriarchs’ merits, Hashem appears to Yirmiyahu, promises us His eternal love, that we will be fully rebuilt, that the day will come that Efrayim’s watchers will say, let us go up to Zion.

Hazal offer 2 comments I want to share. Makkot 24a sees Yirmiyahu’s mention of “haloch le-hargi`o, going to rest,” as the reversal of the Torah’s warning that in times of punishment “Lo targia, you’ll have no rest” among the nations to whom you will be exiled. The idea that one navi’s words respond to those of an earlier one, even repairing or counteracting them, seems to assume that prophets are sometimes required to stress one side of Hashem’s truth over another, leaving later prophets to offer the opposite and balancing approach.

Sotah 11a suggests that the verse that describes Miriam as watching the baby Moshe in the river from afar, the entire verse is a veiled reference to God. The prooftext for the fact that the word “me-rahok, from afar” means God is from our haftarah, that God appeared to Yirmiyahu from afar. More than a Midrash about that one event, I think the Gemara is suggesting that the idea of watching from afar is always true of God. The challenge (at least for Jews) is to bring our relationship closer; it is always there no matter what we do.

Berachot 11a cites our verse’s mention of Hashem’s eternal love as the source for saying “Ahavat Olam (eternal love)” as the second bracha of Shema, as opposed to Ahavah Rabbah, a great love. The difference between the two versions seems to be whether we focus on the magnitude of God’s love, or its lasting quality. Here, we care about constancy, particularly appropriate to a day when we seek to squeak through a judgment of pure justice.

Verses 6-8: Eternal Love Eventually Leads to Redemption
In this section, Hashem tells us to call out with joy, given the promise to redeem us, and that we will all be brought back, including the weak, injured, and pregnant. Radak notes that Hashem tells us to celebrate, then to call out. He understands that to mean that after the announcement of the Redemption, Jews will need to supplicate Him to bring it about, but does not explain why that should be necessary.

For me, this indicates a theme I stress perhaps too often, Hashem’s “desire” to have the redemption of the world be a partnership between Hashem and the Jewish people (and all of humanity) to the extent possible. See also verse 9, where Hashem has the navi predict that non-Jews (!) in faraway places (!) will call out about the redemption; only then will it occur in all its glory.

The verse gives no reason for singling out the weak, injured, and pregnant; Radak thinks the pace of the redemption will allow even such people to keep up. In our times, that could mean that the redemption will use modes of travel that allow even such people to get back to Eretz Yisrael, or that the redemption will unfold in a way that even people ordinarily leery of travel will have the confidence to join.

The Lessons They Teach Us
Citing this verse, Hazal assume that in the future women will become pregnant and give birth on the same day. In Baba Batra 16a, where the gemara comments that Iyov was shown a bit of the world to come, Rashi names this miracle as the one he saw, his wife becoming pregnant and giving birth in one day.

I wonder whether the point is that the world will return to a time before Adam and Havah ate from the Tree of Da’at, when the process of childbirth was meant to be painless. Babies will still be born (which seems to assume that death will still occur), but the process will no longer take as long or be as hard. The time of the Mashiah, here and elsewhere, is when we can finally leave behind the distractions created by the sin of the Garden, and get back to the real work of serving God.

Verse 14, 15-16: Rachel, Efrayim, and the Jewish People
Verse 14 envisions the Matriarch Rachel seeing the Jews going out to exile and crying for them. Some read Rachel as Efrayim, an example of how the Jewish people as a whole are here being referred to as Efrayim, probably because they were the majority. The use of Rachel as an image usefully connects to Hashem’s stress, His unbreakable love for the Jewish people. Just as Yaakov maintained his connection to Rachel through all the years he had to work for her, all the troubles with their children, and even hearkened back to her in his final commands to Yosef (long after she had died), so, too, Hashem focuses on us, as it were.

Verses 17-19: Bringing It All Together
That view of the Rachel metaphor brings us to the goal of the prophecy as a whole, and the reason the gemara would refer to it by the words “Efrayim is a dear son.” We are being reminded of Hashem’s unbreakable connection to us, which “forces” Hashem to linger over the positive memories we have together.

Reading it on this day, we are hoping that the words of Yirmiyahu, the promise that Hashem’s “memory” of us is always fond will help us avoid the kind of judgment that Middat haDin, the Attribute of Perfect Justice that operates on this day, would be likely to produce. Best wishes for a Shana Tova, Ketivah ve-Hatimah Tovah.

[1] At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
[2] Thus saith the LORD, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest.
[3] The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
[4] Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry.
[5] Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria: the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things.
[6] For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the LORD our God.
[7] For thus saith the LORD; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O LORD, save thy people, the remnant of Israel.
[8] Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.
[9] They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
[10] Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.
[11] For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he.
[12] Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all.
[13] Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.
[14] And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD.
[15] Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.
[16] Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.
[17] And there is hope in thine end, saith the LORD, that thy children shall come again to their own border.
[18] I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God.
[19] Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.


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