Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Haftorahs and Hollywood Endings

I don't know how it works in most shuls, but in mine they generally give you the heads-up that you're reading the Haftorah somewheres around Revi'i. And so it came to pass that, midway through the Torah reading, the gabbai hands me a laminated card that reads "MAFTIR."

Now I don't get nervous, mind you; I kind of like being asked to read the Haftorah. It means they think (a) I can read Hebrew pretty well, and (b) my voice isn't lousy. For this I am grateful. But in order to avoid the embarrassment of a meltdown—in the event that there are some strange words or trupp combinations—I take a sneak peak before the aliyah.

The first thing I notice is that there is a break in the Haftorah. According to the Knower of all things Jewish, Rabbi Arthur J. Scroll, the Sephardim, Chabad Chasidim, and German congregations, end the Haftorah early. We Ashkenazim, however, go the distance.

And what a distance it is. Quite a long read. And with a fairly impatient shul behind me, I knew I'd have to rush it a bit to make sure that my vocal chords wouldn't wear down before the chatter in the back spread to envelope the entire sanctuary. Would asking the rabbi if we could be German for a day be appropriate? I thought not.

The Haftorah is about the prophet Elisha and the woman from Shunam, who prepared a room for him to stay during his travels to her area. She was childless, so Elisha blessed her and her husband that they should have a child. Sure enough they do. But one day the child dies. The woman goes to Elisha for help, and Elisha sends his attendant, Geichazi, to revive the child using his staff. But that doesn't work, so Elisha has to go himself and lie upon the child, bringing him back to life.

It's a beautiful little story with the perfect ending, yet if you attended shul last week in Crown Heights or Washington Heights or certain areas of Flatbush, you'd never have known the outcome. If you take a look to see where the aforementioned Sephardim, Chabad Chassidim and Germans end the story, you'd be perplexed. The final verse read by these three communities comes as the woman is preparing to seek out Elisha after her son dies. Her husband, unaware of the tragedy, asks, What’s the occasion? To which she simply says, “Shalom—It will be well.” The End.

How strange.

Why stop the story at the declaration of the Shunamite woman, "Shalom—It will be well"? It wasn’t well—the child was dead! This would seem to be the absolute worst place to end the story.

I discussed my confusion with one of the baalei keriah in shul (he read the Haftorah at the first minyan) and he, too, was at a loss. "I could understand," I confessed to him, "if the Litvaks stopped there. That's a stoic group for you. But the Sephardim? The Lubavitchers?"

Perhaps, I thought, that was the point. You don't need the happy ending for the story to work. What if, for instance, the child had remained dead. Tragic as we may find it to be, would it not also be G-d's will? What if, in the parshah we had just read, G-d had not stayed the hand of Avraham at the Akeidah, and he followed through and slaughtered Yitzchak? Wouldn't Avraham have carried out G-d's will just the same as if Yitzchak had lived?

Just because we want something to happen doesn't mean that G-d agrees with us. Ultimately, as difficult and painful and hidden as it may be, G-d's will is the ultimate good.

I brought my question to the rabbi, and before I could share with him my answer he beamed. "I discussed that very question in my lecture Wednesday night." (I hemmed and hawed, trying to think of a good excuse as to why I wasn't in attendance that evening, when he informed me that it was a class for women only. Whew!)

When Elisha sent Geichazi to revive the boy, the rabbi explained, he told him, "Gird your loins and take my staff in your hand and go....and you shall place my staff on the lad's face." The Meshech Chochmah explains the symbolism: Elisha believed that the woman was meritorious because of her kindness toward him. She prepared a place for him to stay and to rest. Elisha's staff—upon which one leans and rests—symbolized the mitzvah the woman had done. Surely that would revive the boy.

But it wasn't her kindness that merited a child; it was her devotion to the prophet and her faith in his word as the word of G-d that merited a child. She displays this devotion again when she approaches Elisha. He inquires: "'Are you well? Is your husband well? Is the child well?' And she said, 'Shalom—We are well.'" Once again, her simple expression, “Shalom,” speaks volumes about her convictions. Elisha recognizes this, continues the Meshech Chochmah, he understood that he would have to use himself—the symbol of her faith—to revive the child.

It was her faith in G-d and in His prophets (the sixth of Maimonides' thirteen principles of faith) that brought her this blessing. When the child died she knew that the prophet would guide her correctly. When he asked how she was she simply answered, "Shalom—we are well." Whatever happens, it is the will of G-d, and therefore the ultimate good.

Yes, the story does have a happy ending. So does the story of the Akeidah. The child lives. Yitzchak lives. It's the classic Hollywood ending.

But not all our stories end that way. Sometimes the child dies. Sometimes the parent has to grieve. We don't understand why. But what we must know is that it is part of G-d's plan and we need to embrace that faith in order to sustain ourselves, in order to live our lives on a higher plane. We need to recognize that under G-d's protection, despite what we may feel, despite what we don’t understand, we are always well.

(translations courtesy of


Blogger Semgirl said...

I didnt get to read your post yet, I am sure its great. Just wanted to be the first to comment..

Thu Nov 24, 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Elisheva said...

OMG. That was so totally touching and so totally deep and so well written. You really have so much to give over and in such a positive and down-to-earth way. I wish the schools would have more teachers like you and not like the ones we do.

Here's my vote (again) for you to go into writing or chinuch or both.

About what you wrote, I once asked someone how he was feeling and he answered "B"H not too good, I have a real bad cold." At first I was taken aback, cause like B"H usually comes before "good" or "fine" not "not good".

But then I thought about it and saw how right he was, and he taught me a real valuable lesson. It's B"H even if it's "not too good".


Thu Nov 24, 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Elisheva said...

SG, You just beat me! No fair cause it took me longer cause I actually read it!

Thu Nov 24, 12:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inspiring, insightful and thought-provoking. Thank you for taking the time to post.
Is everything ok?

Thu Nov 24, 01:30:00 AM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Cloo: Maybe everyone was expected to know the entire tanach anyway, so the haftora wasn't ending with a hollywood ending, since everyone knew the real ending to begin with?

Happy Thanksgiving from the Muqata!

Thu Nov 24, 01:40:00 AM  
Blogger Pragmatician said...

I like the answer but I think the real reason is that it was just too long otherwise, though there certainly is no harm in seeking for a lesson.
In Tanach many things happen from which we are supposed to take a lesson, however almost everything is solved by an open miracle, how are we to relate to that?

Thu Nov 24, 03:20:00 AM  
Blogger Y.Y. said...

very good point cloo
1)the main thing is to do the will of god no matter if its pleasent for us or not of course we pray for god to show us chasadim
2)you actualy think what the haftoreh is about when you read it

Thu Nov 24, 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger FrumGirl said...

Very inspiring, ClooJew. I like the way you lace in the humor too. I like your thought process. Mostly I want to thank you for awakening memories of things I learned. I particularly enjoyed Navi and now I remember why... great post!

Thu Nov 24, 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Margaritagirrl said...

you write.......
"But not all our stories end that way. Sometimes the child dies. Sometimes the parent has to grieve. We don't understand why. But what we must know is that it is part of G-d's plan and we need to embrace that faith in order to sustain ourselves, in order to live our lives on a higher plain. We need to recognize that under G-d's protection, despite what we may feel, despite what we don’t understand, we are always well."

Thu Nov 24, 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger The real me said...

The Lubavitchers actually learn the lesson from the first part, with the oil, and the empty vessels.

Thu Nov 24, 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Semgirl said...

This time.. I READ it.. Exceptional, put this in the Yated or Mispacha magazine, where it will have a greater audience..

Thu Nov 24, 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger nobody28 said...

Wow - you're good. You should really post more often.

I just can't picture Clooney talking this way - ya gotta change your pic ;)

Fri Nov 25, 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Reminds me of the time I asked my rebbe how he was doing. His answer: "Boruch Hashem, lousy."

Excellent point! We all SHOULD know Tanach.

Funny you should say that...There is a piece I read from Rav Chatzkel Levenstein about when Shmuel went to annoint David as king. Shmuel is concerned because "when Shaul finds out, he'll kill me." Literally. So Hashem tells him to go up under the guise of bringing a sacrifice and annoint David quietly.

But why was Shmuel afraid if he's following Hashem's command? Furthermore, why is Hashem agreeing with him???

Explains Rav Chatzkel (and apparently several Rishonim weigh in with similar comments, but I saw it in the Mashgiach's sefer first) that Hashem WANTS us to work things out naturally, without miracles.

Real Me,
The story of the oil and the vessels is a favorite of Rabbi Berel Wein, shlit"a. He is always saying that we need more "vessels"--people to go out and spread the Word of G-d. The oil (Torah) will continue to pour as long as we have vessels to hold it.

Fri Nov 25, 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Elster said...

Actually, this is my favorite haftorah - unfortunately I missed it this year (home sick with pnuemonia).

Cloo - congradulations for entering the rare group of people who receive kudos on their material without that same material actually being read. That much be special praise indeed. The Cloojew fanclub clearly has another member.

I think the haftorah's lesson is that sometimes those who need (and deserve) get what they should get - whether it be oil or a child's life back. The INSTRUMENT of the giving, in this case Elisha, is irrelevant. it is all from hakadosh baruch hu.

Unfortunately is the flip side. Sometimes those who deserve do not get. Sometimes bad things happen to the innocent. Yes, it IS the master plan of hashem and no, we mortalsd can never understand it.

But hey, I'll take the Hollywood ending every time.

And Cloo, how did you manage to lose all that weight you put on after Syrianna? oh yea, I read your post about going to the gym...

Sat Nov 26, 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger BrooklynJewishGuy said...

I really don't mean to be pedantic, but the Chabad chassidim do go to the very end on this haftara. Most times we go along with the sephardim, but this is one of the exceptions. Well written, cloo. BTW, what happened to your hat, you took a new pic??

Mon Nov 28, 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

Great message cloo

Mon Nov 28, 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger Littleredridinghoodie said...

Actually, it was not quite the Hollywood ending more like the hand of G-D ending.

I heard a really nice speech this Shabbat:
Avraham really did kill Yitzchak and he was an Olah Temimah. Hashem send a new soul onto his body (one that has the zivug Rivka Emainu) and Rivka was conceived and born. Three years later they were married.

Elisha send Geichazi to heal the boy but he used up the power on the dog. When elisha got there he was too late so he had to bring a new soul onto the "boy's" body who grew up to be I think it was Chavakuk...

This parsha is not the Hollywood ending it is the closest thing we have to Techiat Hameitim. Imagine how great that will be!

Before my mother's father passed away he gave me a Tanach (Pentatuch) and asked me to read the Haftorah every week. At the time I thought what a drag!!! I did not understand him. Now, 10 years later I know what he meant, I wish i would have listened to him I would not have made the mistakes I made. I hope he can forgive me.

My father told me that on shabbat, Kedusha and the Brachot of Haftora are Eit Ratzon, so grab that opportunity!

Mon Nov 28, 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...


Tue Nov 29, 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Mea Culpa.

I had to do some emergency surgery on this post after an astute reader (aka The Dad) pointed out a glaring error.

The Haftorah, as read by the three communities above, stops with the word Shalom, but not the one in verse 26 as I had indicated in this post initially. Rather it's the one ending verse 23.

Ergo, the middle of the piece had to be reorganized and rewritten. The point is the same though, and the kid still lives in the end.

For those of you who didn't see the original version and have no idea what I'm talking about--good. For everyone else, reread it and let me know if it still works.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go wipe the egg off my face.

Mon Dec 05, 06:15:00 PM  
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