Haftarah Parshat Ki Tetze (Isaiah 54:1-55:5)
September 17, 2016 / 14 Elul 5776
[Two weeks ago, on Shabbat Rosh Hodesh, we replaced the special haftarah for the Shiva d’Nehamta, the seven haftarot of consolation, with the special haftarah for Shabbat Rosh Hodesh. This Shabbat, we combine that haftarah with the haftarah for this Shabbat.]
The prophet comforts the “afflicted [city], tossed with tempest and not comforted” with the promise of a newly rebuilt “emerald city”, replete with jeweled floors, towers and walls. But pretty buildings alone do not make God’s city. Rabbi Eliezer from Beaugency (France 12th century) already recognized that this particular promise was insufficient and posed a poignant question: “What is all this worth? The people will sin and their land will be destroyed!” Fancy buildings are insufficient for building a community worth living in. There are other requisites as well and the prophet realized this.
God’s message of comfort to his troubled people does not end with exclusive real estate. The promise included other elements: “And your children shall be disciples of the Lord and great shall be the happiness of your children. You shall be established through righteousness. You shall be safe from oppression and shall have no fear from ruin and it shall not come near you.” (54:13-14)
The realization that wisdom, righteousness and security are necessary to ensuring a society’s well-being is intrinsic to the prophet’s message. The rebuilding of society after the return from exile was not just a matter for architects and construction experts. It is only superficial to think that the greatness of a society is measured by its monuments, its economic and its wealth. No one can argue that these things are impressive. The prophet knows, however, that these things are superficial and he is tasked with ensuring that the restored society that will be built will have required infrastructure to raise up good citizens and to give its people the security and peace in which to thrive. This is no easy task and requires courage and fortitude. Otherwise, the prophet would have no reason to list these things as a part of his agenda.
A society built upon these foundations is not a simple accomplishment. It is not easy to convince people that a materially blessed society is not sufficient. There are others who think that social justice is unattainable and, as a consequence, will abandon the project as a utopian illusion or worse yet, will work to undermine the project. The prophet preached to those who did not separate themselves from this noble project. A good society is worth fighting for and the prophet’s message of comfort for his people was a realistic agenda for making it happen. The hubris of separating one’s self from this task was not an option for him. Why? Because God’s strength and inspiration would make it possible.
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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