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Tisha b’Av and Yom Kippur

Elul 5781 | August 2021

Usually, the haftorah reading is connected to the Torah reading, giving a peirush on the messages given in the parasha. However, we do not always link the haftara to the parasha. When is it legitimate to divorce the haftara from the Torah reading of the week? 

The earliest source for disconnecting the haftara from the parasha is the Mishnah (Megilla 29a) which lists the four parshiot of Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh, informing us that we need a haftara which reflects themes in these maftir readings, rather than the parasha. These are intended to connect us to the upcoming festivals. Shekalim and Zachor to prepare for Purim, and Parah and HaChodesh to prepare for Pesach. In fact, the Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 13:8) teaches that one of the purposes of the haftara reading in general is to connect us to the moed, rather than the parasha. For the Rambam, the haftara has an additional function to help us reflect on the cycle of the Jewish year. 

All of these examples involve reading a different maftir; the haftara is still connected to the Torah reading, even if not to the parasha itself. When we use the haftara to connect to the moed, we also use part of the chumash to illustrate the themes. For example, even though Purim does not appear in the Torah, we still use pesukim from the Torah to connect to it – the mitzvah of remembering Amalek.

This is not the case for the haftarot from Tisha b’Av to Yom Kippur. For the eight weeks following Tisha B’Av, taking us all the way through the month of Elul, the haftarot are seemingly connected purely to Tisha b’Av. The first seven are messages of comfort and reconciliation after the apparent destruction of the relationship with Hashem following the churban. The next are messages of teshuva, responding to the tragedy by returning to Hashem and hoping for the Beit HaMikdash to be rebuilt. 

This cycle of haftarot finds its roots early on in our liturgical history. It is recorded in the Pesikta Rabbati and brought down by Rabbeinu Tam (Tosfot Megilla 31b s.v. Rosh Chodesh), and the Rambam (Hilkhot Tefillah 13:19). What is unique about this series of haftarot is its length and its pure disconnect from the Torah reading. 

In some ways this is surprising. The Torah is not empty of messages of comfort and reconciliation with Hashem. In both of the sections of klalot (curses), Hashem reassures us that even though we will be exiled, we will eventually return. Additionally, in Devarim 4:31, Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that if they are exiled, Hashem will not desert them. He is a merciful God, and will remember the brit with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. 

Could we not use these passages to reinforce the messages in the haftara? 

It seems to me that the cycle of haftarot around Tisha b’Av is trying to create a distinct emotional experience which is overlaid on to the cycle of the year in the Torah, rather than embedded within it. The destruction of the Beit HaMikdash requires us to reimagine our relationship with almost all the mitzvot and chagim in the Torah. We can no longer fulfill so many of the mitzvot in their ideal way. We need a voice outside of the chumash to help us develop our relationship with Hashem post-churban. This voice is the voice of the neviim acharonim who, through the words of the haftarot, help us process our new relationship with Hashem.

But if the haftarot are all about our response to Tisha b’Av, why does the cycle end at Yom Kippur? The choice to extend our response to Tisha b’Av all the way to Yom Kippur is deliberate. It is telling us that we need to weave our new relationship with Hashem back into the existing structure of our Jewish calendar. 

Now, there are two reasons to do teshuva on Yom Kippur. There is the original reason from the Torah that this is a day of selicha and kapara. The second is the natural response to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. We have to work hard on rebuilding trust in our relationship with Hashem (that’s where the seven haftarot of consolation fit in). The haftara of Shabbat Shuva is speaking to us when we feel close again to Hashem and able to step back and see the churban in light of our own sins. The natural response is to try to overcome those failings and do teshuva, in the hope that Hashem will rebuild the Beit HaMikdash. 

Gmar chatimah tovah.

Hannah Abrams

Hannah has an MA from the Graduate Program for Advanced Taludic Studies in Yeshiva University, and is currently learning in the second cohort of Hilkhata, Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute.