Did you notice which Haftarah was read today?

Unusually, the haftarah of the first of the two parshiyot of the week was read today instead of that of the second. There is something unique about that if we realize that it is the first Shabbat after Yom Haatzmaut.

Daniel Pinner

Judaism Wheat field
Wheat field

The two parashot Acharei Mot and Kedoshim are invariably combined in non-leap years (as this year 5780 is), and invariably read separately in leap years.

But there is something unique about this particular parashah-doubling: when we combine two parashot, the Haftarah (the Reading from the Prophets which follows and complements the Torah-reading) is generally the Haftarah for the second parashah. Acharei Mot-Kedoshim is unique in that the Haftarah is the Haftarah for the first parashah, Acharei Mot.

And so this Shabbat, the Haftarah we will read will be Amos 9:7-15.

Rabbi Dr Joseph Hertz (Chief Rabi of the British Empire 1913-1946) introduces the Haftarah and explains its connexion with the Torah-reading:

“Amos lived in the days of King Jeroboam II, about 750 B.C.E. The master-word of existence to Amos is Righteousness, which to him, as to his successors, means holiness of life in the individual and the triumph of right in the world… The opening of the Sedrah strikes the note of consecration in the individual life; and the Haftarah in its earlier verses is an oracle against those who have rejected that high Jewish ideal, and thereby bring about the downfall of the Kingdom. But Israel will yet be true to its high and holy ideal, and worthy of the blessings that follow in the wake of such loyalty.”

Others suggest that the connexion between the Torah-reading and the Haftarah is that Parashat Acharei Mot concludes with the warning that violating the mitzvot of sexual immorality results in the Land of Israel vomiting out its inhabitants (Leviticus 18:24-30), and the Haftarah records Amos’ castigation of the nation for its sins, warning them of the impending exile.

Also, Parashat Acharei Mot introduces its final chapter, the chapter which admonishes against sexual immorality, with the words “You shall not do like the deeds of the land of Egypt wherein your dwelt” (Leviticus 18:3), which links in with the opening words of the Haftarah, “Are you not like the children of the Cushites to Me, O Children of Israel – says Hashem” (Amos 9:7). Cush (Ethiopia) and Mitzrayim (Egypt) were brothers, sons of Ham (Genesis 10:6, 1 Chronicles 1:8).

However, I would suggest a very different reason for this Haftarah:

The nine verses of this Haftarah divide very naturally into two sections: in the first four verses, 7 to 10, the Prophet castigates the Jews for their sins; in the final five verses, 11 to 15, the Prophet depicts the glorious future that yet awaits us in our Land:

“On that day I will raise the fallen Sukkah of David… Behold days are coming, says Hashem, that the ploughman will encounter the reaper, and the one who treads the grapes [will encounter] the one who sows the seeds” – because the Land of Israel will yield a harvest so generous that even while yet ploughing, the time for reaping will already arrive; and the vines will be so rich with grapes that there won’t even be time to tread all the grapes before the next season for sowing (Rashi, Radak, Metzudat David).

The Ba’al ha-Turim (Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher, Germany and Spain, c.1275-1343), in his commentary to Exodus 24:2, notes that the word וְנִגַּשׁ (which we have translated here as “will encounter”), occurs three times in the Tanach:

“Moshe by himself וְנִגַּשׁ, will approach Hashem” (Exodus 24:2);

“The Kohen וְנִגַּשׁ, will approach and address the nation” (Deuteronomy 20:2);

“The ploughman וְנִגַּשׁ, will encounter the reaper, and the one who treads the grapes [will encounter] the one who sows the seeds”.

The Ba’al ha-Turim explains: “Just as Moshe approached [Hashem] alone, so too the Kohen enters the Holy of Holies alone to pray there that the coming year be fruitful, as it says ‘the ploughman וְנִגַּשׁ, will encounter the reaper’”.

It would appear that the Ba’al ha-Turim, in his telegraphically brief style, suggests that the ploughman’s encountering the reaper, and the grape-treader’s encountering the seed-sower, the sign of Israel’s return to its Land, recalls Moshe’s approaching Hashem on Mount Sinai and the Kohen’s leading the nation to war for the glory of G-d’s Holy Name.

That is to say, the abundance of crops on Israel’s soil is the sign of G-d’s blessing on His Nation.

The Prophet (and therefore our Haftarah) continues:

“I will bring My captive Nation Israel back, and they will rebuild desolate cities and inhabit them; and they will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. And I will plant them on their Land, and they will never again be removed from on their Land which I have given to them – says Hashem your G-d”.

With these words, the Book of Amos and our Haftarah conclude.

The double parashah Acharei Mot-Kedoshim is invariably the Shabbat immediately after Yom ha-Atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day). And this prophetic message of the Return to Zion could have been tailor-made for this Shabbat.

The Talmud cites Rabbi Abba:

“You can have no clearer sign of the קֵץ, the End [i.e. the beginning of the Redemption] than [the fulfilment of the prophecy], ‘And you, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branch and bear your fruit for My nation Israel’ (Ezekiel 36:8)” (Sanhedrin 98a).

Rashi (commentary ad loc.) elaborates:

“When the Land of Israel will give forth its fruits generously, then the קֵץ, the End [the Redemption] will be approaching close, and you can have no clearer [sign of] Redemption than this”.

This is precisely the future that the Prophet depicts for us in the Haftarah for this Shabbat, immediately following Yom Haatzmaut.

For well-nigh 2,000 years the soil of Israel was desolate and emaciated, the dwellers of this Land barely eking out subsistence-farming.

If today Israel is exporting fruits and other agricultural produce throughout the world, then this is an indisputable sign that the Redemption is fast approaching. If today Israel is the only country in the world which has more trees than it did a century ago, this is proof that the Redemption is fast approaching.

To deny this is to deny the Talmud; it is to deny the very concept of Redemption and Mashiach (the Messiah), the twelfth of the Thirteen Principles of Faith as defined by the Rambam (in his Commentary to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10:1).

This definition of the Land of Israel becoming fruitful as the clearest possible sign of redemption is given by Rabbi Abba, a third-generation (mid-3rd century to mid-4th century) Amora. Born and raised in Babylon, Rabbi Abba was in his early years a disciple of Rav Huna (Menachot 29a) and of Rav Yehudah (Yevamot 75b), two of the greatest leaders of Babylonian Jewry.

But he made Aliyah, even before his close friend and colleague Rabbi Zeira did (Hullin 57a). It was in the Land of Israel that Rabbi Abba blossomed into the Torah-giant of renown, studying under Rabbi Yochanan bar Nafcha (Niddah 25b), who founded his Yeshivah in Tiberias.

(Rabbi Yochanan headed his Yeshivah for some 80 years; an indication of how great was the Torah-learning in Tiberias is that the Sanhedrin was located there from the year 193 until its dissolution.)

Rabbi Abba became so great a Torah-leader of his generation that the Talmud says of him, “Our master in the Land of Israel is Rabbi Abba” (Sanhedrin 17b).

This is the reason that he earned the title “Rabbi”: the masters of Babylon carried the title “Rav”, a lower level than “Rabbi” which was reserved for the masters in the Land of Israel. Though Rabbi Abba was born and spent his early years in the academies of Babylon, his real accomplishments were in Israel.

Rabbi Abba fully understood the greatness, the sanctity, and the centrality of the Land of Israel. And living under Roman occupation, at a time when Judaism was clearly on the decline under Roman persecution, he could but look forward to better days yet to come.

Those better days would take some 1,350 years to come – but come they eventually have done, and Rabbi Abba’s vision of the fruit-trees of the Land of Israel giving their fruits generously is our present-day reality.

In our Haftarah, the Prophet Amos begins his inspiring depiction of the glorious future time with the phrase, “On that day I will raise the fallen Sukkah of David” (Amos 9:11). And in this verse is a grammatical anomaly.

בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא אָקִ֛ים אֶת־סֻכַּ֥ת דָּוִ֖יד הַנֹּפֶ֑לֶת, says the Prophet. Now the word for “fallen” is indeed נֹפֶלֶת, as it appears in this verse. But Hebrew grammar has a rule called צוּרוֹת מִשְׁתַּנּוֹת (“changing forms”), according to which the vowel of the last stressed syllable of a phrase or a sentence is lengthened, and according to this rule, the final word of the phrase should be הַנֹּפָלֶת ha-nofalet, the segol (short vowel) changing to a kamatz (long vowel).

This change of vowel occurs both at the end of a sentence and at the end of a phrase, meaning any word whose cantillation-sign is a פָּסֽוּק-סוֹף, sof-pasuk (“end-of-the-verse”); or an אֶתְנַחְתָּ֑א, etnachta; or by a זָקֵף-גָּד֕וֹל, zakef-gadol. That is to say, all three of these cantillation marks (the sof-pasuk, the etnachta, and the zakef-gadol) follow the same rule and elongate the vowel.

So since the wordהַנֹּפֶלֶת , ha-nofelet in this verse is punctuated with an אֶתְנַחְתָּ֑א, etnachta, which marks the end of a phrase and has the grammatical rule of the end of the sentence, why does it remainהַנֹּפֶלֶת , ha-nofelet?

– I suggest that the Prophet is promising us, ever so subtly, that the redemption will yet come: Even though David’s fallen Sukkah is punctuated with an אֶתְנַחְתָּ֑א, and therefore looks like the end of the sentence – nevertheless it isהַנֹּפֶלֶת , ha-nofelet and not הַנֹּפָלֶת , ha-nofalet. Even though it is punctuated with an אֶתְנַחְתָּ֑א which grammatically resembles the end of a sentence – nevertheless, this is not the end of King David’s story! His history, his dynasty, his rule over Israel, does not finish with his Sukkah falling! There will yet be a continuation!

And the corollary is that in the penultimate verse, describing the return to the Land of Israel, the prophet promises that וּבָנ֞וּ עָרִ֤ים נְשַׁמּוֹת֙ וְיָשָׁ֔בוּ, “they will rebuild desolate cities and inhabit them”.

This verse shows the opposite phenomenon. The word וְיָשָׁ֔בוּ is ambiguous: it could mean “and inhabit them” (as we have translated here), in which case the correct vowellisation should be וְיָשְׁבוּ.

Alternatively it could mean “and they will return”, in which case the correct vowellisation should be וְיָשֻׁבוּ.

Either way, the vowellisation וְיָשָׁבוּ belongs at the end of a phrase or sentence, not in a word whose cantillation-sign is a זָקֵף-קָטֹ֔ן.

Why, then, does the prophet say וְיָשָׁ֔בוּ, against the rules of grammar?

– I suggest that the Prophet is promising us that when the Jews return to Israel, when they both return to those desolate cities and inhabit them, this will be as a פָּסֽוּק-סוֹף, sof-pasuk, the end of the sentence.

Our return to our formerly-desolate cities will be forever, our inhabitation of our formerly-desolate will be forever. Hence the vowellisation, וְיָשָׁ֔בוּ: with this, history comes to its קֵץ, its end, its conclusion.

Our Return to Zion will be our final destination, and so even though it appears in the middle of the sentence, in historical terms it will be the קֵץ, the end. After this there will be no more exile.

And this is the meaning of the final Redemption. An appropriate Haftarah and an apposite message indeed for the Shabbat immediately following Yom Haatzmaut!