25 Aug 2017

Haftara for Shofetim 5777: Rising From the Dust | WITH AUDIO READING

Download a printer friendly version here.

Please click HERE to listen to this week’s audio recording read by Rabbi Joseph Dweck.

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.” 

  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12


This haftara is the fourth of a series of seven intended to bring messages of comfort from loss and tragedy after the 9th of Ab. God announces that He alone is the comforter of Tziyon and Yerushalayim. He states with care and intimacy: ‘I have placed my words in your mouth and I sheltered you with my hand…[I] have said to Tziyon you are my nation!’ (16) Yerushalayim is called upon to awaken and find renewal — to rise from the dust and to be no more like ‘a street for passersby’ (23). The haftara ends with divine promise of protection and presence during the new redemption.


When, in 2013, I first visited the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation of London and attended a Friday night service it was held in the main sanctuary of the Lauderdale Road synagogue. The occidental tunes that were sung were foreign to my oriental-trained ears, but suddenly I was deeply moved by one tune in particular. I fell in love with it and could not wait to come back to hear it again. It was the Lekha Dodi[1].

Since then for the first year after we moved to London each Friday night I would struggle to hold back tears when singing Lekha Dodi with the congregation — not tears of sadness or joy,  but tears that come when we  experience great beauty. The kahal would harmonise with the melody and it was as if the words took form before me. I looked forward each week to the Friday night services.

It is a remarkable rarity in the Jewish world when local customs spread and become universally accepted by all. Jews tend to agree on very little and for a practice to cross religious, ethnic, and political barriers is nothing short of a modern-day miracle.

One of the most recent manifestations of this phenomenon is the inclusion of Rabbi Shelomo Alkabets’ poem Lekha Dodi into the Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat service. Wherever Jews gather for prayer on a Friday night, be they traditional or progressive, Sephardi or Ashkenazi, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, one can find them singing Lekha Dodi in their own unique tune.

Alkabets drew inspiration for his lyrics from many places in the Bible. The bulk, however, was drawn from this week’s haftara with a concentration on three motifs: awakening, renewal and majesty.

Rebuilding from loss is the dominant refrain in Jewish history. If there is one people who have learned to have hope, persevere and rebuild it is the Jews.

The first step to rebuilding is to awaken to the truth of one’s own identity and to strive towards actualising its potential. There can be no teshuba (return) to greatness if we do not believe we have it in us to be great. Yishaya implores us:

Awake, awake, O Zion! Clothe yourself in splendour; Put on your robes of majesty, Jerusalem, holy city!… Arise, shake off the dust, Sit [on your throne], Jerusalem!
Loose the bonds from your neck, O captive one, fair Zion! (52:1-2)

With this call from Yishaya the prophet for Israel to rise from the dust, wear majestic robes and sit upon her throne we welcome in the Sabbath.

In synagogue on Friday night we come together, fresh and in our fine clothing, anticipating the joys of Shabbat. For me hearing these words sung by the congregation has always been a profoundly emotional experience:

Shake yourself free, rise from the dust, Dress in your garments of splendour,
my nation, by the hand of Yishai’s son of Bethlehem, Redemption for my soul
draws near.   Rouse yourselves! Rouse yourselves!
Your light is coming, rise up and shine.

Surely, the confluence of details — the congregation, the timing, the tune — lends itself to bringing out the strong feelings. But it wouldn’t have the same effect without Rav Shelomo Alkabets’ reminder of Yishaya’s beautiful prophecy with such eloquent poetry.

The thought of a nation exiled, downtrodden, persecuted and kicked to the dust for generations one day rising again and returning home sovereign, free and independent against all odds stirs something deep within the soul. It is a story of triumph and glory. In so many diverse communities over the last five hundred years it profoundly and creatively expressed their soaring and joyful nuances in song.

Bringing this imagery to our weekly welcome of Shabbat — a day in which we stop our work, rest, and contemplate our spiritual lives — allows us to hold the beauty of our nation and its potential at the forefront of our minds throughout our generations.

It is not simply blind chance that brought Alkabets’ words into our collective hearts. We yearned for them. We cherished them and rejoiced in singing them. They promised us a future of grace and pride and each week they helped us weather the difficult storms of exile.

To read the Nehamot Yishaya — The Consolations of Yishaya in our days, is an experience no Jewish person has ever had before. You and I see his prophecies coming true before our eyes, in full faith. I believe that it is within all of us and we are charged to awaken it. 

Awaken! Awaken! Utter a song, The glory of God is revealed upon you.

Astonishingly, the one practice among the Jewish people that exhibits a true hope for a peaceful and harmonious unified diversity is our Friday night service and the singing of Yishaya’s prophecy around the world: each community, each branch of our nation.

It is always read coupled with perashat Shofetim. And while the haftara does not directly connect to the parasha during these seven weeks of consolation, this week there is a beautiful line that binds them. In the parasha we read a presentation of the full structure of the sovereign nation of Israel. Its haftara is a promise that it will come to pass and be a long lasting reality.

If it has been some time since you have attended a Friday night service, make your way to one soon. Do your homework, find one where the congregation sings Lekha Dodi with joy, spirit and dignity. Welcome the Shabbat Queen with your brothers and sisters who are standing with you and sing proudly about the immortal soul and resplendent future of the Jewish people.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Hear a sample played in the audio reading.

Parasha Perspectives

V  Shoftim 

17b  Set up judges in a just system  (16:18-20)
17c  Do not plant an ashera tree or a monument
17d  No unfit offerings  (17:1)
17e  Death penalty for one proven guilty with
witnesses  (17:2-7)
18a  For difficult judgement go to Sanhedrin  (17:8-13)
18b  Appointment and duties of a king  (17:14-20)
18c  No land for Kohanim and Levi’im  (18:1-2)
18d  Donations to Kohanim  (18:3-5)
18e  Give to visiting Levi’im  (18:6-8)
18f  No  witchcraft.  A true prophet  (18:9-22)
18g  Cities of refuge   (19:1-10)
19a  Cities of refuge do not apply to premeditated
murderer  (19:11-13)
19b  Do not move landmarks  (19:14)
19c  Two witnesses required to establish fact.
Laws of false witnesses  (19:15-21)
19d  Laws of war.  Exempt: new house, vineyard
or wife or if afraid  (20:1-9)
19e  Try peace first. Laws of spoil in a war  (20:10-18)
19f  Do not destroy food trees in war  (20:19-20)
20a  Responsibility of a city when a murdered
corpse is found nearby  (21:1-9)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS