I have stated that prayer is an exact science. One might ask: then how can prayer be different for different groups of Jews? The prayer book of a Sephardi Jew is not the same as an Ashkenazi Jew. The answer actually demonstrates how scientific and how specific the requirements are for prayer and everything else.
Rabbi Moshe David Valle (1697-1777) was a Kabbalist who wrote many books. One of the subjects, for which he is known, is stating the differences required by different Jews. Jews are very much influenced by their environmental conditions with which they grew up. A Jew in Northern Africa obviously has a very different situation from a Jew in Europe. Differences such food, water, air, climate, customs, etc actually cause differences needed by the soul in every activity in life. Prayer is very much included in the dichotomy, and therefore even requires different words and customs. You can’t get more exacting and scientifically accurate than that.
I am bringing this up since the Parashat that we read yesterday, Shemos, actually has different Haftaros for Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. The theme of the book of Shemos, or Exodus, of course, is the hardships we endured in Egypt, and how it resulted in the first redemption. We were made a nation, given the Torah at Mount Sinai, the forty years in the desert and the entering of our homeland.
The Haftaros have the prophecy of the redemption that we are experiencing now, the final worldwide redemption. Even though it is the same prophecy, the wording is different for the Ashkenazi, which is from Isaiah and the Sephardi which is from Jeremiah. The wording is so exact according to whom you are, where you grew up and what your soul needs.
The summary offered in the Artscroll Chumash is the best way to demonstrate the differences.
Hear is the Ashkenaz summary for the Haftarah. Tomorrow I will post the Sephardi summary for comparison:
Haftaras Shemos (Ashkenazic custom, Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23)
Like the exile-experience of Egypt, the Haftarah begins with .Jacob as the root of the eventual triumph that will lead to a flourishing, world-renowned and respected "Israel." "Jacob" always symbolizes the Jewish people in its time of travail and degradation, before it succeeds in realizing the goals and potential represented by "Israel," just as the very name was given to Jacob in recognition of his enhanced stature.
The prophet Isaiah lived in a time of turmoil, when the kingdom of the Ten Tribes was hurtling downhill in its spiritual decay, with defeat and exile on the way, and the Davidic kingdom of Judah, too, was suffering from spiritual decline. In this Haftarah, Isaiah depicts the failures of both kingdoms. He begins with the encouraging prophecy that the "root" of Jacob - like all roots, unseen. In the ground and trampled upon by those who walk obliviously over it - will once more produce luxuriant produce. Isaiah points out that, despite the Divine wrath visited upon the Jewish people often in their history, they have not been decimated as have various other nations. Those who struck Israel were punished more, while the Jewish people survive and will rise again, its sins being atoned for in the physical destruction of its fields and cities. But, although G-d preserves the root, the nation has forfeited its right to His manifest mercy because of its failure to recognize its true role in the world. Nevertheless, when the time comes, G-d will "thresh" the world to find the scattered kernels of His still beloved people.
Then Isaiah goes on to the doomed Ten Tribes, led by Ephraim. The simile for them is arrogance and drunkenness, both of which prevent people from recognizing the truth and acting upon it. The result is that heads, which are so pampered with luxuries that they are like a valley of oil, will lose their crowns and their glory.
But Isaiah is far from content with the masses of Judah. They have become so estranged from the authenticity of the Torah and its wisdom that they must be spoon fed – a commandment at a time, and a "measuring line" at a time. (The "line" is used by builders to make sure their bricks are properly aligned; this symbolizes the guidelines to behavior.)
As always, the Haftarah ends with words of comfort and encouragement, in this case skipping to the next chapter of Isaiah for its two concluding verses.
When we see the wording in prayer, the wording in various ceremonies (weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, Bris Milahs, etc), observance of Shabbos and holidays (a must for survival), the wording in prophecies, etc, so specific to the needs of a Jew, we know that Hashem has designed everything in life to help us maximize our perfection, our Tikun. The requirements of our soul are so specific, even the food we eat (Kosher is a must for survival), the beverages we drink (Kosher again) and the air we breathe. For us to get the most out of life and set ourselves up with the absolute best eternity is not a variable that should be taken lightly. Jews, who think that being less stringent about what we do to serve Hashem, are only hurting themselves and their loved ones. This world and all the benefits that we derive from proper living is a one shot deal that we can maximize or diminish our eternal existence. We won’t find out until it is too late how much more we could have had, if only we worked harder to come closer to Hashem and do all our worldly obligations properly.
It is an exact science. Use it to your greatest advantage.
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