We often sit through the haftorah without understanding what it is all about. “Why do we read the haftorah anyway?” we sometimes think. Krias HaTorah of the parsha makes sense—we read a portion of the Chumash each week so that over the course of the year we have completed the entire Torah. But what is the goal of reading the haftorah? We know that it is not so we can finish Navi on some kind of schedule. What then is the purpose of the haftorah?
The Levush (284:1) writes that Chazal enacted the obligation to read the haftorah during the time of Antiyochus who forbade reading the Torah in public. As he had not forbidden them from reading the Navi, Chazal instituting reading a portion of the Navi which related to that week’s parsha. They divided it into seven aliyos, like Krias HaTorah, so that Jews would study some aspect of Torah in public and the practice of reading from the Torah should not be totally forgotten. Even after Antiyochus’s decree was annulled, Chazal maintained the practice.
Sefer HaPardes writes that Jews used to learn Chumash and Navi immediately after davening every day, but poverty and people’s work schedules kept them from being able to devote so much time to learning. As a result the study of Navi was neglected. On Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim, when there is more time, Chazal instituted that Navi be studied after the reading of the Chumash. Though Sefer HaPardes does not mention the importance of a link to the parsha, it would seem that in this way people would study it with greater attention and interest.
What then is the goal of the haftorah? According to the Levush and Sefer HaPardes, the purpose is for us to become familiar with the insights and themes contained in Navi. Unfortunately, we don’t always get the opportunity to study and understand the haftorah properly even when we follow the reading closely. Thus, this column is meant to help us understand, learn, and know Navi– and not merely superficially read or listen to the reading.
Lessons The haftorah of Parshas Naso relates the story of the birth of Shimshon the nazir, which obviously relates to the halachos of nazir mentioned in the parsha.
Almost the entire Shimshon story occurs in the area of Eretz Yisrael called Aza, now known as Gaza.
The Tzitz Eliezer (Volume 7, siman 48, perek 12) discusses whether Gaza is including in the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael and is surprised that anyone would have any doubts. He cites a Gemara in Shabbos (145b) where it is taken for granted that Gaza is part of Eretz Yisrael.
“Rav Chiya bar Abba said to Rav Assi, ‘Why are the birds in Bavel fatter [than the ones in Israel]? Rav Assi replied, ‘Come to the desert in Gaza and I’ll show you how fat they are!’”
Rashi explains that the Gemara is clearly affirming Gaza’s status as part of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, says the Tzitz Eliezer, the halachos of teruma, maaser, shemita and all other agricultural mitzvos relate to Gaza. The atonement one gets by being buried in Eretz Yisrael applies to Gaza, as does the mitzvah of yishuv ha’Aretz.
The Arvei Nachal (Parshas Shelach 26b) explains that successfully conquering the land of Israel does not depend on brute strength or military prowess. Rather, when Hashem created the world, he looked to the Torah as His blueprint. As the Zohar says, “Histakel b’Oraysa u’bara alma.” This means that every single part of this earth was created through an aspect of Torah. In order to take complete and permanent possession over any land, one must first study, relate to, and master the Torah which is specifically tied to that portion of land.
Although this concept is true about the entire world, Eretz Yisrael was given a much more powerful connection to the Torah. Given that the Torah in its highest form can be observed only there, every inch of Eretz Yisrael is securely tied to a specific section of Torah. One needs to master that section of Torah in order to conquer that part of Eretz Yisrael.
In this light, let us discuss what parts of Torah that Gaza profoundly relates to and how Shimshon’s struggles focused on Gaza’s role in Torah.
As we said, Gaza is called Aza in lashon hakodesh. The word aza comes from the root word “oz,” referring to boldness and strength in overcoming obstacles within spiritual growth. The mishna says one should utilize azus and “be strong (oz) like a leopard” in combating the yetzer hara (Avos 5:23). The Gemara (Baitza 25b) comments that the Torah was given to Klal Yisrael because we are azim, steadfast and tough when facing spiritual adversity. As the Ralbag (Mishlei 31:25) notes, oz indicates an ability to tame one’s physical desires and employ them for spirituality.
The Maharal (Baba Basra 91a) explains that the trait of oz is a vital component in establishing the kingdom of Yisrael. This is why Boaz is the forerunner of Dovid Hamelech, “bo-az, within him is oz.” A king of Yisrael is obligated to use the middah of oz in the proper spiritual balance for wealth, beauty, honor and royalty—all physical components–which he possesses. Rav Moshe Eisemann writes that oz refers to the “ability to generate an imposed peace, to take disparate elements and meld them into a harmonious whole.” In our case, oz is the ability to meld the material and spiritual aspects of life into one whole of avodas Hashem.
Thus, the land of Aza is a place that offers a tremendous potential to overcome the yetzer hara and to utilize it in the service of Hashem. As Chazal have said, (Brachos 54a), we are supposed to serve Hashem “b’shnei yetzarecha,” with both the evil and good inclinations. We are bidden to utilize our lusts and passions for physical pleasure to advance ourselves within the realm of Torah. We do not subscribe to a monk-like or ascetic philosophy. We marry, eat, and enjoy the world in order to uplift and sanctify the earth.
But Aza would also be an area that presents severe, strong, and stubborn spiritual challenges to Klal Yisrael, including the consistent inability to permanently conquer and dwell in this Eretz P’lishtim – throughout history, including the disengagement of 2005. This was, and is due, to our becoming spiritually deficient by overemphasizing the gashmiyus aspect of our lives.
Rav Yisrael Reisman mentions a machlokes between Rav Avigdor Miller and Rav Avraham Pam concerning whether one should say before eating that he is eating l’shem Shamayim. Rav Pam held that we must be honest with ourselves and not say we are eating with heavenly intent when it most likely isn’t true. Rav Miller held it is worthwhile to say we are eating for heaven’s sake, even if it is not presently true, because it keeps us conscious of such a goal we might, one day, be able to attain. Rav Reisman suggested a compromise. Before eating one would say, “I know I should be eating l’shem Shamayim.”
The Gemara in Sotah (9b) says that Shimshon’s problems began in Gaza and that is where he received his punishment. Ultimately, Shimshon’s rise and fall involved the positive development of the yetzer hara and its overextension. This is why Shimshon comes from Shevet Dan, who dwells in the north, tzafon. One of the names of the yetzer hara is Tzafun, meaning hidden, which the Gemara (Succah 52b) associates with north.
Shimshon’s goal was to employ the yetzer hara for positive and spiritual use, thereby transforming its power into yetzer hatov energy. He goes to the south in Gaza to access this yetzer hatov; if the north connects to the yetzer hara, the south is linked with the yetzer hatov. (See Rav Tzadok in Yisrael Kedoshim, pgs. 31-32; Michtav M’Eliyhau, Volume 2, page 269 and the contemporary sefer Shivtei Yisrael, pgs. 309-313, by Rabbi Fishel Mael of Baltimore.]
As we read the haftorah, let us ponder some of these profundities and bring them into our lives.
To schedule a speaking engagement with Rabbi Boruch Leff or to receive two books for the price of one, Shabbos in My Soul (Feldheim 2007) and More Shabbos in My Soul (Feldheim, 2008), or to purchase the book ‘Are You Growing?’ (Feldheim, 2011) at 40% off, contact the author at: email@example.com.Rabbi Boruch Leff
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