The haftarah for Acharei (and Acharei-Kedoshim when they are together) is prophecy from our prophet Amos.1

In it, G‑d says that we are to Him like the children of Kush (Ethiopia) and talks about how he took us out of Egypt. Then He speaks of the destruction of the sinful kingdom, meaning the Kingdom of Ephraim (the Ten Northern Tribes), but He promises that He will not entirely wipe out the house of Jacob. This is G‑d’s guarantee that we will always remain as the Jewish people through the exile. He continues to say that He will spread us among all the nations, but we will remain Jewish, “just as a pebble shakes back and forth in a sieve, but does not fall to the ground.”2 Meaning, although we will bounce around the whole world, we will retain our connection to G‑d.

Now the haftarah starts to speak of what it will be like when the redemption will come. The two Jewish kingdoms will be united under the rebuilt monarchy of David, as it once was. The nations that wished to destroy us will instead serve us. There will be an abundance of food. Our destroyed cities will be rebuilt, and we will inhabit them and never be uprooted again.

The connection to Acharei (and Acharei-Kedoshim when they are together) is that the parshah tell us that if we will act in the sinful manner of the Egyptians or the Canaanites, we will be spit out of the land into exile. Similarly, the haftarah tells us that because of our sins, G‑d will spread us among all the nations.

Yet most of the haftarah is complementary towards the Jewish people and about the redemption. The same is true about the Torah portion(s) with which it’s paired.

Two Tracks to Holiness

Acharei tells us about the service of Yom Kippur, which was done in the holiest place, on the holiest day and by the holiest person: the Kohen Gadol. It is a day of atonement and forgiveness, bringing us closer to G‑d. The laws found in this parshah are there to help us retain this level of holiness and closeness.

Kedoshim is all about us being holy, teaching us that we are meant to be a distinguished nation. This parshah takes a different approach than the one that precedes us, telling us laws of honesty, respect, purity and decency as a way of being holy and getting closer to G‑d.

Acharei speaks to a tzaddik who is at the level of Yom Kippur. Kedoshim is speaking to us, people who think, “I am not a tzaddik, what do you expect of me?” Kedoshim is saying that there is holiness to be found in honesty, respect, purity and decency. The fact that Acharei and Kedoshim are so often read together is to teach us that these two paths to G‑d are actually one. If you start with honesty, respect, purity and decency, you will eventually reach the holiness of Yom Kippur.

Like Kush

Why does G‑d say that we are to Him like the children of Kush, Ethiopia? The first time this term is used in the Torah is about Moses’ wife, Tzipporah, referred to as “the Kushite woman that [Moses] married.”3 Rashi explains that she wasn’t from Ethiopia. Rather, it was a term used to say that she was very beautiful.

In our verse, Rashi4 explains Kush in a negative context. G‑d is explaining why he will be punishing the Ten Northern Tribes. It is a reference to a verse in Jeremiah, “Will a Kushite change his skin or a leopard its spots? So will you be able to improve.”5 The intention is that real internal change is impossible for the prophet’s audience, just like natural pigment could not be altered by application of paint.

Others explain it in a positive light, that G‑d is explaining why He made us His nation upon the Exodus from Egypt, mentioned later in the verse. Ethiopians are known to be very loyal, and so will we serve G‑d for eternity.6

Even more, because of the striking color of their skin, Ethiopians would stand out. So will we always stand out as G‑d’s people, no matter where we are. Being that we weren’t afraid to stand out and didn’t intermarry throughout our 210 years in Egypt, when the time for the Exodus came, we were clearly recognized as the Jewish people, G‑d’s nation.7

The Fallen Sukkah

The haftarah turns to the subject of Moshiach. G‑d says: “On that day, I will erect David’s fallen sukkah.”8 What is David’s fallen sukkah?

The simple meaning is that the kingdom of David will be re-established.

The Talmud9 tells us that Moshiach is called bar nafli (“the son of the fallen”). A nofel (“fallen one”) is a child that dies before the age of one month. Why is Moshiach called bar nafli? Because David, who is the father of Moshiach, was supposed to die after three hours of life. What happened? G‑d had showed Adam all the people who would come from him. When he saw that David would only live three hours, he gave up 70 years of his own life to David. Thus, Adam lived 930 years, instead of 1,000, having given 70 years to David.10 The notion that David was supposed to be a nofel is hinted to in the words, “David’s fallen sukkah.”

On a deeper level, David’s fallen sukkah refers to us, the Jewish people, who from the time of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai until the end of the First Temple era had a close and open relationship with G‑d. It was a face-to-face relationship. We experienced G‑d openly. But now we have fallen into exile, and we don’t experience the same connection to G‑d; it is only with great effort that we feel anything at all.11

On an even deeper level, it refers to the Shechinah, which went with us into exile. Instead of the Shechinah affecting us from above, inspiring us, as it did before the exile, the Shechinah is now found in the most physical things, and it is up to us to uncover it through Torah and mitzvahs.12

And now at the end of the exile, the main way to release the Shechinah (and ourselves from the exile) is through the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity), of which our great sages said: “Israel will be redeemed only through tzedakah.”13 The sages equated tzedakah with Torah study, but that was at a time when we had the great sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Our Torah study today does not rival tzedakah. Since we are at the end and the darkest part of the exile, the Shechinah is found in the absolute lowest realms of the physical world. And the only way to access it is through physical action, physical mitzvahs, and mainly, the mitzvah of tzedakah.14

The prayer of Ashrei (Psalms 145), which we recite three times a day, has verses that begin with every letter of the Hebrew alphabet, except for the letter nun. This is because nun stands for nofel, “the fallen.” However, if you look closely, you will find that it is included in the next verse, which begins with the next letter, samech. We say Samech Hashem l’chol ha’nofelim (“G‑d supports all of the fallen”).15 Instead of having a verse about how we have fallen, we have a verse of how G‑d supports us when we are down. Especially in the darkness of exile, when we feel so down and lost, G‑d is holding us and supporting us.16

May our efforts, especially doing the mitzvah of tzedakah, bring the ultimate redemption, the coming of Moshiach, when we will merit to see the prophecies of this haftarah come true. May it happen soon!