Haftarah Parshat Bereshit
October 13, 2012
27 Tishri 5773
This week’s haftarah makes it clear that God’s adherents are not always loyal subjects: “Who is so blind as My servant, so deaf as the messenger I send? Who is so blind as the chosen one, so blind as the servant of the Lord? Seeing many things, he gives no heed, with ears open he hears nothing.” (42:19-20) The prophet notes that this lack of loyalty is not always the product of bad times. At times, even signs and wonders will not convince those who should express their loyalty. Still, as the prophet notes, God desires only the good of his subjects: “The Lord desires His [servant’s] vindication (tzidko), that He may magnify and glorify [His] Teachings.” (21) [NJPS translation]
The translation of this last verse expresses a certainty lacking in the traditional commentaries. Since the word “tzidko” literally means “his vindication”, a debate arose over whether the “his” should be with a capital “H”, namely referring to God or with a lower case “h”, denoting Israel. The traditional commentators offer a number of different approaches. Rashi’s interpretation makes it unclear which of these two approaches he chose: “God desires to show you and to open your ears for the sake of “tzidko” (left unexplained) that He may magnify and glorify for you the Torah.” Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence), however, differed from the interpretation cited in the above translation: “For His sake he did it and not for your sake, that He might exalt His Torah still during the days of the redemption and glorify it… in order to open the eyes of the blind and that the ears of the deaf shall hear…” In other words, God wants to make His case (vindicate Himself) before His blind and deaf servants.
The NJPS translation is based upon Targum Yonathon, the earliest extant Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets: “God desires Israel’s vindication in order to make great those who serve His Torah, strengthening and preserving them.” Rabbi Joseph Kara (12th century France) gives this interpretation an interesting twist: “Since God holds Israel dear, that each of them as beloved ito Him as Moses and Elijah, He afflicts them by subjugating them to foreign powers, all the while giving them Torah to study so that they will prove worthy on the day of judgment.” Kara asserts that God wants to punish His subjects to purify them of their sins while providing them with Torah to study to build up their merits.
This verse has found its way into the daily liturgy at the end of the “Uva l’Zion” prayer, based on the Targum Yonathon interpretation, probably by way of the following midrash from the Mishnah which links Israel’s worthiness (vindication) to their Torah study: “Rabbi Hananiah ben Akashiah says: ‘The Holy One Blessed be He wanted to make Israel worthy so He gave them the Torah to study and many commandments to do, as it says: God desires [Israel’s] vindication to make the Torah great and glorious.” (Mishnah Makot 3:16) Or better yet, the Torah and its commandments are our means to appreciate God’s role in the world and to regain the appreciation (the “sight” and “hearing”) we might otherwise have lost.