Haftarah Parshat Ki Tavo (Isaiah 60:1-22)
September 24, 2016 / 21 Elul 5776
God’s “light” plays a monumental role in the prophet’s message of solace to his people found in this week’s haftarah: “Arise, shine for Your light has come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” This exuberant spirit is understood by Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) figuratively to represent the joy of redemption in opposition to the sadness and “darkness” of oppression. While this was most certainly an underlying theme of the prophet, the interplay of light and darkness in the prophet’s message has deeper implications concerning his worldview.
Professor Jon Levenson, in Creation and the Persistence of Evil (pp. 123-6) notes that the creation story at the beginning of the Torah presents a worldview characterized by stability and order. The “primordial waters” do not engulf the world because God has put them in their proper places. Similarly, light and darkness find their proper place sharing the realm of time. In Genesis 1, God is portrayed as the author of this stability and order and His creation is considered good and complete.
This normative portrait, where creation is considered complete and ordered, is envisioned differently at the end of our haftarah: “No longer shall you need the sun for light by day, nor the shining of the moon for radiance by night. For the Lord will be your light everlasting; your God shall be your glory. Your sun shall set no more, your moon no more withdraw; for the Lord will be for you a light forever, and your days of mourning shall be ended.” (60:19-20)
In this prophecy, the battle against darkness is not over. It is a continuous battle. God must continually overcome it and replace it with Divine light. This battle is thought of as both metaphoric and real. It is the battle against both physical darkness and evil. It also means that in this struggle, the sources of created light are no longer necessary and darkness will ultimately be conquered. The world will be created anew. God, here, is envisioned as being beyond the ordered world established in Genesis. He is in total control. In Genesis, God established the rules of creation. For the prophet in Isaiah, God is above those rules.
This internal biblical debate over the nature of God and creation is a sign of Jewish vitality. Judaism is not dogmatic about religion’s critical question. It is the challenge of dialectic which brings us closer to God and to truth. To be human and to be Jewish is part of this journey.