2ND DAY ROSH HASHANA
Book of Yermiayhu, Chapter 31
This week is a triple header- we have the two days of Rosh HaShana followed by Shabbbat Shuva.
Each holiday we observe has its own special Torah and haftarah readings with a message that pertains to that holiday. This week I am going to discuss the second day of Rosh HaShana and leave you curious about the rest.
Today’s readings from the Torah and from the haftarah teach us tenets of faith, responsibility and repentance- and show us God’s steadfastness throughout difficult times.
Throughout the Torah we are told that if we obey the mitzvoth and follow God’s laws we will have land, crops, and many descendants. If we do not follow the laws our land will not prosper, the rains will not fall in the right seasons, and we will lose our sovereignty. In today’s reading we jump ahead to the time of Yermiyahu where the Jews experienced the aforementioned losses.
Today’s haftarah is from the Book of Yermiyahu. Yermiyahu lived in Jerusalem about 2600 years ago, around the end of the 7th C. BCE. The Northern part of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians about 100 years earlier and the south was being threatened by the Babylonians. Yermiyahu is telling b’nei Yisrael that God will never abandon them. He tells the people that Rachel is weeping for them in Ramah- trying to intercede for them.
Yermiyahu describes God’s steadfastness. Rachel may weep and the nation may face enemies, but HaShem tells Rachel that she should stop weeping because her work – meaning the raising of her children- will be rewarded and will not be forgotten.
Rosh HaShana is the Day of Judgment. As such it is the most important time for reflection and repentance. The last three verses of the haftarah are the verses that determined this section of Yermiyahu as the reading for the second day of Rosh HaShana.
It says, “I can hear Ephraim (northern Israel) lamenting. “You have chastised me and I am chastised…now that I have turned back I am filled with remorse. I was ashamed and even humiliated because I bear the disgrace of my youth…”
The language is harsh. We often forget the mitzvoth, the moral ways to do things, the guidelines that we as Jews- as the Or l’Goyim- are expected to uphold. These are the days which are for thinking and considering and soul searching.
Over the centuries with constant repeated attacks from the nations surrounding us we have survived. It is a miracle that we haven’t been wiped out but it is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with us. In verse 8 of the 20 verses here it says God will gather the remnants of Israel from the ends of the earth. And with them the blind and the lame, the woman with the child and the woman in labour. This phrase encapsulates the essence of the haftarah. It is the declaration of God’s promise- that He will remember His people, gather them in no matter where they are, and value each individual whether they be healthy, lame, blind, weak, slow, or ill.
It is easy to forget the destitute, the weak, and the disabled. And as we all know many cultures disregard the rights of women and children. As a group we Jews don’t do that. And God specifically commanded us to be cognizant of the widows, the orphans, the strangers, the poor…
The image I chose for this haftarah is based on a famous photograph from the Government Press Office in Jerusalem. It shows illegal immigrants landing in pre-war Palestine in 1939. Looking at this hodge podge of men one can imagine that they are coming from the ends of the earth coming back to Eretz Yisrael just as HaShem said they would be brought back.
The message of this haftarah is one of hope; of the surety that we are not forgotten and that God will make sure that we will survive. It is also a message that we have to see ourselves and our weaknesses. We should use these Days of Awe for reflection and prayer. We can use this time to strengthen our bonds with our spiritual selves, our community and with our God.
As it says in Yermiyahu v 11- their soul shall be like a watered garden and they shall not languish in sorrow any more.
Have a wonderful and sweet New Year full of joy, health and peace.