The Missing Haftarah

Four men came out for our prison chapel fellowship meeting today. I’ll call them my regulars now. These are the guys who will be the core of the group when we start the new Torah reading cycle next month. For three of them, this will be the first time. That makes it important that I get a plan together, and there is now only a short time to do that.

Our worship together was good, as they are becoming more acquainted with the liturgy and the songs. It is easier now to focus on worship without the distraction of keeping up with the mechanics. Both spiritual growth and a hunger for more are becoming evident, and with that I think I sense some growth in me as well. The time away due to the COVID-19 shutdown left an emptiness. It is good to be back.


The Torah reading this week, Ki Tetze “when you go out,” is filled with what my Bible has categorized as “Sundry Laws.” Most of them deal with how Israel is to live in community. Well, the men here are forced to live in community, so these Torah instructions are very much applicable to them. We’ve already read other portions that said if you do this you will be blessed, and if you don’t, you won’t. We realize this is a choice, almost as if God is saying “You can do it my way, or you can do it the hard way.”

So as we are reading, I have the New American Standard Bible that I am allowed to bring with me. They can’t bring their own Bible’s into the Chapel, so they have to use what is already there. We’ve been stuck with using King James Version Bibles, and last week they were allowed to use a Hertz Cumash that was in the Chapel library – but unfortunately it is also in formal old English and difficult to read. I am looking at:

You shall not see your countryman’s donkey or his ox fallen down on the way, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly help him to raise them up.
(Deuteronomy 22:4 NASB)

Meanwhile, they are reading:

Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.
(Deuteronomy 22:4 KJV)

From that rendition, however, we were able to use a little word-play and come up with an overall theme for this Torah portion reading. We determined that to successfully live in community, each one must watch out for his brother’s ass.

Continuing with the reading,

Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee:
(Deuteronomy 23:12-13 KJV)

My New American Standard Bible makes that passage a little more clear for them:

You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement.
(Deuteronomy 23:12-13 NASB)

A less literal translation like the NIV might have been even more helpful, conveying the thought in modern terms. But these guys understood what was being said. And so, again using some word-play to summarize the point of the Torah reading, we came to the following directive essential for harmonious living living in a tight communal setting:

Watch out for your brother’s ass, and keep your crap out of the camp.

The Missing Haftarah

Then we turned to the Haftarah portion, continuing in the Haftarot of Consolation leading up to the Fall Feasts. Last week’s reading ended at Isaiah 52:12, and this week it began with Isaiah 54:1. Since we had the Hertz Chumash handy, which contains the Haftarah immediately following the Torah portion I had them turn to the second Torah portion, Noach. At the end of parasha Noach is the corresponding Haftarah reading. It begins at Isaiah 54:1, the same as the reading for this week.

Of course, the Haftarah readings through Isaiah are not continuous. Whole chapters are skipped over, so that part is not unusual. But we had to ask why this portion was repeated. And a couple of the men realized that the chapter we skipped, Isaiah 53, is clearly describing Messiah Yeshua.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:3-5 KJV)

Rabbinic Jewish teachers have an explanation. Not everything in the last half of Isaiah is read in the Haftarot of Consolation, so it is not out of place that this chapter would be skipped. And regarding this chapter, some go as far as to say that it does not describe consolation for Israel, and therefore it isn’t appropriate here in this season. Yet these same people will say that Isaiah 53 isn’t about the Messiah at all, but rather about the nation of Israel – even though they said it does not describe consolation for Israel.

The fact is there are many Messianic passages in Isaiah that are not part of the Haftarah readings, including the one Yeshua read himself – apparently as the Haftarah reading for that particular week.

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
(Luke 4:16-20, quoted from Isaiah 61:1-2)

One has to ask, were any of these once a part of the Haftarah readings but later removed? We do not know exactly when the practice of reading from the Prophets and Writings started. Many believe it began before Yeshua, during the time of the Greek’s when reading from the Torah scroll itself was prohibited.

Those are all unknowns. And it didn’t matter; we read it anyway.

We finished our time together talking about the approaching Appointed Times, and in particular about Yom Kippur. In this environment, observing these times is difficult. They will do the best that they can.

Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation

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