Haftarah Parashat Va’et-hannan
July 28, 2018 | 16 Av 5778
This Shabbat marks the first Shabbat after the fast of Tisha b’Av – the fast in which we mourn the destruction of the two Temples and the loss of Jewish nationhood for close to two thousand years. This long period had its trials and tribulations as well of its triumphs of the spirit. Still, our national identity was never lost, despite circumstances which were cause for despair. In order to shore up our people’s spirits, the sages set up a series of seven special haftaroth (Shiva d’nehamta – the seven haftarot of consolation) to be read on the Shabbatot until Rosh Hashanah to strengthen faith and increase hope for the future.
How does one reclaim optimism in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation? Isaiah understood that the human condition leaves little room for relief. Life is ephemeral. Promises made die with one who makes them. People are fickle and unreliable. One moment they are friends, the next, foes. Similarly, how many generations have lived and died without ever having a sense that national redemption was possible, that the dream of coming home might come true? Facing this depressing reality, Isaiah reminded his audience that not everything in life rests on that which is temporal: “Indeed, man is but grass: grass withers and fades, but the word of the Lord is always fulfilled.” (40:7-8)
This seventh century parable based on this verse builds on the prophet’s message: “A parable. To what can this be compared? To a king who had a close friend, to whom he promised that if he would accompany him on a trip that he would give him a gift. The friend came but died along the way. The king said to his friend’s son: ‘Even though your father has died, I fully intend to carry out my promise and give you the gift, so come and take it. Who is the king in this parable? God. And who is the beloved friend? Avraham. The Holy One Blessed be He said: ‘Come with me,’ and He promised him the land of Canaan. Avraham died and so did Yitzhak and Yaakov. But, the Holy One Blessed be He said to Moshe: ‘Even though your ancestors have died, still, I made a promise to them and I intend to keep it, as it says: ‘But the word of the Lord stands forever.'” (adapted from Bemidbar Rabbah 16:3)
This midrash reminds us that the patriarchs and matriarchs did not live to see the promises made them come to fruition. Yet, the promises made to them were ultimately answered. Their faith and hope were warranted. We are asked to share in this faith. Why? Because the word of the Lord stands forever. This idea should be our anchor and strength.
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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