Haftarah Parashat Ha’azinu
September 22, 2018 | 13 Tishrei 5779
Haftarah | 2 Samuel 22:1-51
This week’s haftarah, known as the Song of David, is an ode to a lifetime of battle and of David’s ultimate triumphs. It is also a paean of thanksgiving to God for God’s help in overcoming his enemies and his other life obstacles. In the middle of this poem, David touches upon the issue of how God metes out justice in the world: “(26) With the loyal You act loyally, with the blameless warrior You are without blame. (27) With the pure You show Your pureness, with the perverse You twist and turn. (28) A lowly people You save, You cast your eyes down on the haughty.” (26-28)
Two major ideas run through these verses. In verses 26-27, God acts in accordance with the deeds and actions of his subjects. The reward and punishment of God’s subject will match their actions. In rabbinic parlance, this idea is known as “midah k’neged midah – measure for measure”. Verse 28 suggests an additional model. God also serves as an advocate for the weak and as an adversary to those who in their haughtiness oppress them. (A. Hacham, Tehillim, Daat Mikra, pp. 87-88)
Targum Yonatan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, illustrates the first type of justice using as an example the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who through their loyalty, blamelessness, and purity were answered by God in kind. This model suggests that God expects human beings to take responsibility for their actions and are answerable for them for both good and bad.
Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (France 13-14th century) offers an insightful explanation of the idea expressed in verse 28: “God saves the lowly, even though they are the masses of people who are normally ignored, and sets His eyes on the haughty to bring them down low for sinning against you (the masses), even though they may be kings.” According to this explanation, God does not take kindly to the repression of the weak, especially at the hands of those in power. Justice requires that those who abuse their power “haughtily” be put in their place and brought down.
It is significant to note that these expectations are expressed by the king, the one most often charged with abuse of power. For David, social order is an expectation. His vision includes just behavior and the hope that people act fairly and be treated fairly. God is expected to enforce these standards and God’s subjects to live by them. These ideas are as relevant today as they were in ancient times.
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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