The Haftarah for the second day of Rosh HaShanah concludes, “HaVein Yakir Li Ephraim Im Yeled Shaashuim Ki Midei Daberi Bo Zachor Ezkerenu Od Al Kein Hamu Mei’ai Lo Racheim Arachamenu Neum Hashem,” “‘Is Ephraim My favorite son or a delightful child, that whenever I speak of him I remember him more and more? Therefore, My inner self yearns for him; I will surely take pity on him,’ the word of Hashem” (Yirmiyahu 31:19).
The Gemara (Megillah 31a) discusses which sections of Torah and Haftarot should be read on the various Chagim. It states, “BeRosh HaShanah ‘BaChodesh HaShevii’ UMaftirin ‘HaVein Yakir Li Ephraim’ VeYeish Omerim ‘VaShem Pakad Et Sarah’ UMaftirin BeChannah. VeHaIdna DeIka Trei Yomei Yoma Kama KeYeish Omerim LeMachar ‘VeHaElokim Nisah Et Avraham’ UMaftirin ‘HaVein Yakir,’” “On Rosh HaShanah we read ‘In the seventh month’ (BeMidbar 29:1) and as the Haftarah we read ‘Is Ephraim My favorite son’; some say we read ‘And Hashem remembered Sarah’ (BeReishit 21:1) and as the Haftarah we read about Channah. Today, when there are two days, we follow the latter opinion on the first day, and we read ‘And Hashem tested Avraham’ (BeReishit 22:1) and ‘Is Ephraim My favorite son’ as the Haftarah on the second day.”
In his Sefer Bein Haftarah LeParasha, Rav Yehudah Shaviv points out a difference between the Gemara’s formulations of the two opinions’ suggested Haftarot. For the former opinion, the Gemara quotes a Pasuk from the Haftarah, ‘HaVein Yakir Li Ephraim,’ to describe it. On the other hand, for the latter opinion, the Gemara describes the Haftarah simply by stating it is about Channah.
This discrepancy can easily be resolved by explaining that while Channah is the main character of the Haftarah for the first day of Rosh HaShannah, Ephraim can hardly describe the second day’s Haftarah single-handedly, as he appears only in its last three Pesukim. Therefore, it is necessary to quote a Pasuk to describe the Haftarah as a whole.
However, Rav Shaviv also points out that while the Gemara quotes Pesukim other times in this section to describe Haftarot, the Pasuk quoted is always the first Pasuk of the Haftarah. Only in the case of the second day of Rosh HaShannh does the Gemara describe the Haftarah by using some other Pasuk. This implies that “HaVein Yakir Li Ephraim” has a special importance within the Haftarah of the second day of Rosh HaShanah.
Rav Shaviv suggests one answer that points to a recurring theme in the Torah readings and Haftarot of Rosh HaShanah – that of the son. On Rosh HaShanah, we compare ourselves to sons of Hashem asking for mercy. The Torah reading of the first day describes the great happiness Sarah feels when she, after previously being childless, gives birth to a son. Channah feels the same happiness of birth in the Haftarah of that day. Clearly, the theme of elation due to childbirth exists in both readings. On the second day, however, we read about Avraham, who is told to give his son’s life away to Hashem as a Korban. The Haftarah, too, describes Ephraim as a son of Hashem who has been estranged from Him. “HaVein Yakir Li Ephraim” is the significant part of the Haftarah because it connects the theme of the Torah reading to the Haftarah.
On Rosh HaShanah, we can be judged either to gain or lose a son, as the Torah readings and Haftarot suggest. However, both Yitzchak and Ephraim are returned to their fathers. Hopefully, just as the final judgment for Yitzchak and Ephraim were positive, so too all of Klal Yisrael’s judgments will be positive.