August 23, 2008
22 Av 5768
This week\’s haftarah is the second of the seven haftarot of consolation (shiva d\’nechamta). In it, Isaiah expresses Israel\’s sense that God has abandoned her: \”Zion says: \’the Lord has forsaken me.\’\” (49:14) God must offer solace to Israel over its disillusionment and reassure her that she will never be forsaken: \’Can a woman forget her baby, or disown the child of her womb? Though she might forget, I never could forget you.\” (49:15) God\’s assurance now moves from the verbal to the physical. God will ensure that He will not forget \”His children\” by providing for Himself a constant reminder of Israel\’s importance to Him: \”See, I have engraved you on the palm of My hands…\” (49:16)
Amos Hacham likens God\’s action to a lover who engraves the image of his beloved on his hand lest he forget her. (Isaiah 2, Daat Mikra, p. 538) Professor Y. Muffs explains this image within the context of its Biblical environs. He notes that in the ancient Near East, slaves had the status of being members of the extended family of their masters and were entitled to their master\’s concern. It was not uncommon for a slave to have his master\’s name tattooed on his hand. Isaiah expresses this idea in an earlier chapter when he says: \”And one shall mark his hand \”[property] of the Lord\”. (Isaiah 44:5) What is uniquely Biblical though is what we see here in Isaiah\’s message, namely, Divine reciprocity: \”I have engraved you on the palm of My hand!\” (Love and Joy, p. 53)
This same reciprocity finds its place in the performance of the commandment of tefillin. Just as the people of Israel have God\’s name inscribed in the tefillin that they affix to their arms and their heads, God, too, as it were, dons a pair of cosmic tefillin with Israel\’s name inscribed in them: \”Rabbi Avin the son of Rav Ada said in the name of Rav Yitzhak: \’From where do we learn that the Holy One Blessed be He wears tefillin? For it says: \’The Lord swore by His right hand and by the arm of His strength.\’ \’By His right hand\’ – refers to the Torah and \’the arm of strength\’ refers to tefillin… Rabbi Nahman ben Yitzhak said to Rabbi Hiyya bar Avin: \’What is written in the tefillin of the Master of the World? He replied to him: \’And who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation on earth\’ (1 Chronicles 17:21)\” (Berachot 6a)
These two symbolic gestures, one on the part of Israel and the other on the part of God, reflect the genuine concern and love of both parties for each other and is intended to draw them even closer to each other. (Muffs, p. 53)
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.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .
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