Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

This is one of the few Haftarot that are read twice in a year on different occasions: once for parshat Noach and here as the fifth of seven Haftarot of consolation. Chazal did not order them in sequence, so this is a prequel to the third, which picks up where ours ends. The imagery in that Haftara was a ship tossed upon the storm; in ours we recall the storms that flooded the world in the time of Noach. We have spoken before of these “waters of Noach,” and of the promise Hashem made to never destroy the world by them again. Now we will dive a little deeper into this promise, and the concomitant promise the navi is introducing: the Covenant of Peace (Brit Shlomi).

The Brit Shalom, of course, recalls Hashem’s gift to Pinchas for acting zealously on His behalf in the wilderness at Baal Peor. There it is Briti Shalom (My Covenant of Shalom), here Brit Shlomi (the Covenant of My Shalom). It also notoriously provided its name to a coalition of prominent intellectuals and cultural figures who opposed what they saw as the nascent militarism in what would become the Jewish State of Israel. Hashem is establishing a covenant of shalom to stand beside the covenant of Noach, signed with the rainbow.

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It’s interesting to note here that in the West, the dove of Noach has come to represent peace, although this was neither the promise to Noach nor the sign of the promise. “Peace” is also not necessarily the proper translation of shalom at all. The shalom of His covenant will endure longer than the world, and is probably not referring to an absence of hostilities. In the case of Pinchas, the Alshich follows the Midrash in suggesting that shalom for Pinchas signified eternal life. We might interpret that literally or, as other commentators do, as an allusion to the renewed covenant of the priesthood conferred through Pinchas upon his descendants.

Midrash Tanchuma explains that shalom is both completion in the sense of being without flaw or blemish (see also Kiddushin 66b) and the unending effusion of goodness. Thus, we might understand that in establishing these covenants of shalom, first with Pinchas and later with the whole house of Israel, Hashem is committing Himself to an unending supply of goodness in perpetuity. Ibn Ezra connects the shalom in our Haftara to the notion of shalom bayit, the relationship between a husband and wife. The Malbim elaborates that the covenant is not rooted in Israel’s worthiness, willingness or ability to reciprocate, but only in the unconditional love of Hashem.

The Maharal of Prague attaches metaphysical significance to Brit Shlomi by way of explaining a very difficult passage in the Zohar (1:33). When Hashem gathered all the waters in creating the rakia (sky), he brought them to one place. (Bereishit 1:9). While on the one hand allegorical, the Zohar understands and the Maharal learns from it that there was necessarily something like “a place” formed for the gathering of the waters. This gathering was not a physical act and the place is not a physical place – but there is some source out of which the physical universe was drawn from the fluid of possibility by Hashem’s desire to bestow good upon His creations. This place is referred to cryptically as the “Brit of My Shalom” and it is also the source of His kindness, the idea of which precedes the mention of the covenant in the concluding verse of our Haftara.

Reading with the Maharal (in Be’er HaGola Vol. 5, 4:7), we learn that Hashem’s ongoing kindness towards us is an immutable law of nature. Just as He will never again destroy the world by flood, His kindness to us will never be withdrawn. The poetry of the verse itself suggests tectonic forces. We are, after all, speaking of eternity. The navi says: “The mountains will erode and the hills will crumble, but My kindness towards you will not be eroded and the covenant of My shalom will never crumble. Thus says Hashem, the One who consoles you.” (Yeshayahu 54:10).

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He has written on Israeli art, music, and spirituality and is working to reawaken interest in medieval Jewish mysticism. He can be reached at avraham@thegeula.com.