Haftarah Parshat Nitzavim (Isaiah 61:10-63:9)
September 12, 2015 / 28 Elul 5775
There are sometimes variant readings in the biblical text. In the Masoretic tradition, the Jewish text of the Tanach (Bible), these differences are often designated as “ktiv” – the written tradition and “kri” – the read tradition. In the last verse of this week’s haftarah, the last of the “Shiva d’nehamta” – the seven haftarot of consolationwhich are read between Tisha b’Av and Rosh HaShanah, we find an example of this phenomenon: “In all their troubles He was troubled, and the angel of the Lord delivered them. In His love and pity, He Himself redeemed them, raised them, and exalted them all the days of old.” (63:9)
This translation of the verse reads smoothly, but the situation is not so simple because the first clause of the sentence reads in Hebrew: “b’kol tzaratam lo tzar”. The word “lo”, according to the “ktiv” is spelled “lamed alef” while according to the “kri”, it reads “lamed vav”. The above translation is according to the “kri”, as it would be read and the sense of the sentence then is that empathizes with the suffering of the children of Israel. The meaning of the “ktiv” reading of this sentence is not so simple. (Perhaps this is an indication of why a read tradition developed.)
Targum Yonathan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, translates this verse according to the “ktiv”: “Every time they are guilty before Me (God) so that it brings upon them trouble, I will not bring upon them trouble.” Rashi modifies this explanation to alleviate its awkwardness: “In all the troubles that He (God) brings upon them, He will not trouble them according to what was appropriate for their deeds…”
Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (11th century Spain) rejects the “ktiv” as the authentic reading: “The true reading is with a “vav”… and it should be understand by way of parable to mean, as it were, that God is with us in our trouble.”
The “pshat” or plain meaning of this phrase might be lost to us. The “ktiv” reading seems awkward. Probably as a consequence of this awkwardness, a different tradition of how to read this verse arose. This reading adopted an idea which was already a precious message of the Jewish tradition, namely, that God shares with us in our difficult moments both as individuals and as a nation. We are never alone in troubled times. The strength of God is with us. It will allow us to face what will with strength, perseverance and the ability to overcome that which confronts us.
As we approach Rosh HaShanah, God’s strength will allow us to conquer that which hold us back from a closer relationship with Him, to overcome that which keeps us from being better people and better Jews. For these things, we are never alone.