Haftarah Helper: First Two Days of Passover

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The Haftarot of the first two days of Passover recount how two celebrations of the holiday, each at a moment of national transformation, renewed its commitment to its covenant with God. As recited on Day 1, Joshua’s celebration of Passover forty years after the Exodus renewed their covenantal connection to God and His Land before conquering it. And as recited on Day 2, when Josiah, centuries later, revolutionized Judean society after generations of idolatry, the nation’s observance of Passover again demonstrated its recommitment to its eternal covenant with God.

First Day of Passover

Joshua 3:5-7[1]; 5:2-6:1; 6:27

The Haftarah spans several major events as the Israelites’ Wilderness experience ends with their entrance into the Land: crossing the Jordan, mass circumcision, the Passover sacrifice, the cessation of manna, and the miraculous conquest of Jericho. These events reflect and fulfill their covenant with God, and strengthen their commitment to it. They also reenact the Exodus for a new generation who had not witnessed it four decades earlier.

The Haftarah’s first passage occurs as the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan River, led by the Ark of the Covenant. The miraculous crossing, skipped in the Haftarah, solidifies the people’s awe for Joshua as God’s replacement for Moses. In the Haftarah’s main passage, Joshua leads a mass circumcision, a command which, along with the Passover sacrifice, had been neglected during forty years of punishment in the Desert. Entering the land (Ex 12:25; 13:5; 13:11, 14) and circumcision (Ex. 12:43; 12:48) are prerequisites for the annual Passover offering. Joshua then leads the people in making the first Passover in the Land. God then stops the manna, feeding them instead from the Land. This second passage concludes as Joshua encounters an angel representing God’s assistance in conquering Jericho. The Haftarah then jumps over that miraculous conquest to conclude with the conquest’s impact on Joshua’s reputation among Canaan’s nations, echoing its opening.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 3:5-7: While encamped at the Jordan River, Joshua tells the people to prepare for a miracle the next day. The priests carry the Ark before the people. The upcoming events will confirm Joshua as Moses’ successor.

Joshua 3:7 יהושע ג:ז
The Lord said to Joshua, “Today, I will begin to make you great in the sight of all Israel so they will know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה’ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֗ה אָחֵל֙ גַּדֶּלְךָ֔ בְּעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֲשֶׁר֙ יֵֽדְע֔וּן כִּ֗י כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הָיִ֛יתִי עִם־מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶהְיֶ֥ה עִמָּֽךְ׃

Verses 5:2-9: The Exodus generation was circumcised, but God punished them with death so they could not enter the Land. Their sons born in the desert were not circumcised, leaving them like uncircumcised Egyptians. After crossing the Jordan, Joshua fulfills God’s command to circumcise these men, removing this disgrace.

Joshua 5:2 יהושע ה:ב
At that time, the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives for yourselves and again circumcise the children of Israel, a second time.” בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֗יא אָמַ֤ר ה’ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ עֲשֵׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ חַֽרְב֣וֹת צֻרִ֑ים וְשׁ֛וּב מֹ֥ל אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל שֵׁנִֽית׃

Verse 5:10: On the 14th of Nisan in Gilgal, the people offer Passover sacrifices.

Joshua 5:10 יהושע ה:י
The children of Israel camped in Gilgal. They made the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at evening in Jericĥo’s plains. וַיַּחֲנ֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בַּגִּלְגָּ֑ל וַיַּעֲשׂ֣וּ אֶת־הַפֶּ֡סַח בְּאַרְבָּעָה֩ עָשָׂ֨ר י֥וֹם לַחֹ֛דֶשׁ בָּעֶ֖רֶב בְּעַֽרְב֥וֹת יְרִיחֽוֹ׃

Verse 5:11-12: The next day, they begin to eat from the Land’s produce, and in turn the manna ceases.

Joshua 5:12 יהושע ה:י״ב
The manna ceased the next day when they ate from the land’s grain. The children of Israel no longer had manna. They ate the produce of the land of Canan that year. וַיִּשְׁבֹּ֨ת הַמָּ֜ן מִֽמָּחֳרָ֗ת בְּאָכְלָם֙ מֵעֲב֣וּר הָאָ֔רֶץ וְלֹא־הָ֥יָה ע֛וֹד לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מָ֑ן וַיֹּאכְל֗וּ מִתְּבוּאַת֙ אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הַהִֽיא׃ (ס)

Verses 5:13-6:1: With the Israelites nearby, Jericho seals its walls. Joshua approaches a mysterious man with a sword who identifies himself as the captain of God’s army. Joshua prostrates, removes his shoes at the angel’s command, and asks the angelic captain for his message.

Joshua 5:15 יהושע ה:ט״ו
The [angelic] captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua: “Remove your shoe from your foot, for the place on which you stand is holy.” Joshua did so. וַיֹּאמֶר֩ שַׂר־צְבָ֨א ה’ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ שַׁל־נַֽעַלְךָ֙ מֵעַ֣ל רַגְלֶ֔ךָ כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתָּ֛ה עֹמֵ֥ד עָלָ֖יו קֹ֣דֶשׁ ה֑וּא וַיַּ֥עַשׂ יְהוֹשֻׁ֖עַ כֵּֽן׃

Verse 6:27: The subsequent miraculous conquest of Jericho demonstrates to all the Land’s residents that God is with Joshua.

Joshua 6:27 יהושע ו:כ״ז
The Lord was with Joshua. His fame was throughout the entire Land. וַיְהִ֥י ה’ אֶת־יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ וַיְהִ֥י שָׁמְע֖וֹ בְּכָל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃


The Midrash describes God’s eternal appreciation of the mass circumcision described in Haftarah.

Shir HaShirim Rabbah 4:6 שיר השירים רבה ד:ו
R. Levi said: When Joshua circumcised the Israelites, he piled up their foreskins into a hill. The sun shone upon them and they rotted. Their smell rose before the Holy One, Blessed be He. It[s odor] was as pleasant as [the Temple’s] incense, and like a handful of myrrh on [its altar’s] fire. At that moment, [God] said, “When the descendants of these [people] come to sin and do evil acts, I will remember this smell for them, be filled with mercy upon them, and transform [My] attribute of Judgment to [My attribute of] Mercy.” What is [R. Levi’s reason for saying this]? “I [God] will go to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.” (Song of Songs 4:6) רַבִּי לֵוִי אָמַר בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁמָּל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֶעֱמִיד לָהֶם עָרְלוֹתֵיהֶם גִּבְעָה, וְזָרְחָה עֲלֵיהֶם חַמָּה וְהִתְלִיעוּ, וְעָלָה רֵיחָן לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא כְּרֵיחַ קְטֹרֶת סַמִּים וּכְרֵיחַ קֹמֶץ שֶׁל לְבוֹנָה שֶׁעַל גַּבֵּי אִשִּׁים, בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לִכְשֶׁיָּבוֹאוּ בְּנֵיהֶם שֶׁל אֵלּוּ לִידֵי עֲבֵרוֹת וּמַעֲשִׂים רָעִים אֲנִי נִזְכַּר לָהֶם רֵיחַ זֶה וּמִתְמַלֵּא עֲלֵיהֶם רַחֲמִים וְהוֹפֵךְ לָהֶם מִדַּת הַדִּין לְרַחֲמִים, מַה טַּעַם אֵלֶךְ לִי אֶל הַר הַמּוֹר וְאֶל גִּבְעַת הַלְּבוֹנָה.

Second Day of Passover

2 Kings 23:1-9,21-25

Born into an idolatrous, immoral society under his grandfather King Menashe, King Josiah ascended the throne at eight years old after his father, King Amon, was assassinated. He began to return to God and, at age eighteen, instructed the priests to repair the Temple, where they found an ancient Torah scroll. Upon hearing its words, Josiah weeps and rends his garments, fearful of its terrifying punishments for the nation’s generations of idolatry. The prophetess Huldah confirms the people’s coming fate, adding that Josiah’s righteousness will prompt God to delay punishing them until after his death.

The Haftarah describes the revolution that Josiah and his allies nonetheless undertook to return the nation to compliance with the covenant and avoid their fate. First, he assembles all of Judah to Jerusalem and reads the “scroll of the covenant” before them; they join him in the covenant. Then, they reverse generations by obliterating idolatry throughout Judah; the Haftarah skips some of these events. Finally, Josiah instructs the people to make Passover “as written in this book of the covenant”.[2] For these mighty efforts to renew Judah’s covenant with God, the Bible describes Josiah as the Jewish people’s greatest repentant king.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 23:1-3: Josiah assembles the entire population of Judah to Jerusalem, reading them the covenant from the newly found scroll in the Temple. Josiah and the people rededicate themselves to the covenant with God.

II Kings 23:3 מלכים ב כ״ג:ג
The king stood by the pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, testimonies, and statutes with all [their] heart and all [their] soul, to uphold the words of this covenant that were written in this book. The entire people stood [to accept] the covenant. וַיַּעֲמֹ֣ד הַ֠מֶּלֶךְ עַֽל־הָ֨עַמּ֜וּד וַיִּכְרֹ֥ת אֶֽת־הַבְּרִ֣ית ׀ לִפְנֵ֣י ה’ לָלֶ֜כֶת אַחַ֤ר ה’ וְלִשְׁמֹ֨ר מִצְוֺתָ֜יו וְאֶת־עֵדְוֺתָ֤יו וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתָיו֙ בְּכָל־לֵ֣ב וּבְכָל־נֶ֔פֶשׁ לְהָקִ֗ים אֶת־דִּבְרֵי֙ הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֔את הַכְּתֻבִ֖ים עַל־הַסֵּ֣פֶר הַזֶּ֑ה וַיַּעֲמֹ֥ד כָּל־הָעָ֖ם בַּבְּרִֽית׃

Verses 23:4-8: Josiah leads a comprehensive campaign to destroy a wide variety of idols and idolatrous shrines throughout Judah, including in Jerusalem, its environs, and the Temple.

II Kings 23:4 מלכים ב כ״ג:ד
The king ordered the high priest, Hilkiah, the secondary priests, and the keepers of the [Temple] door, to remove from the Lord’s Temple all the vessels made for [the god] Ba῾al and for the [idolatrous] Asherah [rite], and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron and removed their ashes to Bethel. וַיְצַ֣ו הַמֶּ֡לֶךְ אֶת־חִלְקִיָּהוּ֩ הַכֹּהֵ֨ן הַגָּד֜וֹל וְאֶת־כֹּהֲנֵ֣י הַמִּשְׁנֶה֮ וְאֶת־שֹׁמְרֵ֣י הַסַּף֒ לְהוֹצִיא֙ מֵהֵיכַ֣ל ה’ אֵ֣ת כָּל־הַכֵּלִ֗ים הָֽעֲשׂוּיִם֙ לַבַּ֣עַל וְלָֽאֲשֵׁרָ֔ה וּלְכֹ֖ל צְבָ֣א הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וַֽיִּשְׂרְפֵ֞ם מִח֤וּץ לִירוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ בְּשַׁדְמ֣וֹת קִדְר֔וֹן וְנָשָׂ֥א אֶת־עֲפָרָ֖ם בֵּֽית־אֵֽל׃

Verse 23:9: Josiah disqualifies Jewish priests who served idols from officiating in the Temple but permits them to eat priestly food.

II Kings 23:9 מלכים ב כ״ג:ט
Nevertheless, the priests of the [idolatrous] altars did not come up to the Lord’s altar in Jerusalem- although they ate [sacrificial] unleavened bread among their brethren. אַ֗ךְ לֹ֤א יַֽעֲלוּ֙ כֹּהֲנֵ֣י הַבָּמ֔וֹת אֶל־מִזְבַּ֥ח ה’ בִּירוּשָׁלִָ֑ם כִּ֛י אִם־אָכְל֥וּ מַצּ֖וֹת בְּת֥וֹךְ אֲחֵיהֶֽם׃

Verses 23:21-23: Josiah leads the people in celebration of the greatest Passover since Joshua’s time.

II Kings 23:21 מלכים ב כ״ג:כ״א
The king commanded the entire people, saying, “Make Passover unto the Lord your God, as is written in the book of the covenant.” וַיְצַ֤ו הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ אֶת־כָּל־הָעָ֣ם לֵאמֹ֔ר עֲשׂ֣וּ פֶ֔סַח לַֽה’ אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֑ם כַּכָּת֕וּב עַ֛ל סֵ֥פֶר הַבְּרִ֖ית הַזֶּֽה׃

Verses 23:24-25: As inspired leader of these great reforms, Josiah is the greatest repentant Biblical king.

II Kings 23:25 מלכים ב כ״ג:כ״ה
No king before him was like him, who  turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might according to all the Torah of Moses – and after him [no king] arose like him [, either.] וְכָמֹהוּ֩ לֹֽא־הָיָ֨ה לְפָנָ֜יו מֶ֗לֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־שָׁ֤ב אֶל־ה’ בְּכָל־לְבָב֤וֹ וּבְכָל־נַפְשׁוֹ֙ וּבְכָל־מְאֹד֔וֹ כְּכֹ֖ל תּוֹרַ֣ת מֹשֶׁ֑ה וְאַחֲרָ֖יו לֹֽא־קָ֥ם כָּמֹֽהוּ׃


Josiah and the people stood when dedicating themselves to the Torah’s covenant. Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried records a custom that those present when a baby boy enters the covenant of circumcision should, similarly, stand.

Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 163:2 קיצור שלחן ערוך קס״ג:ב
It is customary that all present at a circumcision stand, as (II Kings 23:3) states, “All the people stood in the covenant,” except the sandek who holds the baby while seated. After the father recites the blessing, “to bring [the baby] into the covenant [of Abraham]” and those assembled answer “amen,” they all say, “Just as [the baby has now] entered the covenant, so may he [one day] enter into [the study of] Torah, the wedding canopy, and [the performance of] good deeds!” נוֹהֲגִין שֶׁכָּל הָעָם שֶׁאֵצֶל הַמִּילָה עוֹמְדִים, שֶׁנֶּאֶמַר, וַיַעֲמֹד כָּל הָעָם בַּבְּרִית, מִלְּבַד הַסַּנְדָּק שֶׁהוּא תוֹפֵס אֶת הַתִּינוֹק, וְהוּא יוֹשֵׁב. וּלְאַחַר שֶׁבֵּרַךְ הָאָב לְהַכְנִיסוֹ וְעָנוּ אָמֵן, אוֹמְרִים כֻּלָּם, כְּשֵׁם שֶׁנִּכְנַס לַבְּרִית, כֵּן יִכָּנֵס לַתּוֹרָה וְלַחֻפָּה וּלְמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים.

Josiah’s disqualification of Jewish priests who served idols from serving in the Temple is extended in Halachah, which bans them from offering the Priestly Benediction.

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer and the Priestly Blessing 15:3 משנה תורה, הלכות תפילה וברכת כהנים ט״ו:ג
A priest who worshiped idols, whether under compulsion or in error, even if he repented, may never lift his hands [i.e., recite the Priestly Benediction.] This accords with (II Kings 23:9), “Nevertheless, the priests of the [idolatrous] altars did not come up [to the Lord’s altar in Jerusalem.” This is because (Deuteronomy 10:8)] likens the Priestly Benediction to the Temple service, “To minister unto Him [at His house] and to bless in His name.” Similarly, a priest who converted to idolatry, even though he repented, may never lift his hands [i.e., recite the Priestly Benediction.] כֹהֵן שֶׁעָבַד כּוֹכָבִים בֵּין בְּאֹנֶס בֵּין בִּשְׁגָגָה אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁעָשָׂה תְּשׁוּבָה אֵינוֹ נוֹשֵׂא אֶת כַּפָּיו לְעוֹלָם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלכים ב כג ט) ״אַךְ לֹא יַעֲלוּ כֹּהֲנֵי הַבָּמוֹת״ וְגוֹ׳‎. וּבְרָכָה כַּעֲבוֹדָה הִיא שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים י ח) ״לְשָׁרְתוֹ וּלְבָרֵךְ בִּשְׁמוֹ״. וְכֵן כֹּהֵן שֶׁהֵמִיר לְעַכּוּ״ם אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁחָזַר בּוֹ אֵינוֹ נוֹשֵׂא אֶת כַּפָּיו לְעוֹלָם.

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email haftarahhelper@gmail.com.

[1] Chabad Hasidim and some Ashkenazi communities read these verses.

[2] 2 Chr. 25:1-19 further describes this Passover celebration in great detail.