Rabbi’s Essays

Haftarot Mikketz ~ Dreams of Power
(2000 ~ 2002)

In the 5761 (December 2000), we read the Haftarah to the par’shat Mikketz. This would seem to be an unexceptional statement. Every par’shah is associated with a Haftarah, and that prophetic segment is normally read, unless it is a special Shabbat in which a special Haftarah is appended to the normal par’shah. What are these occasions? They include: the five Sabbaths spread through the six weeks preceding Pesach (Shekalim, Zakhor, Parah, HaHodesh, and HaGadol) and the Sabbath that occurs during Hanukkah.

Given the way the Jewish calendar and cycle of Torah readings work, the par’shah read during the Shabbat of Hanukkah is almost always Mikketz. Thus, one rarely hears the Haftarah for this par’shah. For instance, the last time Mikketz did not fall during Hanukkah was in the Hebrew year 5757 (1996), and the next time will be in 5781 or December 2020! So you can see, an opportunity to discuss the Haftarah to this par’shah does not come along very often.

In reality, the par’shat Mikketz has two Haftarot associated with it. The one that was traditionally assigned to it-from I Kings 3:15-28-and the one assigned to the Shabbat of Hanukkah-Zechariah 2-4-with the latter being the one far more frequently identified with the par’shah. Indeed, the “proper” prophetic passage is virtually a hidden Haftarah. Should we draw any lesson from its infrequency?

Let us first briefly note the Haftarah for Hanukkah. These passages from Zechariah also represent the Haftarah for par’shat B’ha’alotkha (Num. 8:1-12:16). The Torah portion begins with a description of the seven-branch Menorah that the priests would maintain in the Mishkan (the Tabernacle or portable Temple borne through the wilderness). Zechariah depicts a vision of this Menorah as part of a call for the rebuilding of the Temple. This passage in turn resonates both with the rededication of the Temple under the Maccabees, and the centrality of light to the observance of the Festival.

The passage in Zechariah is presented as a vision within a vision. The prophet is given to imagine the High Priest Joshua’s encounter with an angel, and, in turn, the angel sets the apparition of the Temple Menorah before Joshua. This doubling of a dream thus connects the Haftarah with Pharaoh’s double dream in the par’shah. Further, Joshua’s confusion over the meaning of the Menorah vision echoes the inability of Pharaoh’s advisers to interpret his dreams. Thus, the Haftarah, with its strong connection to the images and themes of Hanukkah, also contains a background relationship to its usual par’shah.

The motif in both Haftarot is that of visions and dreams. The passage in I Kings begins: Then Solomon woke: it was a dream! The first word of the Haftarah, vayikatz, establishes an aural connection with the par’shah (vay’hi miketz), but in so doing, it also eliminates the dream itself from the passage. At the beginning of the Haftarah, we read that Solomon had a dream, not we do not necessarily know what that dream is. This comment is not quite accurate. The Rabbis, in choosing the verses that would make up the Haftarah, could very well assume that many listeners in the synagogue would know enough Tanakh to be aware just what dream Solomon had. Rather, the king’s reverie itself is not to be considered germane to the lesson the Rabbis wish to draw.

The passage goes on to tell the familiar story of the two women who claim the same infant. From the king’s judgment we get the notion of a Solomonic decision. Chapter 3 of I Kings ends with the declaration: “When Israel heard of the decision of the king, they held him in awe, seeing that he had within him divine wisdom to do justice.” The Haftarah, however, ends with the first verse of Chapter 4: “Now King Solomon was king over all Israel.”

One should not derive too much from this addition. The breakdown of biblical books into chapters was the work of medieval Christian clerics. A classic Jewish approach to the text would ignore such divisions. This is particularly evident in the case of the par’shiot, which generally do not respect the concept of chapters at all. Indeed, one could suggest that each par’shah represents a rabbinic chapter of the Torah. The chapter divisions nevertheless are hardly arbitrary. I Kings 4 introduces the administration of Solomon as monarch, and thus naturally begins with the general statement that he now ruled as king over Israel. Yet, rather than treating this verse as the introduction to a section of the narrative, the Rabbis suggest that it is the conclusion of a previous passage.

So what do we have? A passage that begins with Solomon waking from a dream, the incident in which he exhibits the quality of his wisdom through judging the two mothers, culminating with the declaration that now Solomon was indeed Israel’s ruler. Now consider what we do not have; what precedes the first verse of the Haftarah.

We can begin with the last part of the last verse of Chapter 2. The first two chapters of I Kings relate the story of succession from David to Solomon over and through another son of the old king. Solomon, with the blessing of his father and the help of Nathan the prophet takes control, and Chapter 2 concludes: Thus the kingdom was secured in Solomon’s hands.

The first half of Chapter 3 describes a dream in which God confronts Solomon asking what divine gift would the new king like to receive. Solomon notes that he is young and inexperienced, and therefore asks in essence for the maturity in which to rule the people with moral insight and good judgment. God is especially pleased that Solomon’s request is not for domination and wealth, and declares: I grant you a wise and discerning mind; there has never been anyone like you before, nor will anyone like you arise again. (I Kings 3:12)

When we take this entire section-from the end of Chapter 2 through the beginning of Chapter 4-we see a mirrored narration: 1. A statement that Solomon has secured control of the kingdom. 2. A dream in which he asks and is granted wisdom. 3. An incident in which he exhibits wisdom in deciding a thorny case. 4. Finally, a statement (once again!) that Solomon is king.

It is reasonably clear that the first declaration of Solomon’s rule states a political fact, the culmination of the maneuvers that had taken place in order to ensure the monarchic succession. (It is worth remembering that Solomon ascension to the throne represents the first instance of an established monarchy in Israel. Saul had been king, but had failed to establish a royal family.) The second declaration, however, states a social-moral fact. Through wisdom and not sheer domination, Solomon is established in the hearts and minds of the people Israel as their ruler.

In cutting out the first half of this narrative segment, the Haftarah accomplishes two things. It undercuts the prophetic nature of Solomon’s night vision. Instead, all we read is that Solomon awoke from a dream; a dream as opposed to reality! Dreams have played an extraordinarily important role in the stories of Jacob and Joseph, from the vision of the heaven-reaching ladder to Pharaoh’s cryptic images. The Haftarah, however, focuses on the reality; not what was envisioned but rather what was actually done. In this Haftarah, we have the source that will be expressed in Theodore Herzl’s oft-repeated statement: Im tirtzu eyn zo ‘agada [If you will it, it is no dream].

The second aspect of the Haftarah is in emphasizing the social-moral aspect of authority over the legal-political. From David through Solomon, a single unbroken dynasty was established over the kingdom of Judah. This can be compared to experience in the break-off Northern Kingdom, whose history is filled with the more familiar succession of usurpations and palace revolts. As the biblical text (though not the Haftarah) portends, successors to Solomon were not necessarily as worthy or capable as he in their administration of the kingdom. Nonetheless, the dynasty held together. The Haftarah suppresses the notion that its success was due in any way to the sheer assertion of power, but rather to the acceptance that the people had in its divinely inspired moral authority. Thus, we sense in the Haftarah the expression that is the climax of the Hanukkah Haftarah: Lo b’khayil, v’lo b’koakh, ki im b’rukhi, amar Adon’ Tz’va’ot [Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the God of heaven’s hosts].

So the regular but infrequently read Haftarah for the par’shat Mikketz, ultimately strikes the same theme as the more common Haftarah for Hanukkah. The former prophetic section, although focusing on the moral source of authority, nonetheless reflects the notion of Israelite sovereignty. The latter, although mentioning Zerubbabel who had a legitimate claim to the throne of David, presents its image of moral authority within the religious context of the Temple and its priesthood. The predominate condition in Jewish history has been a people without sovereignty, for whom power has had to be drawn more from social and religious sources than from military or political force. The Hanukkah Haftarah therefore also predominates.

But the possibility of sovereignty-of political domination-has always existed in Jewish dreams. In the middle of the twentieth century it actually came to be. And with it arises the issue presented by the Haftarah: does one rule by virtue of force, or by virtue of power that can transcend force?

Dedication—Haftarot Hanukah (2002

As one might expect, it is only on infrequent occasions that Hanukah includes two Sabbaths. You might ask what difference does it make, beyond the fact that there are two times in which we have to remember to light the Hanukah candles before the Shabbat candles, rather than the more usual once? The key difference does not take place in the home but at the synagogue. Since the first and last day of Hanukah falls on Shabbat a special Haftarah is read on each of these days. (The Torah portions-Vayeshev and Mikketz-are read as they would be whether it is Shabbat Hanukah or not.)

The appearance this year of the regular Haftarah for the Shabbat of Hanukah, and the much less frequently read Haftarah for a second Shabbat affords us some insights into traditional Jewish thinking about the holiday.

Since every Hanukah includes at least one Shabbat, each year we read the passage from the prophet Zechariah (2:14-4:7) in which he describes a vision of the Temple Menorah and learns from an angel that the vision means: “Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit, says the Eternal.” The section from II Kings (7:40-50), read on a second Shabbat Hanukah, is a brief description of the items made for Solomon’s construction of the first Temple in Jerusalem. When considered side by side, we can see their commonality, but are also struck by their apparent contrasts.

What do they have in common? First, they both relate to conventional themes of the holiday: kindling of the lights of a Menorah, dedication by the Maccabees of the Temple. Indeed both Haftarot focus on the Temple. The passage from Zechariah refers to the early years following the return from Babylonian captivity, when the Jews were having some difficulty organizing in order to rebuild the Temple. The seven-branch Menorah was one of the prominent appurtenances.

At this point, however, the contrasts become clear as well. Zechariah focuses not so much on the Menorah but rather on the lights themselves. Hence, the expression “not by might nor by power, but by My spirit,” a reference to God’s love and protection that is more powerful than any military power. In this Haftarah we have the opportunity to reflect on the notion of creating light at the darkest time of the year.

The second Haftarah, however, has no spiritual qualities, but rather inventories the handsomely made and very expensive articles to be found in the First Temple. Instead of giving us some elevated meaning, it focuses on a building and its furnishings. Going from the first Haftarah to the second feels like lighting the Hanukah candles, reciting the blessings, thinking about miracles, lights, blessings, sacrifice and freedom, and then tearing into the presents!

This can hardly be the intent. What are we to learn from the two Haftarot taken together? I would like to suggest two different approaches to an answer. The first is to be found in looking at the passages themselves. Zechariah speaks about a vision (actually two visions), and Hanukah is a time for thinking about certain basic ideals such as freedom. Indeed, the rabbis remind us that Hanukah differs from Purim in that the latter celebrates the triumph over those who wanted to kill us, but the former recalls our victory over those who wanted to take away our beliefs.

Belief, ideal, vision, light: these are all important and vital concepts. But as ideas they are useless unless they are actually put to use. The Maccabees, we recall in story and song, fought for freedom. It was not just freedom as an idea, but the freedom that was embodied in the form of worship represented by the Temple. The freedom was the Temple itself! Ideas-intellect-must be employed in the service of something tangible and concrete. We light the lights, recite the blessings, sing the songs, and then we give gifts. If we are true to the songs and the blessings, we give not only to those we love, but also to those in need. Solomon’s Temple was not created lavishly for his own pleasure or the pleasure of the Court, but for all the people. It was not just finely wrought pots and columns, but it was a shelter and a warehouse of food and clothing for the poor. By light, we give light. And we resolve to give more.

The second approach is based on the fact these Haftarot are also connected to certain Torah portions. The passage from Zechariah is also read for B’ha’alotekha. In this section from the book of Numbers we first learn about the construction of the Temple Menorah (that, of course, is the direct connection). Then we read about the Levites and their mandated role to provide service on behalf of the tasks of the priests. It is behind-the-scenes work-the priests have all the public ritual responsibilities-but it is absolutely necessary to running of Israelite society. Once again, we are reminded that the gift of light on Hanukah is not just for ourselves. The spiritual freedom we enjoy allows us to confirm material freedom on others.

The passage in II Kings is even more to the point. It is the Haftara for Vayak’hel. The second-to-last par’sha in Exodus recalls an earlier section of the Book. Moses receives instructions from God on building the mishkan, the portable Temple that will be carried through the desert. The material for the building will come from free-will contributions of the Israelites. In Vayak’hel the vision becomes a reality. Moses asks for contributions, and the people actually give! On Hanukah we thank God for divine blessings, and we remind ourselves that the blessing is not complete until we also give.