Passover

Haftarah Helper: First Two Days of Passover

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The Haftarot of the first two days of Passover recount celebrations of the holiday at two moments of dramatic transformation in Biblical history. At both moments, these celebrations renew the nation’s commitment to its covenant with God, focusing the people on the practical and spiritual goals facing them. Specifically, the readings describe the Passovers of Joshua and King Josiah. Forty years after the Exodus, Joshua’s celebration of the holiday renewed the Israelites’ covenantal connection to both God and His Land before conquering it. Centuries later, Josiah revolutionized Judean society after generations of idolatry, and the national observance of Passover again demonstrated the nation’s recommitment to their eternal covenant with God. When the covenant needs to be renewed, Passover is there as the central focus.

Day 1

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

The Haftarah of the first day of Passover includes key passages, including the third-ever celebration of Passover, from the beginning, middle, and end of the story of the Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan and the beginning of their conquest of the Land, the miraculous conquest of Jericho. This monumental undertaking affirms, incorporates, and fulfills God’s covenant with His people. Joshua leads a mass fulfillment of the covenant of circumcision. This covenant of circumcision, in turn, incorporates God’s covenantal promise to inherit the land (Gen. 17:8), which the forthcoming conquest begins to fulfill. Entering the land (Ex. 12:25, 13:5, 13:11&14) and circumcision (Ex. 12:43, 12:48) are prerequisites for the Israelites to make an annual Passover offering. Joshua, therefore, leads the nation in the first Passover offering in the Land – and that offering itself renews their covenant with God, as well.

These covenant-saturated events – mass circumcision, the Passover sacrifice, and crossing the Jordan –  reenact the Exodus for a new generation who had, for the most part, not witnessed it a mere four decades earlier. Moreover, the beginning (3:7) and end (6:27) of the Haftarah emphasize that all of these actions solidify Joshua’s standing as the nation’s new leader (see also 4:14), another critical transition facing the people after Moses’s recent death.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 3:5-7: Joshua leads a new generation through waters split by God, demonstrating Divine support for him as Moses’s successor.

Joshua 3:7 יהושע ג:ז
The Lord said to Joshua, “This day, 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: After crossing the Jordan River, Joshua circumcises the males who were not circumcised in the Wilderness.

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: In Gilgal, the Israelites make Passover offerings.

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

 

Verse 5:11-12: The Israelites then begin to eat the Land’s produce, and the manna ceases to fall.

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: A Divine messenger bearing a sword reassures Joshua of God’s presence during the forthcoming conquest of Jericho, and instructs him to remove his shoes while standing on holy ground as Moses had done before him.

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 conquest of Jericho solidifies Joshua’s standing as the nation’s military leader.

Joshua 6:27 יהושע ו:כ״ז
So the Lord was with Joshua; his fame was throughout all the country. וַיְהִ֥י ה’ אֶת־יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ וַיְהִ֥י שָׁמְע֖וֹ בְּכָל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

 

Connections

The Midrash describes God’s appreciation of the mass circumcision that took place under Joshua’s leadership.

Shir HaShirim Rabbah 4:6 שיר השירים רבה ד:ו
Rabbi Levi said: When Joshua circumcised the Israelites, he piled up their foreskins into a hill. The sun shone upon them and they rotted, and their smell rose before the Holy One, Blessed be He. Its smell was [as pleasant as the Temple’s] incense and a handful of myrrh on [its altar’s] fire. At that moment [God] said, “When the descendants of these [people] come to sin and evil acts, I will remind them of this smell, have mercy on them, and transform My attribute of Judgment to Mercy.” Why so? “I will get me 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. 

 

Day 2

2 Kings 23:1-9,21-25

Centuries after Joshua, King Josiah also led the people through a time of dramatic transformation, and his observance of Passover is also part of the nation’s covenant renewal. Born into a society awash in idolatry and immorality under his grandfather King Menashe, Josiah ascends the throne at eight years old after his father, King Amon, is assassinated. He begins to return to God, instructing the priests to repair the Temple. They find an ancient Torah scroll and read it before Josiah. He weeps and rends his garments, fearful of its punishments for those who abrogate it. The prophetess Huldah is consulted; she confirms that God will punish the people for its generations of idolatry, as the Torah says.

The Haftarah describes the revolution that Josiah and his allies undertake ato return the nation to compliance with the Divine covenant. The king assembles all of Judah to Jerusalem and reads the “scroll of the covenant” before them; they, too, affirm the covenant. First, they rectify generations of covenantal failure by obliterating idolatry throughout Judah; the Haftarah omits some of these events. Josiah then instructs the people to make Passover “as written in this book of the covenant”; 2 Chr. 25:1-19 describes this greatest Passover in Biblical history in great detail. For these mighty efforts to renew Judah’s covenant with God, the Bible describes Josiah as one of Judah’s greatest kings.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 23:1-3: In the Temple, King Josiah and the people dedicate themselves to the Torah’s 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, his testimonies, and his 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 23:4-7: Josiah leads a campaign to destroy idols, remove idolatrous priests, and desecrate idolatrous shrines throughout Judah.

II Kings 23:4 מלכים ב כ״ג:ד
The king ordered the high priest, Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, 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 23:8-9: He disqualified Jewish priests who served idols from officiating in the Temple but permitted 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, but they did eat of the 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 in Biblical history.

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: Josiah ranks among the greatest Biblical kings.

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׃

 

Connections

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 Scripture (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” and those assembled answer “amen,” they all say, “Just as [the baby has now] entered the covenant [of circumcision], 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.

 

 

Halachah extends Josiah’s disqualification of Jewish priests who served idols from serving in the Temple, also banning 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 [and recite the Priestly Benediction..] This accords with Scripture, “Nevertheless, the priests of the [idolatrous] altars did not come up [to the Lord’s altar in Jerusalem]” (II Kings 23:9), [since Scripture] likens the Priestly Benediction to the Temple service: “To minister unto Him [at His house] and to bless in His name” (Deuteronomy 10:8). Similarly, a priest who converted to idolatry, even though he repented may never lift his hands [and 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 zbeer570@gmail.com.