The Curious Tale of the Mishpatim Haftarah. Originally Published February 28-29, 2020.

A couple weeks ago, your humble correspondent was offered to learn and deliver the haftarah for Parashat Mishpatim.  The request came just nine days in advance (a Thursday), which seemed precious little time (for me) to learn it.  Looking it up, though, on the spot, it carries such wonderful cantillations that it was hard to resist.  Thursday night I worked on it.

Friday afternoon (still a scant week ahead) I realized that the following week would be Shabbat Shekalim, and thus a different haftarah would be chanted.  I was learning the wrong one!

Looking to work on that initially attractive haftarah, I found it will next be chanted in 2022.  So I offered my services for then, too.  However, looking to place the chanting on my calendar, I found that that is the day when my twin cousins become benot mitzvah!  They will have taken my haftarah opportunity!  The next time it comes around will be in 2025.

So, to Shekalim rather than Mishpatim.  Just a touch of fancy cantillation, but it is a story in which there is a fair king and in which the carpenters would end up with a fair wage, so the practicing would be delightful in another way.

But what is this?  In the Shekalim Haftarah, there is a cantillation variation in one word between what is published in the Book of Haftarot on the one hand and in the humashim and online in Sefaria, and even in Hazzan Rob Menes’ online singing on the other hand. It is a word in 2 Kings 12:12.  How could this be?

Well, as usual we open up a wealth of information.  The Masoretes, groups of Jewish scholars between the 6th and 10th centuries CE (about whom we should devote a few columns), took it upon themselves to protect and transmit the Bible as written.  They also devised and passed down vowels and cantillation marks.  Working in various locations mostly in the Middle East, the Masoretes left us several “codices” (“codex” being the name given to such a mauscript). 

The Aleppo Codex (930 CE), kept in the Israel Museum, had been the earliest full original codex surviving to modern times, but it was partly destroyed in 1947 (295 pages of 491 survive).  Next oldest is the Codex Leningradensis (1008 CE), which lives in the Russian National Library, and which Rabbi Adelson put into my hands in the form of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, rife with annotated information.

That book told us that the oldest opinion on the word “vayotzi’uhu” is that there is a geresh over that “u” and not a revi’a.

Over the centuries the Masoretes disagreed with each other over various details, thus passing along differing opinions.  The family of Moses ben Asher was largely responsible for passing along the texts.  The ben Naphtali family also passed along a version, with nearly 900 differences from the ben Asher books.  Thus, possibly, the discrepancy.

Of course, it also is possible that it was a typo (or a scribe-o) in the preparation of the Haftarah Book