Nizahker Venikatev

Nizakher Venikatev: A Reflective Guide for Torah on the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we read Jeremiah 31:2–20 as our haftarah. Jeremiah, one of the major prophets of Judaism, lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the time just after the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. During Jeremiah’s lifetime, the Babylonians attacked his home, the Southern Kingdom of Judah, eventually destroying Jerusalem and carrying most of the Judeans into exile in Babylon. Although Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet” (he is also considered to be the author of the Book of Lamentations or Eikha, which we read on the ninth of Av), this haftarah offers a rare moment of hope in his work. Despite the destruction he has witnessed, Jeremiah affirms God’s love for the people of Israel and imagines a future in which they are restored to the bountiful land.

Read the full text of Jeremiah 31:220. What words, images, and sentences resonate with you? Why do you think we read this text on the second day of Rosh Hashanah?

A stream of traditional Jewish theology states that the Temple was destroyed and the Israelites exiled from their land as a result of their own sins. What do you think of this theology? Can you imagine why a prophet like Jeremiah would proclaim it, even as he watched innocent people around him suffer?

Rosh Hashanah is a time to think about both individual and communal shortcomings. How do you feel about the concept of communal punishment? Do you think that a whole group ought to be punished for the mistakes of some of its members? Think about contexts where this continues to happen in our time. How do team sports, climate change, and the pandemic relate to this idea?

Jeremiah 31:4 reads, “I will build you firmly again, O Maiden Israel! Again you shall take up your timbrels and go forth to the rhythm of the dancers.” How do music and dance provide comfort to you in moments of despair? What other methods do you use when you are in emotional distress? How can the High Holy Days help you overcome your distress this year? Think of one extra activity you can do to take care of yourself today. Commit to doing it.

One of the most famous lines of this haftarah mentions our matriarch Rachel weeping bitterly for her lost children, refusing to be comforted (Jer. 31:15). Think about how the image of a grieving mother makes Israel’s exile, so many years ago, more relevant in our time. How do you understand and connect to traumatic events in Jewish history? Why is this a useful exercise?

In the Judaism Unbound podcast on this haftarah, Daniel Libenson discusses how Jeremiah calls on us to consider how our Jewish community today pushes certain people out or “writes them off” as not being full members. Are there people that you struggle to see as being truly part of the Jewish people? Can you imagine opening yourself up to a broader understanding of Judaism? Think about ways that you, personally, can make this community more welcoming to those who feel excluded. Commit to an action step during the High Holy Days season. Perhaps you have also felt unwelcome or not fully accepted in this Jewish community at times. What can the community do to help you feel more included and loved?

The final verse of the haftarah reads, “Truly, Ephraim is a dear son to Me, A child that is dandled! Whenever I have turned against him, My thoughts would dwell on him still. That is why My heart yearns for him; I will receive him back in love—declares Adonai” (Jer. 31:20). What does it mean to receive someone back in love, even after they have made mistakes? How can we love even those who are the most difficult to love? Are there people in your life that you continue to love despite their flaws? Is this love harmful or helpful? How can we draw healthy boundaries around our love while still leaving ourselves open to forgiveness?

For Families and Kids:

This haftarah talks a lot about hope. What do you hope for in the next year? How do you stay hopeful even when things are scary or sad?

In this chapter, Jeremiah includes people from two separate ancient kingdoms (Israel and Judah) in the people of Israel. How do you make sure that people feel included? What is one thing you can do to make sure that people in your school or neighborhood feel connected, even during the pandemic?