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Bereshit 5774

Haftarah Parshat Breshit
(Isaiah 42:5-21)
September 28, 2013
24 Tishri 5774

At the outset of this week’s haftarah, Isaiah describes God’s role as creator in these words: “Thus said God the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what it brings forth (tze’etza’eha – literally: its offspring).” (Isaiah 42:5) Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Isbica Rebbe (19th century Poland) contrasts this description of creation with that found at the beginning of the second chapter of Genesis, where it says: “The heaven and the earth were finished and all their array (tzva’am – their hosts). (2:1)

Why in Genesis is creation described as “God’s hosts” while in Isaiah, it is termed “offspring”, asks the Rabbi Leiner. In his response, he asserts that the reference to “tzavah” or “hosts” implies that creation was ideally created as a singular unit directed by a single ruler (God) who acted as a unifying force. This depiction represents the initial state of creation where there was universal acknowledgement of God. Isaiah’s use of the term “tze’etza’ehe” or “offspring”, Leiner explains, describes the current state of affairs where this unity is broken because acknowledgment of God is no longer universal. The role of the Jewish people in the world, according to Leiner, is to attempt to reestablish the common recognition of God in the world – to change “offspring” into a “host”. (See Mei Shiloah Part 1, p. 13)

Isaiah provides us with a model for how to accomplish this mission: “I the Lord in My grace have summoned you and I have grasped you by the hand. I created you a covenant people, a light of nations, opening eyes deprived of light, rescuing prisoners from confinement, from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6) By following God’s covenant – the Torah, as a means to serve God; to act as God’s messengers in all that we do and by serving those in need in God’s name with the passion of God’s message, we can restore the acknowledgement of God in the world to the pristine state of when the world was new. This is our challenge as we begin anew the reading of the Torah with the stories of Bereishit.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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