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Congregation Or Shalom
835 Darby Paoli Road
Berwyn, PA 19312
Tel: 610-644-9086
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Rabbi:
Kami Knapp Schechter

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Andrew Levin

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Larisa Averbakh

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Dvar November 15 and 16

Vayera

Dvar 11.15/ 11.16

Friday Night:

Torah portion and Haftarah

What is Haftarah?

     Accompanying section from the book of Prophets. Many times chosen because has similar themes. 

When did the tradition start?

     We are unsure according to rabbinic literature but if we look at the opening bracha we get a clue: 

Baruch ata adonai, our G-d, sovereign of time and space, who chose worthy prophets and was pleased by their words, spoken in faithfulness. Baruch ata Adonai, who has chosen the Torah, Your servant Moses, Your people Israel, and the prophets of truth and justice.

What is emphasized in this blessing? Prophets

And what are they put on the same level of? Torah

Scholars from the 19th and 20th centuries began to explore where this equation of Torah and Prophets came from and what would be the historical need for highlighting the prophets. Scholars determined that the highlighting of the prophets was a political move against the Samaritans. 

Who were the Samaritans? 

Samaritans are an ethno-religious group descending from the Israelites. They claim descent from the tribes of Ephraim, Menashe, and some Levites. Their religion is based on Judaism and they claim they were the surviving remnants of Northern Israel when it was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722BCE. The Talmud claims that they were brought here by the Assyrians.

Therefore, since 722 BCE there has been a rift between Jews and Samaritans. 

Back to haftarah, 19th and 20th scholars highlight that the special emphasis on the importance of Israelite prophets speaks to the rift between Jews and Samaritans. (Samaritans rejected all prophets after Moses). That rejection could well have formed the background for the practice of reading from the Prophets in synagogues. By declaring the prophetic books authoritative and their origin divinely inspired, the Jews may have sought to exclude Samaritans from local communities and offer a statement of opposition to a major tenet of Samaritan theology. This view is now accepted widely, but not universally, among scholars of Jewish liturgy.

The newest siddur, Lev Shalem, put out by the conservative movement highlights that historically, that in the ancient synagogues of Israel Jews would read from all three parts of the Tanach, Torah, Nevim, K’tuvim, not just from Torah/ Nevim. But due to time constraints they cut it down to Torah/ Nevim and save the K’tuvim for the holidays.

So to this day, we chant Torah and Haftarah. But there are differences in the Haftarot, mainly if it is a holiday, but also here and there, differences between the readings of the Ashkenzim and the Sephardim. This week being one of them. When we were discussing whether to read the Ashkenazi or the Sephardic reading, Janet sent me a very interesting piece on this week’s haftarah which also points out the similarities between the Torah portion and our Haftarah. 

“Generally, when Sephardim and Ashkenazim read from the same passage, Sephardim are more likely to have a shorter Haftarah. In Beshallah, for example, Sephardim read Deborah’s song in Judges chapter 5, whereas Ashkenazim read the chapter of narrative beforehand as well.

A striking example of this phenomenon is the Haftarah of Vayera. II Kings, chapter 4 relates the story of the prophet Elisha and a woman who offered him hospitality. Elisha prophesied that this woman would give birth to a son, and indeed she did. These themes directly parallel elements of the Parashah: Angelic guests visit Abraham and Sarah; Abraham and Sarah offer their guests hospitality; the angels promise them the birth of Isaac; and Isaac is born.

After these initial parallels to the Parashah, the story in the Haftarah takes a tragic turn in verses 18–23. The son dies, and the woman goes to find Elisha. (a parallel to this week’s parsha and….the akedah, Abraham’s offering of Isaac) As she leaves home, the woman’s husband asks why she was going out if it was not a special occasion, and she replies, “Shalom.” This is where Sephardim end the Haftarah. Ashkenazim read the continuation of the narrative in verses 24–37, in which the woman finds Elisha who rushes back to her house and God miraculously revives the child. It appears jarring that Sephardim would conclude the Haftarah at a point where the child still is lifeless rather than proceeding to the happy and miraculous ending of the story.

Rabbi Elhanan Samet explains the surprising discrepancy by noting that the entire story is inordinately long for a congregational setting (37 verses). Sephardim therefore abridged the Haftarah to 23 verses at the expense of reading to its happy ending. They conclude with the word “Shalom” to strike at least some positive note. In contrast, Ashkenazim favored completing the story even though that meant reading a lengthy Haftarah.

Parallel Themes:

    Hospitality: Vayera: three angels come and say Sarah will have a son, II Kings: Elisha, the prophet comes and tells a woman in Shunem that she will have a son. In both stories the angels/ prophet are welcomed with open hospitality and only after having received hospitality they share prophecy. (Also does this story sound familiar about a holiday our neighbors will be celebrating soon?)

    Giving and losing a child: This is where our Haftarah and Torah portion are similar but diverge…or does it?. In Vayera, Isaac grows and at one point G-d tells Abraham to bring Issac to Moriah and offer Isaac as a burnt offering. In II Kings, the woman from Shunem’s son dies.

Different Outcomes?

In Vayera, as Abraham picks up the knife to kill his son, G-d intervenes and says: do not raise your hand against the boy…for now I know that you fear G-d. A ram is put in Isaac’s place for sacrifice and Isaac lives.

And in II Kings, Elisha is called back and he resurrects the boy. 

    Faith in G-d: In both the Torah portion and Haftarah, the characters have faith in G-d and that is what brings their loved ones back. 


Saturday Morning:

Parsha Review::

Three men and prophecy of Isaac

Sarah laughs at the thought of bearing a son, thus Isaac’s name becomes Isaac: he laughs

Sodom and Gomorrah: sin so greatly that G-d wants to wipe them out, Abraham negotiates if there are 50 good people spare them, and keeps going down until ten, G-d agrees to back down if 10 good people found

Lot gives hospitality to two angels, the people of Sodom come after them and want to have relations, Lot offers his daughters and “you may do to them what you please.” He receives the prophecy that G-d is going to destroy the city. They flee, Lot’s wife looks back and is turned into salt, city is destroyed. 

Another episode with Abraham telling a King/ Pharoah that Sarah is his sister and don’t take her; gets more rich

Sarah gives birth to Isaac and Isaac is circumcised

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out by Abraham; sends them to Beer Sheva where they settle after G-d again says Ishmael will be of a great nation

Then the Akeidah:

Chapter 22: 1-19

Key highlights: How do we understand this story?

Test: Rabbis see this has the 10th test of Abraham + Maimonides

Offering shows allegiance to G-d- Maimonides (1: most common explanation)

“The purpose of all tests mentioned in the Torah is to teach human beings how they are to act…Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his son…And, because he feared G-d and loved to do what G-d commanded, he thought little of his beloved child, and set aside all his hopes concerning him, and agreed to kill him…Therefore, the angel said to him: For now I know that you fear G-d, which means that from Abraham’s action…we can learn how far we must go in the fear of G-d.” (Guide for the Perplexed)

Take your son: verse 2, look at in Hebrew- Oleh= offering, misunderstood (2: common explanation)

When I told you, ‘Take your son…,’ I was not changing My promise that you would have descendants through Isaac. I did not tell you to slaughter him but rather to take him up to the top of the mountain. You have indeed taken him up. Now take him down again. ( Genesis Rabbah 56:8 and Rashi on Genesis 22:12)

3: Martyr: Isaac carrying wood: speaks to martyrdom- Isaac is 40 and therefore a martyr

Midrash that he didn’t go so blindly: Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer

“When G-d commanded Abraham, “take your son…” Abraham did not set out immediately. He asked, “Which son?” G-d answered, “Your favored one…” Then Abraham said, “But I have two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. And one is favored by his mother, and the other favored by his mother.” So G-d answered: “Take the one who you love…” And Abraham replied, “I love them both, so how can I choose?” Finally, G-d told him, “Take Isaac!” (Pike de-Rabbi Eliezer 31)

  1. Story against human sacrifice: historically at the time other groups were participating in human sacrifice, was this test put forth for G-d to make a point that the G-d of the Israelites does not require human sacrifice
  2. I encourage people to study Torah and examples of not only what we should do but what we shouldn’t do. Perhaps Abraham failed: the real test was to stand up but he did not.