Haftarah Parshat Shoftim (Isaiah 51:12-52:12)
August 30, 2014 / 4 Elul 5774
In this fourth of the seven haftarot of consolation which follow Tisha b’Av (Shiva d’nehamta), the prophet strikes an optimistic note as he attempts to raise the spirits of those contemplating the challenges of the return from Babylonian exile. He wants to raise in them a spirit of appreciation for their redemption and an outlook which will allow them to see beauty and splendor amongst the challenges that will face them and so he proclaims his vision of God’s messenger leading the procession of return: “How beautiful upon the mountain are the footsteps of the messenger of happiness, heralding good fortune, announcing victory.” (52:7) Imagining God’s messenger on the mountains of Judea inspires in the prophet thoughts of peace, well-being and redemption.
The last chapter of the first tractate of Talmud has a whole section dedicated to dream interpretation. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (3rd century Eretz Yisrael) presents a whole series of symbols that one might see in a dream and how to interpret them. For each vision, he offers a preferred biblical verse to recite before an alternative verse came to mind. In one of his examples, the above verse plays an integral role in his teaching: “If one dreams of a mountain, he should rise early and say: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings’ (Ibid.),before another verse occurs to him: ‘for the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing’ (Jeremiah 9:9).” (Berachot 56b)
For Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, the dreamer is the arbiter of the meaning of his or her dream. If one dreams a vision and interprets it optimistically, then that interpretation will shape the reality that stems from that dream and the converse is also the case, if one views that same dream as negative, then the reality will rule.
This outlook applies not only to the interpretation of dreams. It is an outlook on life. Every experience in life can be viewed as an opportunity for triumph or tragedy depending on how one approaches it. Positive events can be turned into loses and tragedies can be turned into triumph. We see in our generation whole peoples who have taken their tragedies and built them into even greater tragedies, attempting to draw the world into their darkness; and we have seen others who time and again have turned tragedy into triumph. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi expresses the Jewish attitude – Better to grab optimism rather than to be swallowed up by tragedy and darkness.
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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