Torah Readings & Haftaras
According to Tradition, Sara was “remembered” on Rosh HaShana, and she subsequently gave birth to Yitzchak, despitxtp her advanced age of 90. On the first day of Rosh HaShana, we read chapter 21 of B’reishit, from Parshat Vayeira, about the birth and early years of Yitzchak, and the Sarah-Hagar-Yishmael episode. The lastportion of this 34-pasuk reading is about the treaty between Avraham and Avimelech.
Commentaries point out that it was in the merit of the prayers of Avraham on behalf of the people of Avimelech’s household that his and Sarah’s prayers for themselves were also answered. One of the lessons of the Rosh HaShana reading concerns the power of prayer.
This year, seven people are called to the Torah for this portion.
From the second Torah, we read for the Maftir, the first 6 p’sukim of Bamidbar 29, in Parshat Pinchas, which deals with the Musaf offerings which deals with the Musaf offerings of Rosh HaShana. The portion also contains the command to hear the sound of the Shofar.
The Torah never actually says, “And you shall blow the Shofar.” Or “hear the sound of the Shofar.” The Torah says, “You shall have a T’RU’A day.” We are taught in the Oral Law, what it means – to hear the blasts of the Shofar. The vague terminology of the Written Word invests a certain mystical air to the mitzva of Shofarand the “hidden” nature of Rosh HaShana. Please understand. The indirect or vague tem do not, in any way, detract from the status of the mitzva of Shofar.
The Haftara of the first day of Rosh HaShana echoes the theme of the power of prayer, as well as the “barren matriarch conceiving after prayer”. It is the story of Chana, the mother of Shmuel HaNavi. The concept of the Amida, the “silent devotion”, comes from Chana. The reading is the first 38 p’sukim of the book of Shmuel,1:1-2:10.
There are two possible sedras for Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat following Rosh HaShana – Vayeilech and Ha’azinu. But when Rosh HaShana is Shabbat, the following Shabbat can only be Ha’azinu. (I mention this because it took me a while to figure out why there was only Ha’azinu in the Machzor for osh HaShana Mincha, and not Vayeilech.Maybe some of you also wondered.) We call three people to the Torah at Mincha and read the first part of Ha’azinu.
Shulchan Aruch says to say Tzidkatcha Tzedek at Mincha on Shabbat Rosh HaShana. Because Rosh HaShana is Yom HaDin. And Din is the theme of the three-pasuk passage. The RAMA disagrees and says that in “our places”, we don’t say it.
On the second day of Rosh HaShana, we read from the first Torah, the continuation of the previous day’s reading – the episode of the AKEIDA. Chapter 22 in B’reishit, 24 p’sukim. We call 5 people to the Torah. (The second day of Rosh HaShana can never fall on Shabbat – in our fixed calendar.) Parshat Akeida is perhaps themost dramatic, the most emotional portion of the Torah. Tradition tells us that it occurred on Rosh HaShana. The theme of remembrances emphasizes the Binding of Isaac; we refer to it repeatedly in the davening, and the top choice of Shofars for Rosh HaShana is the ram’s horn, because of the connection to the Akeida. (Someauthorities say that the ONLY acceptible Shofar is the ram’s horn.) We stand before G-d on Yom HaDin and proclaim over and over again, in different ways, that we are the descendants and spiritual heirs of Avraham and Yitzchak. This proclamation is not merely an exercise in name-dropping or protectzia – it is a statementof commitment on our parts to emulate the Fathers and Mothers of Judaism and to be prepared, if called upon, to make impossible sacrifices on behalf of Torah.
The Maftir reading is the same as the first day.
The Haftara is from the book of Yirmiyahu, chapter 31:2-20 (19 p’sukim). The message of the Haftara is one of hope and faith that the devastated nation of Israel will be restored and the exiles will return home. The words of G-d’s promise to Rachel that her children will return to their borders softens one’s heart no lessthan the piercing sounds of the Shofar. Rachel too was barren for years before she gave birth to Yosef. And here we read of the destruction of Ephraim (son of Yosef, the term for the Northern Kingdom of Israel that was severely punished for terrible sins). The closing words of the Haftara is G-d’s promise that He willhave mercy on us.