Friday, October 20, 2017

Haftarat Noach: Noah and Isaiah Both Want You to Say It

I want to try something new. I’ve been writing this blog for eight years now, which means I’ve essentially written about each Torah portion in eight different ways. How about we mix things up a bit? Here’s what I’m thinking: 
Each parashah has an accompanying reading that does NOT come from the Torah. Many centuries ago, our rabbinic leaders assigned a parallel text to each Torah portion, called a Haftarah (which does not, by the way, mean “Half-Torah”...). The Haftarot come from the Books of the Prophets, the Books of Samuel, Kings, or some other Biblical text AFTER the Five Books of Moses. The connection between each Torah portion and its Haftarah is sometimes clear and obvious (like this week’s), and other times quite obscure and forced. Furthermore, the whole reason why we have Haftarah readings in the first place is filled with historical significance, tension, and craftiness; THAT is worth talking about in-and-of-itself!! What I’m saying is, let’s take a break for an entire year, and instead of offering a “Take on Torah,” let’s spend 5778 examining our “Take on Haftarah”! Are you in? 

I imagine you may be curious about my comments regarding the origin of the Haftarah as a concept. Well, it’s a good story, but we don’t need to reveal everything in this very first Haftarah-post, do we? We’ve got time. :-) Instead, let’s talk about 
our Torah portion, Noach. As I mentioned above, this is an easier week to see the connections between Torah and Haftarah. The rabbis offer us a reading from Isaiah to pair nicely with our story of Noah and the Flood, because Isaiah refers DIRECTLY to Noah himself in chapter 54. Speaking on God’s behalf, Isaiah writes: “For this to Me is like the waters of Noah. As I swore that the waters of Noah would never again flood the earth, so too I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.” (54:9) See what I mean? Can’t get any more straightforward than that!

The Chumash we use at Ohev Shalom, the Conservative Movement’s Etz Hayim 
actually offers us even deeper connections still. Besides the obvious mention of our parashah’s main character, the two texts have linguistic parallels as well. Both talk about a “brit,” a covenant with God, and both use a unique phrase when talking about God’s promises. In each reading, we see God promising “Lo Od,” “never again.” In one instance, God promises never to let a flood destroy the earth again, and in the other, God promises not to forsake us, the people again. Interestingly, if you put those two phrases together, yet another message emerges.

A “brit,” a covenant, goes two ways. God has rights and responsibilities, and WE have rights and responsibilities too. The “brit” applies to both parties… but so does “Lo Od.” God promises to uphold God’s end – which we can certainly debate whether we feel God has done or not – but let’s not also neglect to look back at 
ourselves and ask whether we’ve declared “Lo Od”… and meant it. When we were the oppressed outsider and then achieved social status, did we declare “Lo Od!” “Never again!” and then make sure others didn’t have to endure our agonies? When we pulled ourselves out of poverty – achieving higher education, better paying jobs, and bigger houses than our parents and grandparents – did we recall how painful it was to grow up in poverty and declare “Lo Od!”, and then help the poor and unfortunate around us? Our Haftarah reminds us that it’s not just God’s obligation, but ours too. We SHOULD declare it… and when we do, we need to mean it and live by it as well.

Photos in this blog post:
1. Image courtesy of Rabbi Gerber
2. CC image courtesy of Andreaksr on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of Gerd Altmann on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh on Wikimedia Commons

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