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Haftarah for Toldot

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Malakhi lived in the 5th century BCE and was the last of all of the prophets. Because Malakhi means "my messenger," it is probably not a personal name, but rather a vague title for a man who was known only as a messenger from God. His short book of prophecy is full of frustration and disappointment with the people and their lackluster Temple service.

The opening of haftarat Toldot contains a direct allusion to the Torah portion: "I have shown you love, said the Lord. But you ask, ‘How have You shown us love?’ After all–declares the Lord–Esau is Jacob’s brother; yet I have accepted Jacob and rejected Esau."

Though Esau was the firstborn, and thus had the birthright to his father’s inheritance, it was Jacob who received the more prestigious blessing, and who went on to be the patriarch of the family. Malakhi is likely mentioning Jacob and Esau because Esau was also known as Edom (Gen 25:30), the progenitor of the Edomites. During Malakhi’s life, the Edomites looted Jerusalem and killed many of those who fled. The people of Israel might reasonably have questioned whether Jacob and the people of Israel really were being accepted and Esau and the Edomites rejected, but Malakhi assures the Jews that God is still on their side.

A Different Kind of Prophecy

Much of the haftarah is written in a back and forth style as an argument between God and the people of Israel. This is unique to the book of Malakhi. In many ways it points away from the traditional prophesy and toward the question and answer style of talmudic discussion that will become popular in the legal texts that star in the next era of Jewish history.

Yet Malakhi maintains the classic message of the prophets: that the people have been doing wrong, and need to repent. In 1:7 he says, "You offer defiled food on My altar. But you ask, ‘How have we defiled You?’ By saying the table of the Lord can be treated with scorn.’" He is scolding the people for their lax treatment of sacrifices and their subsequent surprise when the sacrifices do not elicit positive responses from God.

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Haftarah for Haye Sarah

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In Parashat Lekh Lekha, God promises Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation. Abraham’s hope for the future was embodied in his son Isaac, but in this week’s parashah, Haye Sarah, as the patriarch nears death, the prospects for a dynastic family seem dim. Isaac and his wife Rebecca have yet to even conceive a child.

Similarly, in Haftarah Haye Sarah, King David must deal with the future of his own dynasty. When the book of Kings I opens, David is ill, and the infirmity of old age is setting in: "Even though they covered him with bedclothes, he never felt warm" (1:1). His servants’ idea for a cure? To find a young woman to "be his nurse [and] to lie close to him and keep him warm" (1:2). They search for a suitable candidate, and find a Shunammite woman named Abishag.

Meanwhile, King David’s son Adonijah makes a play for the throne, and declares himself king, backed by an army of 50 men. Adonijah was not the oldest of David’s sons (Absalom was), but he was cunning. He carried out his coup with the aid of some of the priests–though, the text notes, not all of them–and offered sacrifices as a way to solidify his position. Adonijah invites three of his brothers to witness this ceremony–all except Solomon, who is kept ignorant of his ascension.

Nathan the prophet, who is listed among those who did not support Adonijah, came to Bathsheva, Solomon’s mother, to warn her. "Let me give you advice that will save your life, and the life of your son Solomon," he says, instructing her to inform King David of his son’s preemptive power play (1:13).

Bathsheva obeys. She approaches David while Abishag is attending to him and relates exactly what Nathan told her to say. Then she adds of her own accord: "Now, my lord king, the eyes of all Israel are upon you to tell them who shall sit on your throne when you are gone. If you do not," she concludes, "then as soon as you are lying with your ancestors, my son Solomon and I will be regarded as traitors" (1:20-21).

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