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Ekev 5770

Haftarah Parshat Ekev
(Isaiah 49:14-51:3)
July 31, 2010
20 Av 5770

Haftarah Commentary for Parshat Ekev (Isaiah 49:14-51:3)

This week\’s haftarah, the second of the seven special haftarot which follow Tisha b\”Av (Shiva d\’nehamta), opens with a plaintive cry: \”But Zion said: \’The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.\’ (49:14) Obviously, this bitter outcry did not arise out of nowhere. The nation had suffered a lot, many of its citizens had been exiled and it felt abandoned by God. This week\’s haftarah offers words of solace to assuage the pain, reminding the people that God would never really abandon them. Still, throughout the ages, this question would perpetually preoccupy the Jewish people, who would often use this very verse to express their religious angst in their search for answers and in their quest to draw closer to God.

The following midrash gives a standard answer to this question with a interesting twist: Rabbi Tanhum bar Abba began his discourse with the following words: \’Of what shall a living man complain? Each one of his own sins! (Lamentations 3:39) Does a dead man complain? [The midrash questions why the verse refers to a living man since it is obvious that only someone living would complain. This is a ploy to read the verse creatively.] Rather, as Rabbi Aha explained, the verse should be read to mean: \’Why should a man complain about the One (God) who lives forever? About whom should a man complain? [He should complain] about his own sins. Should someone alive complain about God? This is what God could answer you: \’Come, My people, come into your room and close your door after you.\’ (Isaiah 26:20) And if afflictions come upon you, go look into the depths of your heart and know that your afflictions were according to your sins. So, should one who is alive complain about God? [This can be compared] to a person who left a deposit with another person, and says: \’Give me back the money that I deposited with you.\’ Sometimes, the person holding the deposit holds onto the first person\’s debts, saying, first give me back what you owe me.\’ [And now the message] How many things does the Torah warn a person not to do? Is it likely that a person has not transgressed one of the commandments [even very serious ones]? So I [God] should be entitled to take the life of the sinner. Yet, I have refrained from doing so even though every night the sinner\’s life is deposited with me when he or she sleeps. Still, in the morning, I return it to him or her.you… (Adapted from Pesikta Rabati 31:2)

This midrash obviously can be read as an apologetic for God in that it says that every affliction that comes upon us is less than we really deserve and God is truly benevolent in His judgment. Another way to read it, though, is that questioning the \”One\” will ultimately not be productive. What will be productive? We might use our afflictions as an impetus for self-correction in order to mend our relations with the One. Finger waving and blaming are counterproductive. If we learn from our mistakes, mend our ways and rebuild that which is destroyed we will ultimately find solace. This is what God is really looking for.

(See Rabbi J. B.Soloveitchik\’s My Beloved Knocks)

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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