This week we read the haftorah for פרשת האזינו. It’s not common to have this haftorah. The way we read the Torah, נצבים is always read before ראש השנה (it’s the parasha of teshuva) and וזאת הברכה is always read on שמחת תורה, so there are only two parshiot for the 11 days from after ראש השנה, skipping יום כפור, until before סוכות. Usually there’s only one שבת in there, שבת שובה, which gets its own haftorah. Only when ראש השנה is on Monday or Tuesday is there an extra שבת for האזינו to get its own haftorah.
The haftorah is שמואל ב פרק כב, שירת דוד. It is a שירה, like האזינו, and it shares some language with האזינו, which may explain the connection. But thematically it could not be more different. שירת דוד is a celebration of David’s victories with ה׳‘s help (or really ה׳’s victories with David watching). It’s a standard שירה in תנ״ך: ”they tried to kill us, G-d saved us, let’s sing“. It would go well as the haftorah for אז ישיר, and in fact it is the haftorah for the seventh day of פסח, when we read שירת הים. But האזינו is different. It’s a prophecy of rebuke, like ירמיהו or the first part of ישעיהו. Moshe even introduces it saying (דברים לא:ב) ”I’m getting too old for this“. (Thanks to Tani Cohn for that insight).
So why is it the haftorah now? I think it is not so much the haftorah for האזינו as the haftorah introducing סוכות.
What is סוכות all about?
The Tur goes into great detail discussing the reason for the mitzvah:
This is very unusual. The Tur is is “paskening” an aggadah, which we generally never find it necessary to do. And he’s bringing the reason for the mitzvah, rather than just stating the conclusion. The Bach explains:
Just like on פסח, part of the mitzvah is experiential: we have to feel surrounded by the ענני הכבוד, to feel the presence of ה׳ directly protecting us. The Gra explains that this is why סוכות is is תשרי:
Rav Hutner (פחד יצחק סוכות ט:ו) extends this idea to our observance of סוכות: it is the experience of the return of ה׳'s protection, the sense of the שכינה, after our תשובה of the יומים נוראים.
This message—seeing ה׳'s protection in our everyday lives—is exactly what the haftorah is about.
This is David’s theme song, the one he sang after every victory. He sees ה׳'s hand whenever he is saved. Note for those in the Tanach class: David does not count Saul as one of כל איביו.
There’s a lot of parallelism here. We could read this “sharply” (as James Kugel puts it) and try to understand the specific nuance of every synonym here (and we will in the Tanach class) but now just note that the repetition gives us the sense of constancy. ה׳ is סלעי over and over again.
One interesting phrase is קרן ישעי. Generally קרן is a metaphor for strength, but the מהר״י קרא takes it a little more literally and makes it a different metaphor:
I see it as the bugle of the cavalry riding in to save the day.
I don’t have time to look at every pasuk in detail (you should at least pay attention when we read it), but I would note one pasuk that makes the connection to סוכות explicit:
and the corresponding pasuk in תהילים is more explicit:
ה׳'s סוכה is His עָבֵי שְׁחָקִים, the clouds that both protect and obscure His hand in the world.
Let’s move on to the last pasuk, familiar to us from bentching:
We say מַגְדִּל on weekdays and מִגְדּוֹל on Shabbat (and other holidays). It’s not clear why we do this.
Baruch Epstein gives a well-known reason:
We like this answer; it lets us feel superior to those ignorant primitives who came before us who couldn’t even read the notes correctly.
However, as Rabbi Raymond Apple points out, this cannot be right. To understand why, we need to review some history. This comes from an article by Dovid Hoffman, a columnist for the Yated Ne’eman.
Why is this relevant? The Rishon David Abudraham wrote one of the first commentaries on the siddur. On ברכת המזון he writes:
The Abudraham wrote his book in 1339, so it is unlikely (to say the least) that siddur writers were labelling פסוקים as שמואל ב׳, if no one called it שמואל ב׳. So why the difference in readings? It’s not clear what Abudraham means by השבת הוא מלך
גדול, but it may be (based on the Abarbanel) that מַגְדִּל is a present-tense verb, with the sense that ה׳ is making His salvation great: ישועה is an ongoing process. שבת is מעין עולם הבא; we see the ישועה as an already-completed מִגְדּוֹל.
And when we thank ה׳ for His salvation (especially on סוכות, which really is the holiday of Thanksgiving), we notice that David describes himself with three terms:
So, as we approach סוכות we have an obligation to relive the ענני הכבוד and feel ה׳'s immediate protection of all of us, from מלכו down to the פּאָשעט דוד, and hope for the completed מִגְדּוֹל יְשׁוּעוֹת, במהרה בימינו.