Haftarah Parashat Nitsavim
September 8, 2018 | 28 Elul 5778
This week’s haftarah, the last of the Shiva d’Nehamta – the seven haftarot of consolation recited between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah, opens with an expression of joy: “I surely rejoice (sos asis) in the Lord, my whole being exults in My God.” (61:10) This exultation anticipates the happiness which will accompany the redemption from Babylonian exile. Its opening words “sos asis – I surely rejoice” utilizes the doubling of the verb root “shin vav shin“, a usage typical of biblical Hebrew to strengthen the expression. Literally, though, the root is expressed in two forms – the first meaning “rejoice” and the second “I will cause to rejoice.”
While these distinctions do not play a role in the pshat or plain meaning of this verse, they do play an interesting role in the following famous parable: “In Sidon, a man married a woman and lived with her for ten years without her bearing a child. They came before Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai to get divorced. The man said to his wife: ‘Any possession in the house that you want, take it and return to your father’s house.’ Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai said to them: ‘Just as you wed with food and drink, so, too, you should not separate from each other without food and drink. What did she do? She prepared a great feast and gave him too much to drink. He hinted to her servants to take him to her father’s house. At midnight, he woke from his sleep. He said to them: ‘Where am I?’ She said to him: ‘Didn’t you say, any possession that I have in the house, take it and bring it to your father’s house. Now, I have nothing more precious than you.’ When Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai heard all this, he prayed for them and they were remembered with child. One can derive from this story, just as a person can rejoice and bring joy to others, so, too, when the Holy One Blessed be He brings joy to Jerusalem, how much more so. And Israel, who have looked forward to God’s deliverance, all the more so, and so it says: ‘I rejoice and I will bring joy (sos asis) to others.’ (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 22:2, Mandelbaum edition, pp. 327-8)
This parable is a subtle critique of a law in the Mishnah which asserts that if a marriage is childless after ten years, the couple must divorce so that the husband can fulfill the commandment of “pru u’rvu – be fruitful and multiply” (see Mishnah Yevamot 6:6), since the story has the couple staying together (and everything working out in grand fairytale style). That said, all of the characters in this parable find ways both to rejoice and cause others to rejoice. This parable is meant to point out that the same holds true when God causes Jerusalem and Israel to rejoice.
A more universal message also emerges from this parable: Life is simply better when we joyfully receive what comes our way and share our joy with others. Our attitude can be a great help to to God in bringing about redemption.
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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