Haftarah Parshat Ki Tavo (Isaiah 60:1-22)
September 9, 2017 / 18 Elul 5777
Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah, is a time of reconciliation between human beings and God. Nevertheless, the very thought that we might not be worthy of coming to terms with God has the potential to leave us with a sense of anxiety and hopelessness. A similar sense of frustration apparently overcame those who returned to the land of Israel after generations of exile in Babylonia. The returnees felt unworthy and sinful, totally lacking the capacity to relate to God, let alone rebuild God’s nation. They felt overwhelmed by their unworthiness, as is indicated in the prophecy which precedes this week’s haftarah: “Your iniquities have been a barrier between you and your God. Your sins have made Him turn away and refuse to hear you for your hands are defiled with crime.” (Isaiah 59:2)
How is it possible to overcome such accusations or, for that matter, reality? Isaiah notes the people’s despair: “We hope for light, and lo! There is darkness; for a gleam, and we must walk in gloom.” (59:9)
God’s answer is not far away. It comes at the beginning of the next chapter where this week’s haftarah begins: “Arise, shine, for your light has dawned; The Presence of God has shown upon you! Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth and thick clouds the people; but upon you the Lord will shine and His Presence be seen over you.” (60:1-2) God quashes the people’s frustration and turns the darkness into light. There is no longer room for resignation and despair. Disillusionment can be abandoned because God provides the strength for reconciliation.
Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the second Gerer Rebbe, known by the name of his book Sefat Emet, expresses it this way: “For it is in the power of each person to renew all things… for each day God renews the works of creation… for there is nothing that exists that is without the life force of God blessed be He and the spark from Him never becomes old, for God’s words are always living and flowing even when ‘darkness shall cover the earth.’ (Isaiah 60:1)” (Parshat Ki Tavo 5731, Or Etzion ed. p. 195)
That which seems like a barrier between human beings and God should never be seen as unbreachable because each of us is endowed with a divine spark which will enable us to renew ourselves and make reconciliation possible. This inner divine strength allows us to overcome the darkness and to approach Rosh Hashanah bathed in light.
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. The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp. Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus . Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: