Monthly Archives: April 2014


The custom is to read the Haftarah of Acharei-Mot whenever Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim are read together, and whenever Acharei-Mot was pre-empted by another Haftarah, such as Machar Chodesh or Shabbat HaGadol. Since it is very rare for this not to happen, (2024 is the next time), it is read almost invariably on the same Shabbat as Kedoshim. It is even listed in Chumashim as the Haftarah of Kedoshim.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Kedoshim
But to understand the connection, you really need to look at both Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim, like so:

Acharei-Mot / Kedoshim – Like Any Other Nation?

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Kedoshim – Like Any Other Nation?

The Haftarah begins with the following question:

`הֲלוֹא כִבְנֵי כֻשִׁיִּים אַתֶּם לִי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נְאֻם ה’
“Aren’t you like the sons of the Nubians to me, sons of Israel?” says Hashem. (Amos 9:7)

It appears that G-d is implying that the Jewish People are just like anyone else, and that exotic foreign nations at the edge of civilization have as much claim on Him as we do. The Haftarah then goes on to say how Israel will be destroyed for its sins, and the Jewish People exiled and dispersed throughout the world.

It is not unusual for the Tanach criticize the Jewish People. But after reading the Parsha of Kedoshim, which lists dozens and dozens of commandments of morality unique to the Jewish People, and sets very high standards for our actions, to then read, “Eh, you might as well be Nubian for all I care,” is a little harsh.

However, this Haftarah is technically not the Haftarah of Kedoshim. It is actually the Haftarah read for the combined Parsha of Acharei-Mot/Kedoshim . The Haftarah tells us to look at the two Parshot as a single unit. Doing so creates a different picture, one that correlates much better with the Haftarah.

Chapter 18 in Acharei-Mot and Chapter 20 in Kedoshim have very similar structure and content. They each contain a list of forbidden incestuous relations, and each ends with a warning that it was this type of immorality that caused the previous inhabitants of the Land of Israel to lose their right to live there. Acharei Mot and Kedoshim use similar phrases to refer to the nations that had lived in the land, and the reaction of the land to their behavior:


(כד) אַל תִּטַּמְּאוּ בְּכָל אֵלֶּה כִּי בְכָל אֵלֶּה נִטְמְאוּ הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מְשַׁלֵּחַ מִפְּנֵיכֶם:
(כה) וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ וָאֶפְקֹד עֲוֹנָהּ עָלֶיהָ
וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ אֶת יֹשְׁבֶיהָ
(כו) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אַתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ מִכֹּל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵלֶּה הָאֶזְרָח וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכְכֶם:
24) Do not defile through all of these, since the nations that I am throwing out before you defiled themselves through these.
25) The land became defiled, and I commanded that its sin be paid; thus the land spewed out its inhabitants.
26) You must keep My laws and My commandments, and not do any of these disgusting things; citizen and resident among you. (VaYikra 18)


(כב) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת כָּל חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת כָּל מִשְׁפָּטַי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם וְלֹא תָקִיא אֶתְכֶם הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לָשֶׁבֶת בָּהּ:
(כג) וְלֹא תֵלְכוּ בְּחֻקֹּת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מְשַׁלֵּחַ מִפְּנֵיכֶם כִּי אֶת כָּל אֵלֶּה עָשׂוּ וָאָקֻץ בָּם:
(כד) וָאֹמַר לָכֶם אַתֶּם תִּירְשׁוּ אֶת אַדְמָתָם וַאֲנִי אֶתְּנֶנָּה לָכֶם לָרֶשֶׁת אֹתָהּ אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הִבְדַּלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הָעַמִּים:
22) You must keep all My laws and all My commandments, and do them; then the land that I am bringing you to live there will not spew you out.
23) And you will not follow the laws of the nation which I am throwing out before you; for they did all of these things and I rejected them.
24) I said do you, you will inherit their land, and I will give it to you to inherit, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am Hashem your G-d, who separated you from all other nations. (Vayikra 20)

Based on these verses which appear both Parshot, we have the following information:
• The nations that lived in the Land of Israel before us behaved in a way that G-d found unacceptable. In particular, their concept of incest was not consistent with G-d’s intentions for His world.
• The Land of Israel, as an almost sentient entity, cannot tolerate this particular behavior. It cannot allow a society that acts in this manner to exist within its borders, and must “spew them out”.
• G-d has set apart the Jewish People and given us a set of laws that is different from those of the previous inhabitants in the Land. Our continued presence in the land is contingent upon us following these laws.

The message of Acharei-Mot/Kedoshim is that our uniqueness has a purpose.G-d chose us and gave us His Torah so that our actions would be different from those of other nations. Therefore, if we repeat what they have done, then we have no claim on a special relationship with G-d, and no claim on the Land of Israel. As the Haftarah puts it, “you might as well be Nubians.”

The converse is also true:

וכי כושיים שמן? והלא ישראל שמן! אלא: מה כושי משונה בעורו – אף ישראל משונין במעשיהן מכל האומות.
“You are Nubians to Me” – What, their name is “Nubian”? No, their name is “Israel”. So why are they called “Nubian”? Just as an Nubian has distinctive skin, so too, Israel’s actions are distinctive from all other nations. (Talmud Mo’ed Katan 16b)

This Midrash does not read the verse, “You are Nubians to Me,” as a sarcastic dismissal of the Jewish People. Instead, it sees it as an affirmation of the source of our uniqueness. The distinctiveness of the Jewish People is found in our actions, in the way we structure our society. Our values are not based on the mores of the corrupt cultures that surround us, they are based on G-d’s Torah.

The Haftarah, too, ends on a positive note, describing our land overflowing with abundance:

הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם ה’ … וְהִטִּיפוּ הֶהָרִים עָסִיס וְכָל הַגְּבָעוֹת תִּתְמוֹגַגְנָה:וְשַׁבְתִּי אֶת שְׁבוּת עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּבָנוּ עָרִים נְשַׁמּוֹת וְיָשָׁבוּ ….וּנְטַעְתִּים עַל אַדְמָתָם וְלֹא יִנָּתְשׁוּ עוֹד מֵעַל אַדְמָתָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם אָמַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ:
Now the days are coming, says Hashem… the mountains will drip with juice,
and all the hills will be lush…. I will return the remnant of My people, Israel, and they will build desolate cities and live in them… I will plant them in their land, and they will never again be uprooted from their land that I have given them, says Hashem …” (Amos 9:13-15)

The Haftarah tells us that the Jewish People are capable of living up to the standards set in Acharei-Mot/Kedoshim. Ultimately, we will be worthy of living in the “land flowing with milk and honey.”

PDF for Printing (2 pages A4)

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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Shabbat HaGadol is the Shabbat before Pesach, and it has a special Haftarah, the last chapter of Malachi.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat HaGadol.

There are many connections to explore between Pesach and the Haftarah – the role of Eliyahu, the meaning of G-d’s protection, the importance of Ma’aser. But the one I chose is my favorite Midrash of all time, which is based on a verse in the Haftarah.

Shabbat HaGadol – “Who will write for us?”

Happy Pesach!

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HaGadol – Who will write for us?

One of the reasons that the Shabbat before Pesach is known as Shabbat HaGadol, “the Great Shabbat”, is that this is the day that the Jewish People performed the very first commandment that was given to them as a nation. It was on that day, Shabbat, 10th of Nissan, that they took the lambs for the Pesach sacrifice into their homes.  It marked the transition between the era of the Avot, forefathers, of individuals who do G-d’s will, to the era of the Jewish Nation, an entire people who do G-d’s will.

The Haftarah of Shabbat HaGadol is taken from the last chapter in the section of the Tanach known as “Ne’vi’im”, Prophets. It also marks a transition, the transition from the era of prophets to the era of Torah. The last time that G-d addresses the Jewish People through a prophet, He says:

זִכְרוּ תּוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה עַבְדִּי אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אוֹתוֹ בְחֹרֵב עַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים:

Remember the Torah of My servant Moshe, that I commanded to him in Chorev for all of Israel, the laws and the statutes.  (Malachi 3:22)

We no longer have prophecy, but the Torah that G-d gave Moshe, with all its laws and statutes, is enough for us to know what G-d wants us to do.

Still, the lack of prophecy is a great loss to the Jewish People. When we had prophets, our leaders could ask God for direction in handling political and military events. When we had prophets, we didn’t have to wonder if something was “good for the Jews” or “bad for the Jews,” and if the answer was “no,” we would know why. When we had prophets, they would identify the individuals whose lives had an impact on the Jewish People, and record their deeds in the Tanach. Now that prophecy is gone, and the Tanach is sealed, perhaps it is no longer possible for individuals to affect the course of Jewish history and for our actions to matter on a prophetic level.

The following Midrash suggests otherwise:

א”ר יצחק בר מריון בא הכתוב ללמדך שאם אדם עושה מצוה יעשנה בלבב שלם. שאלו היה ראובן יודע שהקב”ה מכתיב עליו (בראשית ל”ז) וישמע ראובן ויצילהו מידם בכתפו היה מוליכו אצל אביו. ואילו היה יודע אהרן שהקב”ה מכתיב עליו (שמות ד’) הנה הוא יוצא לקראת, תופים ובמחולות היה יוצא לקראתו. ואלו היה יודע בעז שהקב”ה מכתיב עליו ויצבט לה קלי ותאכל ותשבע ותותר,עגלות מפוטמות היה מאכילה. ר’ כהן ור’ יהושע דסכנין בשם ר’ לוי לשעבר היה אדם עושה מצוה והנביא כותבה ועכשיו כשאדם עושה מצוה מי כותבה אליהו כותבה ומלך המשיח והקדוש ב”ה חותם על ידיהם הה”ד (מלאכי ג’) אז נדברו יראי ה’ איש אל רעהו וגו’. (רות רבה ה’)

An expanded translation of the Midrash:

R’ Yitzchak bar Meryon said: The text comes to teach you that if a person does a Mitzvah, he should do it with his whole heart.

When Yosef went to meet his brothers and they decided to kill him, Reuven managed to protect Yosef from being murdered. He did not do enough to prevent him being sold into slavery, yet the Torah records: “Reuven saved his life”. If Reuven had known that G-d would dictate this to be written, he would have picked up Yosef and carried him on his shoulders back to his father.

When Moshe was negotiating with G-d about his role in the Exodus, one of the obstacles to his accepting the position of the leader of the Jewish People was his fear of displacing his brother Aharon. G-d tells him, “He is coming, and when he sees you, he will be happy in his heart.”  If Aharon had known that G-d would dictate this to be written, he would have come out with a marching band to show how truly happy he is to have Moshe back, and to have him lead the Jewish People out of slavery.

When Boaz met Ruth for the first time, and was impressed with her character and loyalty, he made sure that she did not go hungry, and it says: “he gave her toasted wheat.” If he had know that G-d would dictate this to be written, he would have fed her stuffed veal.

They did not know at the time that what they were doing was anything out of the ordinary, but from the point of view of prophecy, their deeds were valuable enough to be recorded in the Tanach. Thus, concludes R’ Yitzchak b’ Meryon, one should always do all good deeds to the utmost, because one never knows what is being recorded, what has eternal meaning.

But then, the Midrash presents a challenge in the name of R’ Levi: “In the past, a person would do a Mitzvah, and the prophet would write it. Now, a person does a Mitzvah, who writes it?” If prophecy is over, then our deeds are not recorded at all. Perhaps they have less meaning than the deeds of those who lived at the time of prophecy.

He answers by referencing the Haftarah:

 אָז נִדְבְּרוּ יִרְאֵי ה’ אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ וַיַּקְשֵׁב ה’ וַיִּשְׁמָע וַיִּכָּתֵב סֵפֶר זִכָּרוֹן לְפָנָיו לְיִרְאֵי ה’ וּלְחֹשְׁבֵי שְׁמוֹ:

הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם ה’  הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא:

“Then those who fear Hashem speak to each other; Hashem pays attention, and hears. He writes a book of remembrance before Him,  for those who fear Hashem, and care about His name…. I am sending to you the prophet Eliyahu, in advance of the coming of the Day of Hashem, the great and dreadful.” (Malachi 3:16, 23)

R’ Levi says: “If a person does a Mitzvah, who writes it? Eliyahu and the King Moshiach, and G-d signs it.”

Jewish history is not over just because prophecy is over. Our actions still matter, they are still being written. Eliyahu, the prophet who never quite died, represents the eternity of the connection between G-d and the Jewish People, regardless of historical circumstances and eras. The Midrash asserts that throughout the generations, our deeds have mattered. Eliyahu has been writing them down, as the eternal historian of the eternal people. One day, there will be another transition to another era, where we will have an even greater level of prophecy than ever before. Eliyahu will lead us to it, and he will also show us what he has been writing down all these centuries.

And then, we too will see which of our ordinary everyday actions had eternal meaning.

PDF for Printing. 2 pages.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל


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The Haftarah of Metzora is a fascinating story from Melachim, taking place during the time of the prophet Elisha

Linear Annotated Translation of the Haftarah of Metzora

As for connection to the Parsha, beyond the obvious appearance of a Metzora in both cases, we can learn one of the purposes of Tzora’at here: Outward Sign

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Metzora – Outward Sign

The Haftarah of Metzora describes the end of Aram[1]‘s siege against Shomron, the capital city of Israel. The siege had been long and cruel; right before the Haftarah begins, we learn that not only were people dying of starvation, they were fighting over who would get to eat the corpses of the children. This siege was miraculously lifted when the army of Aram suddenly ran away, leaving behind the contents of the camp and all the provisions. The Haftarah tells us that it was a group of four Metzoraim[2] who discovered that the camp was abandoned. It then goes on at length about their actions when they made this discovery:

וַיָּבֹאוּ הַמְצֹרָעִים הָאֵלֶּה עַד קְצֵה הַמַּחֲנֶה וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל אֹהֶל אֶחָד וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתּוּ וַיִּשְׂאוּ מִשָּׁם כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב וּבְגָדִים וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיַּטְמִנוּ וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל אֹהֶל אַחֵר וַיִּשְׂאוּ מִשָּׁם וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיַּטְמִנוּ:
These lepers came to the edge of the camp. They came into one tent; they ate and drank.
They carried away from there gold and silver and garments. They went and they hid them.
They returned and went into a different tent. They carried away from there, they went and hid them. (Melachim II 7:8)

Understandably, the first thing they do is eat the food that they find in the abandoned tents. But then, when we would have expected them to run to the city and tell everyone that the siege is over, it turns out that they have other priorities. They spend most of the night acquiring and hiding a significant hoard of valuables. Only then does it dawn upon them that it might be a good idea to pass the news of the end of the siege on to the king and to the starving people.

This story is a continuation of the Haftarah of the previous Parsha, Tazria[3] . The Haftarah of Tazria tells the following story:

A general in the army of Aram, Na’aman, has Tzara’at, and is advised to go to the prophet Elisha to be cured. Na’aman follows his instructions and is healed. He comes back to Elisha and offers him gifts to express his gratitude. Elisha refuses categorically, no matter how much Na’aman insists, no matter what he offers. In light of Elisha’s obvious poverty, this display of selflessness impresses the general, and he promises that from now on, he will worship only Hashem. This is where the Haftarah of Tazria ends, but the story, unfortunately, does not end there.
Gechazi, Elisha’s servant, cannot accept that his master let this wealthy general go away without giving them a penny. He chases down Na’aman, and tells him that his master needs just a few loaves of bread and some clothes to feed some apprentice prophets that showed up unexpectedly. Na’aman is delighted to oblige, sending two of his servants along to carry the gifts. Gechazi has the gifts brought to his house, where he hides them in a place where no one would think to look for them. Elisha confronts Gechazi, but he tells the prophet of Hashem that he didn’t go anywhere or do anything. Elisha then decrees that Gechazi will be a Metzora like the general Na’aman, along with his sons, forever[4] .

Gechazi took what he should not have taken and hid it so no one would see. In the Haftarah of Metzora, the Metzoraim ran around grabbing gold and silver and hid it so no one would see. They displayed the same self-centered, materialistic, money-grabbing attitude as Gechazi had before, and they bore the same affliction, Tzara’at. For this reason, the Midrash identifies the Metzoraim as Gechazi and his sons.

Tzara’at, the topic of Parshot Tazria and Metzora, is an outward sign of G-d’s displeasure with our actions. This particular punishment, a visible blemish on our skin, creates a situation where everyone sees that we have done something wrong. But it is not a punishment for just any sin; it is not earned by eating non kosher food or driving on Shabbat. The Midrash lists the types of behavior that the Tanach records as having been punished with Tzara’at:

על עשרה דברים נגעים באים על ע”ז ועל גילוי עריות ועל שפיכות דמים ועל חילול השם ועל ברכת השם ועל הגוזל את הרבים ועל גוזל את שאינו שלו ועל גסי הרוח ועל לשון הרע ועל עין רע,
These diseases come for ten things: for idolatry, for forbidden relations, for murder, for desecrating G-d’s Name, for cursing G-d, for embezzling from public funds, for stealing a position he does not deserve, for haughtiness, for Lashon Hara, and for refusing to let other people benefit from your possessions. (Midrash Vayikra Rabba Metzora 17:3)

The sins on this list[5] share a theme. These are actions that express an attitude of selfishness and entitlement. Moreover, the people who do these things pretend that they will not be caught. They expect that no one will ever know the source of their immoral gains. But G-d knows, and the punishment of Tzara’at exposes their corruption to the world.
Gechazi had been the servant of the prophet Elisha, called “the Man of G-d” by the Tanach and by the people of Israel. He was himself a prophet in training, next in line to bear that title and represent G-d to the people. One can imagine that he acted and dressed and spoke like his master, and that people assumed that he himself was a holy Man of G-d. His actions with Na’aman showed that he was none of those things. For years, Gechazi had been able to hide his character under a cloak of holiness and piety, but no longer. Elisha’s curse of Tzora’at exposed him as the self-centered crook that he was.

The Parsha of Metzora teaches us that Tzara’at is potentially a short-term condition. There is a purification process, and one goes back to life. Thus, Tzara’at is meant to serve as a lesson to the individual, to allow him to adjust his character to be in line with his outward appearance of holiness and piety.

Gechazi’s Tzara’at was different; it would not go away and would not heal. We see from his selfish behavior at the camp of Aram that Tzara’at did not motivate him to change his character. Had it done so, had he learned to not put himself first at the expense of other people, then perhaps it would have faded in time. But as long as it remains, at least people would no longer expect him to be a person they could trust or admire.

Tzara’at serves as an outward sign, a visible mark that says: “Do not be misled; this person is not what he appears. He does not serve G-d; he serves himself.”

PDF for printing, 2 pages A4

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

[1] At this time, Israel and Aram, its neighbor to the north, are in a state of ongoing conflict, and Aram has the upper hand.

[2] Since it is not exactly medical leprosy, but a spiritual disease with similar symptoms, we will call it by its Torah name. The disease is “Tzara’at”, and a person afflicted with it is a “Metzora”; plural, “Metzoraim”.

[3] Tazria is usually either Shabbat HaChodesh or combined with Metzora, and is read very rarely.

[4] Elisha has a reputation for being a warmer, more accessible version of his master Eliyahu, but frankly, based on the majority of his stories, he is not a person you would want to make angry.

[5] The first 3 do not seem to belong on this list, as they are cardinal sins and have much bigger punishments. It would be very interesting to analyze the sources given as proofs by the Midrash and figure out why they are even on this list, but it is outside the scope of this work.

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