Haftaras Ki Sissa

The designated haftarah for parashas Ki Sissa is often preempted by the special haftarah for parashas Parah, but this year we have the opportunity to read it. The haftarah recounts the famous showdown between Eliyahu HaNavi and the prophets of Baal. Eliyahu tells the prophets of Baal (Melachim Alef 18:24): “You shall call out to your gods.” The Maggid examines the four verses in the Bible where the phrase “you shall call out” (וקראתם) appears (Vayikra 23:21, Vayikra 25:10, Melachim Alef 18:24, and Yirmiyah 29:12). Reading the phrase in our haftarah homiletically as “you shall call out to your God [i.e., Hashem],” the Maggid builds from the four verses an essay on the topic of prayer. I present here a portion of this essay.
Yeshayah 21:11, in a prophecy called “a prophecy regarding Dumah,” describes a dialogue between the Jewish People and Hashem, who is referred to as “the Watchman.” The Jews in exile call out: “Watchman, what about the night? Watchman, what about the night?” The Watchman replies: “Morning has come, and also night. If you truly desire [My aid], repent and come.” The Maggid interprets this dialogue by means of a parable.
In a certain country, there was a rich and eminent man who was close to the king. Some people were jealous of this man and spread a rumor that he committed a capital crime. The king issued an order to his officers to arrest him, and so they rushed to the man’s house, without advance notice, hauled him out of bed, and put him in a deep and dark dungeon. He asked the officers why he was being arrested, but they did not know. After a short while, he fell asleep. By the time he stirred awake, he had forgotten the whole episode and he thought he was at home in his own bed. His usual practice when stirring awake from sleep at home was to look out the window to decide what to do; if he saw the morning light he would get up and otherwise he would continue sleeping. So while in the dungeon he took a look, saw that everything was dark, and went back to sleep. Some time passed, he stirred awake again, saw again that everything was dark, and went back to sleep again. He was astonished that the night was so long. Meantime, the king started to worry about him, for he had not been brought before him, so he went to the dungeon to check on him. He heard him lamenting: “Ah, this night is so long. I wish morning would come already, so that I can get up.” The king exclaimed: “You fool! You think that you are sleeping in your own bed and you are waiting to see the morning light? Now you are in a dungeon where no light shines in. It has turned morning and then night again several times already. You need only plead to me to free you. Speak, and I will listen.”
The parallel is as follows. Day represents a time when Hashem’s compassion is at the forefront, while night represents a time when Hashem’s judgment is at the forefront. When the Beis HaMikdash was standing, we had ways of knowing when it was a time of Divine favor. We could consult with the prophets regarding Hashem’s favor or disfavor toward us at a given time. In addition, signs of Hashem’s favor or disfavor were provided by various aspects of the service in the Beis HaMikdash. One sign was the way the smoke from the altar arose (see Yoma 21b). Another sign was the red string that was tied to the goat sent off the cliff in the Yom Kippur service – if the string turned white, it was a sign that our sins had been forgiven. The knowledge of whether it was a time of favor or disfavor guided how we acted. In times of favor we could pray for Hashem’s aid, and in times of disfavor we would be aroused to mend our ways.
But now that Beis HaMikdash is no longer standing, we no longer have the prophets or the special signs, so we cannot readily tell when a time of Divine favor is at hand that is opportune for prayers for Divine aid. As Yirmiyahu puts it (Eichah 3:6): “He has placed me in darkness like the eternally dead.” We remain silent, imagining in our mental haziness that the period of our exile is entirely night. We conduct ourselves along the lines of Yeshayah’s advice to “hide for a brief moment until the wrath has passed” (Yeshayah 21:20). And we marvel over how long the night is.
Yeshayah’s prophecy about Dumah (דומה) describes this state of affairs. Yeshayah saw prophetically that a time would come when there would be silence (דממה) among the Jewish People – that none of us would open his mouth and plead with Hashem to show compassion. Instead, we merely call out: “Watchman, what about the night? Watchman, what about the night?” We repeat the question out of our great astonishment over the extraordinary length of the night. Hashem answers us: “Morning has come, and also night.” He is telling us that our view of our situation is totally mistaken. Morning has come many times to dispel the darkness, but we have missed our opportunities. For example, the Gemara in Berachos 4a tells us that the Jordan River should have split at the time Ezra brought the Jews back from exile in Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael just as it had when Yehoshua first brought the Jews into the land, but our sins caused us to lose the opportunity to enter the land with a high hand, amidst great miracles. Instead we returned in a humble way, having to gain permission from the Persian kings who ruled Babylonia.
Opportunities for redemption have come multiple times, like the cycle of morning and night. Unlike in the days of the Beis HaMikdash, we have no explicit sign of when we have reached a time of Divine favor, a time that is ripe for redemption. In fact, the times that seem blackest for us are actually the times that are most opportune for us to gain redemption. Thus the Torah says (Devarim 4:30-31): “In your distress, when all these things have come upon you, in the end of days, you will return to Hashem your God, and hearken unto His voice, for Hashem your God is a merciful God – He will not abandon you or destroy you, or forget the covenant of your forefathers that He swore unto them.” If we repent and plead earnestly to Hashem for redemption, He will grant it to us. As Yeshayah relates, Hashem tells us: “If you truly desire [My aid], repent and come.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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