Haftarah Parashat Ki Tetse
August 25, 2018 | 14 Elul 5778
Isaiah 54:1-10 + 54:11-55:5
Isaiah offers the world to partake of a divine feast for free, no charge: “Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water, even if you have no money; come, buy food and eat: buy food without money, wine and food without cost.” (55:1) The feast being offered is a metaphoric representation of God’s word, its truth being contrasted with what the rest of the world had to offer. God’s word, unlike other messages, offered spiritual nourishment and eventual redemption.
The rabbinic sages ultimately associated the imagery of this prophecy with Torah, likening the absence of Torah study to thirst and hunger for the precious commodities of water and food. This became the scriptural basis for why we read the Torah publicly every three days:
[The Talmud asserts in a Baraita that Ezra (one of the major leaders of the Jewish people at the time of the return from Babylonian exile) legislated] that “the people should read [the Torah publicly] on Mondays and Thursdays.’
[The Talmud challenges:] But was this ordained by Ezra? Was this not ordained even before him? For it was taught [regarding the sojourn in the desert: ‘And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water’ (Exodus 15:22), upon which those who expound verses metaphorically said: water can only mean Torah, as it says: ‘Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water.’ (Isaiah 55:1) [The verse from Exodus thus] means that after going three days without Torah they became exhausted. The prophets among them thereupon rose and enacted that they should publicly read the Torah on Sabbath, make a break on Sunday, read again on Monday, make a break again on Tuesday and Wednesday, read again on Thursday and then make a break on Friday so that they should not be kept for three days without Torah”
– Bava Kamma 82a
This drasha is, of course, hagiographical, namely, it is a story used to explain the origins (etiology) of the practice of reading the Torah on Mondays and Thursday. Beyond that, it tells us that our tradition sees the study of Torah as a communal activity, a source of vitality and life for the Jewish people. It is a crucial element in establishing who we are. It is not a particular penchant for humor or East European cured meats or fish, humus or shakshuka that make a Jew a Jew. It is an identity based on something spiritually substantial. One who has truly experienced Judaism is left with an unquenchable thirst and insatiable hunger for its words.