This haftarah is read in connection with the portion of Haazinu, as well as on the seventh day of Passover. It is a shirah, a prophetic song composed and recited by King David.

The connection to Haazinu is simple. Haazinu is also a shirah, a prophetic song of Jewish destiny that Moses utters just before his passing. This is also the connection to the seventh day of Passover, when the Jews crossed the Red Sea and then sang a shirah.

The song of David is also a praise for his deliverance from his various enemies. It appears at the end of the book of Samuel, and is presented as a kind of sequel to the eventful and challenging life of David. This is the reason why, of all his many compositions, it is this particular song of David that is singled out to appear in the book that records the events of his life.

What is interesting about this song is that it also appears as chapter 18 in the book of Psalms, albeit with many slight changes. Abarbanel explains that in essence the song was composed by David in his youth, and he would sing it each time he was saved from one of his enemies. Later on in life, King David gathered all his compositions and compiled from them the book of Tehillim (Psalms). In doing so, David rewrote the song in such a way that it could be read by any individual and applied to his own experiences. Using this principle, Abarbanel goes about explaining all 74 minor differences between the two places in Scripture where this song appears.

Rashi takes a different position, saying that David composed this song toward the end of his life, as he looked back on all the occasions when he was saved from harm. Rashi also takes a unique position in the course of the song, reading much of it to be speaking of the miracles that happened to the Jewish people at large, especially with the splitting of the Red Sea. (Hence, according to Rashi, this forms even more of a thematic bridge with the events of the seventh day of Passover, one of the occasions when this haftarah is read.)

The Song of David

The content of David’s song seems to focus on two major themes:

  1. G‑d as a trusted deliverer. It speaks of G‑d as a “rock” or a “fortress” upon which a person can entirely rely. In a time of danger and war, G‑d came to the rescue, allowing David—and the Jewish people at large—to vanquish and subdue their enemies. Such aid often took the form of great and earth-shattering miracles (such as the splitting of the Red Sea).
  2. Reward and punishment. David clearly attributes the many times G‑d delivered him to the fact that he had kept wholeheartedly and completely to a G‑dly way of life. As to the enemies of Israel, G‑d repaid them according to their ways. Briefly put, G‑d acts towards a person in the way that he or she acts unto G‑d. Keeping to the ways of G‑d is the best way of securing success.

The haftarah ends with an eye to the future. In a verse we repeat each time we say Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals), King David expresses his assurance that G‑d will do kindness to “David and his seed, forevermore.” This, as we state in the preceding sentence in Birkat Hamazon, is a reference to Moshiach, the king descending from David who will lead the Jews and the entire world into their final redemption.

“For You are my lamp, G‑d; and G‑d illuminates my darkness”

On the simple level, the repetition of the various ideas in the song is explained by the commentaries as being part of the style of song and poetry that this text is. Nevertheless, as with every part of Torah, there is great precision in every word and nuance it chooses to use. If a verse expresses something one way and then repeats it in another, there is obviously some content or message that lies within this repetition.

Both parts of this verse convey the idea that G‑d serves as a “light.” The two parts in the verse, however, allude to two entirely different situations.

“A person’s soul is the lamp of G‑d,” states King Solomon.1 The “soul” in this context refers to the neshamah, the G‑dly soul within man.

For fire to be extracted from its potential state and act as actual fire, it must be “held down” by some anchor, such as a wick, because fire is in essence not an actual physical being. In a similar way, the soul of man is not something that is essentially part of the physical world. It is something G‑dly—an element of the Creator, not of the creation. It is put into a body in the physical world as a means of elevating it. The “wick” to the G‑dly soul is its counterpart, the animal-like human soul that animates the physical self of the human being. Just like fire without a wick, the G‑dly soul, were it not vested in the animal-like soul, would have no way of expressing itself in the physical world, for essentially it exists on a different plane.

The purpose of all this is that, in the process, the animal-like self of the person will

not only be the facilitator for the the G‑dly soul, but like a wick, it itself will become a part of the illumination. The G‑dly soul has the ability to work with and elevate the animal-like soul in a way that even the natural self of the person begins to have an appreciation and feeling for G‑dliness.

The first half of the verse is speaking of a time when the G‑dliness in the person acts as a functioning “lamp.” The analogy of a lamp also lends itself to an additional idea: that the “wick” in the lamp is conducive and ready to connect with the fire and become part of the mechanism of light.

The reality of life for most of us, however, seems quite far from the above description… For most of us, the “fire” has a rather hard time with the “wick.” The animal-like self within us has, for the most part, a very different personality than the G‑dly soul, and is far removed from it.

In his seminal book Torah Ohr, R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that the distinction between these two forms of human dynamic is actually what constitutes the difference between earlier (biblical) generations and modern times. The characters of the personages described in Tanach seem for the most part to be to extremes: either they were intensely righteous, prophets, etc.; or they were terribly wicked. As the generations continue, we gradually see the erosion of such extremes: the righteous are not as holy as they once were, and the common evildoer is not that evil.

This, says R. Schneur Zalman, is because in bygone generations the G‑dly souls were of a much higher caliber. Putting the G‑dly soul to work meant that a person would be able to readily experience and sense G‑dliness in a very real and immediate way. Being an evil person meant that the person brazenly cast out his G‑dly soul and forcefully turned to the opposite extreme.

Today, by contrast, we do not possess the kind of souls they once did. For the animalistic self of the person to become somewhat spiritually sensitive, it takes a lifetime of labor and toil for the G‑dy soul to work through and to some degree refine it. It is a dark situation.

This is the meaning of the second part of the verse, “and G‑d illuminates my darkness.” The use of the word “and” refers to a higher, “additional,” aspect of G‑d, namely the way G‑d exists infinitely above all conventional order. On this level, even the greatest form of darkness can be illuminated.2