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What are the Torah Readings for the High Holidays?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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Rosh Hashanah

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we read from Genesis1 -- the story of Isaac's birth. The reading begins with the words, "The L-rd remembered Sarah as He had said." According to tradition, G-d remembered Sarah in a positive light, in miraculous fashion granting her wish for a child when she was ninety years old--on Rosh Hashanah.2  The Haftorah of this day follows the theme of the Torah reading, discussing the miraculous birth of Samuel to his formerly barren mother, Chanah.3  She, too, was remembered on Rosh Hashanah.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read about the Binding of Isaac.4 This is an attempt to evoke G-d's mercy by mentioning the incredible sacrifice of our forefathers Abraham and Isaac. Their commitment and love for G-d is a source of blessing and protection for their descendants to this very day. The Haftorah is a hauntingly beautiful selection from the Book of Jeremiah5 which talks of G-d's undying love for his chosen nation.

The Maftir for both days of Rosh Hashanah is taken from Numbers6 -- a brief description of the sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple on Rosh Hashanah.

At this lofty moment we must resolve to contain ourselves by abstaining from our basest, but perhaps most powerful, instincts and urges
Yom Kippur

On Yom Kippur morning, the Torah reading is from Leviticus,7 -- a detailed description of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple. The Maftir is taken from the same section of the Torah as the Rosh Hashanah maftir,8 and briefly details the sacrifices offered on this day.

In the Yom Kippur morning Haftorah, Isaiah9 exhorts us to "make peace" with G-d by repenting sincerely. He describes the proper way to fast:

"Is this not the fast I will choose? To undo the fetters of wickedness, to untie the bands of perverseness, and to let out the oppressed free, and all perverseness you shall eliminate. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and moaning poor you shall bring home; when you see a naked one, you shall clothe him, and from your flesh you shall not hide?

"Then your light shall break forth as the dawn, and your healing shall quickly sprout, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the L-rd shall gather you in. Then you shall call and the L-rd shall answer, you shall cry and He shall say, "Here I am," if you remove perverseness from your midst, putting forth the finger and speaking wickedness."

The Yom Kippur Minchah Torah reading is from Leviticus,10 and discusses various forbidden sexual relationships: adultery, incest, the laws of Niddah, homosexuality and bestiality. At this lofty moment we must resolve to contain ourselves by abstaining from our basest, but perhaps most powerful, instincts and urges.

The minchah Haftorah is the Book of Jonah. Where else in the Bible do we find a story which demonstrates the power of Teshuvah as well as the Book of Jonah? An entire corrupt city was spared because they genuinely regretted their evil deeds and committed to changing their ways!

The Haftorah concludes with the words with the concluding words of the Book of Micah:11 "Who is a G-d like You, Who forgives iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His anger forever, for He desires loving-kindness. He shall return and grant us compassion; He shall hide our iniquities, and You shall cast into the depths of the sea all their sins. You shall give the truth of Jacob, the loving-kindness of Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from days of yore."

Amen!

Footnotes

  • 1. 21:1-34.
  • 2. Talmud Rosh Hashanah 10b.
  • 3. I Samuel 1-2:10.
  • 4. Genesis 22:1-24.
  • 5. 31:1-20.
  • 6. 29:1-6.
  • 7. Chapter 16.
  • 8. Numbers 29:7-11.
  • 9. 57:14-58:14.
  • 10. Chapter 18.
  • 11. 7:18-20.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Shabbat » Reading of the Torah » Torah Reading
Holidays » Yom Kippur » The Prayers
Holidays » Rosh Hashanah » The Prayers

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Teshuvah
Repentance. Or, more literally, "return" to G-d. Teshuvah involves regretting the past and making a firm resolution not to repeat the offense.
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Haftorah
Section from the prophetic writings that is read at the conclusion of the Torah reading on the Sabbath, Jewish holidays and fast days. The Haftorah contains a message similar to the weekly reading, or speaks of the current holiday.
Sarah
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Genesis
The first book of the Five Books of Moses. It records the story of Creation and its aftermath, and chronicles the lives of the Patriarchs.
Samuel
1. A prophet and judge who appointed Saul as the first king of Israel in the 9th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, named after the abovementioned Samuel, one of the main characters of the book.
Isaiah
1. One of the greatest prophets, lived in the 7th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Isaiah. The book is filled with prophecies concerning the Messianic redemption.
Jeremiah
1. Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Jeremiah. The book is replete with prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
Jonah
1. A prophet who lived in the 8th century BCE. He is famous for being swallowed by a large fish after refusing to carry out a mission which G-d gave him. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, which recounts the abovementioned story.
Leviticus
The third of the Five Books of Moses. This book deals with the service (of the Levite Tribe) in the Tabernacle, and contains many of the 613 commandments.
Minchah
Afternoon prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Niddah
A menstruating woman. A niddah may not have intimate relations with her husband until she immerses in a ritual pool of water.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
Maftir
A short reading from the Torah at the conclusion of the Sabbath morning and holiday Torah readings. The one honored with the maftir aliyah then chants the Haftorah -- the reading from the Prophets.