Shabbat Blog: What Really Matters

Friday, May 13, 2022
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

This week, we will focus on the Haftorah (the weekly reading form the Prophets).

I dedicate this Dvar Torah to my father who always “showed up” and had a knack for knowing what was really important. 

The connection between the Torah reading and the Haftorah is evident in that both deal with the service performed by the Kohanim in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple). However, an interesting difference between the two has been pointed out by Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein. He writes: “In the parasha, the laws governing the priests and the sacrifices are integrated into the framework of the rest of the laws of the Temple found in the book of Vayikra, and as another unit belonging to the halakhic portions of the Torah. All this is important, but in the haftara the laws governing the priests serve yet another function, namely, they are part of the vision of redemption.”

Having noted that the laws of the Kohanim as stated in the Haftorah are part of the picture of redemption, we may have expected soaring poetry describing the redemption. Instead we find a rather prosaic depiction of who may perform the service, what they must wear, how to dress, how to style their hair and who the Kohanim may marry. We are also told that Kohanim will serve as the teachers of Halakhah (Jewish law). 

Rabbi Lichtenstein notes that emphasizing the technical details of the Temple service, “ is of great importance, inasmuch as we are liable to be lured by an idea of the holy that is entirely spiritual and has no interest in technical halakhic details.

This is an important point as we often think about holiness and spirituality as being disconnected from rules and norms and more related to the unmoored mystic.

I think we can learn a related point from this idea. It goes to the really important question of how one measures success in life. Often our culture defines success along the lines of fame, fortune, some public accomplishment or major triumph.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein summarized the Jewish view as follows: “Judaism focuses particularly on the everyday, the common, regular, mundane activities which comprise the bulk of our lives.”

Wishing a loved one a happy birthday, expressing joy when others achieve success, expressing pride in what our loved ones are doing, making a quick “check-in” phone call…these are the “halakhot” of showing up and really making a difference in people’s lives. 

The message of the Haftorah’s focus on the basic Halakhot serves as a reminder of what really matters in life - being present in a regular way in the lives of our loved ones. 

Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Gelman 

Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of

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