Nizahker Venikatev

Nizakher Venikatev: A Reflective Guide for Haftarah on Yom Kippur Morning

The haftarah for the morning of Yom Kippur is full of verses that may be familiar: both restorative and challenging. The reading calls us to attention, reassures us that that God’s anger will not last forever, but then seems to challenge the very spiritual practices that define the holy day, pushing us to interrogate not just our spirituality but also our ethical deeds: “Is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies? … No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke.” (Isaiah 58:5–6)

Have you ever felt your spiritual life and your ethical behavior to be in conflict? How did you seek to resolve this tension?

The closing words of this text equate the observance of Shabbat as a “delight” with the doing of local social and economic justice. Many activist communities also point to purposeful rest and a measured period of “off-time” from intense work as a meaningful way to prevent burnout and aid long-term commitment to one’s justice work. What restorative practices have you cultivated this year?

In the haftarah, the prophet Isaiah criticizes his people for what he views as religious hypocrisy. What has been your experience with communities who appear to preach one thing and practice another? Where has this dynamic been a source of pain, and where could it be an opportunity for reflection and growth?

Where have your Jewish and social justice journeys intersected? Where have they run parallel?

What is your vision of a world that is free of oppression? What steps could you take in the coming year to contribute to making that vision a reality?

Do these biblical categories of the oppressed found in this haftarah—the hungry, the thirsty, the worker denied wages, the unclothed, the unhoused—-resonate for you as people within the community (or within your household), or outside of it? As we strive to do justice, what can be helpful about seeing the oppressed as an “Other” in need? When can it be destructive to our goals of building a more just world?

This year, which has felt more compelling to you: direct service and action, or spiritual uplift?

Reflect on a moment this past year where your Jewish practice and your ma’asim tovim—good deeds—felt in alignment. What is it about that moment of intersection that stands out to you most?

The haftarah’s text describes people who are “eager for the nearness of God” but do not know the right way to seek out Divine Presence. Have you ever felt this way?

For Families:

The haftarah reminds us that our own hunger from fasting on Yom Kippur is but a small taste of the daily hunger experienced by many in our neighborhood. As a family, what can you do in your community to alleviate hunger: canned-food drives, donating to a client-based food pantry? Commit to making this part of your Jewish practice this year.