There are times when even God has trouble making His message heard. God\’s audience, the people of Israel, has, at certain junctures of their history, become despondent due to the burden they have had to bear. The burden, during the days of the first exile at the hands of the Babylonians, had become so heavy that the people became \”blind\” and \”deaf\” to God\’s message even though His message was one of comfort and redemption. (See Isaiah 42:18-21) Sometimes people close themselves off even from that which is good for them. God, however, is determined. When His people ignore Him, God becomes more adamant in proclaiming His message: \”The Lord desires His [servant\’s] vindication (tzeedko), that He may magnify and glorify His teaching.\” (Isaiah 42:21 – the NJPS translation)
This verse, which is found at the end of the morning prayers (uva l\’tzion) is also recited at the end of Torah study before kaddish d\’rabbanan. Before discussing the place of this verse in the liturgy, it is worth noting that this verse is not easily understood. The main difficulty in this verse is found in the word \”tzeedko – his vindication\”. Since the possessive pronoun \”his\” is not defined, it is possible to interpret it two possible ways: \”His\” referring to God or \”his\” referring to God\’s people. The above translation attempts to reflect this ambiguity.
According to the first understanding of this verse, God wants to make known His message of comfort even though the people are not willing to listen to it, in order to make known and reveal His own righteousness by fulfilling His promise. (See Ibn Ezra) God accomplishes this mission by making His message (Torah, both in the limited sense of His message of redemption and in the broader sense of the entire Torah) known to all.
Targum Yonathan, the 7th century Aramaic translation of the Prophets, interprets this verse the second way: \”God wants to reward Israel (tzeedko), therefore He gave them much Torah to busy themselves with. This interpretation clearly reflects the rabbinic attitude toward the study of Torah and its importance. It also explains its place in the liturgy. In both places in the liturgy, it is found in passages that emphasize the importance of Torah study. Torah study is to be considered the focal point of a Jew\’s religious life – his or her justification for being and the essence of the Jewish relationship with God. This idea is nowhere more clearly stated than in the mishnah recited before kaddish derabbanan: \”Rabbi Hananiah ben Akashiah says: The Holy One Blessed Be He wanted to reward Israel, therefore He multiplied for them Torah and mitzvoth, as it is written: \’The Lord desired the vindication of His servant (Israel), so He made the Torah vast and multitudinous. (adapted translation of verse).\” (Makot 3:16)
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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