Parshat Ki Tavo
September 8, 2001
The first verse of the haftarah is a harbinger of the light of God’s deliverance: “Arise, shine- ‘Ori’, for your light has dawned` the Presence of the Lord has shown upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1). Abraham Ibn Ezra, the 11th-12th century Spanish grammarian, Biblical commentator and sage, properly captured the “pshat” or simple meaning of the word “Ori” when he interpreted it to mean ‘shine” – the command form of the verb. Rabbi David Kimche (Radak), the 12th -13th Provencal Bible commentator, further pointed out that this verse represents a call to Jerusalem to rejoice at the coming redemption.
Rabbi Aha, a 4th century Talmudic sage from Lod, interpreted the first verse of this prophecy quite differently in the following midrash:
Said Rabbi Aha: “Israel can be compared to the olive: ‘A leafy olive tree, fair with goodly fruit’ (Jeremiah 11:16). The Holy One blessed be He can be compared to a lamp: ‘The lamp of God is the soul of man’ (Proverbs 20:27). Just as it is the way to put oil into a lamp, and then they give light together, thus said the Holy One blessed be He to Israel: ‘My children, since my light is your light, and your light is My light, let us, both you and I, go together and give light to Zion’ The verse for our haftarah is therefore to be understood: “Arise, My (God’s) light, for your (Israel’s) light has come” (Isaiah 60:1) [adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana (ed. Mandelbaum z”l) 21,4]
Rabbi Aha’s midrash is based on interpreting the word “Ori” not as a verb but as a noun meaning “my light”. According to Rabbi Aha, the process of redemption is not solely the product of Divine activity. Rather, the light of redemption is the result of the interaction between the divine and the human. God is the “light” and we are the “lamp”. This symbiosis makes each and every one of us potential sources of the divine light in the world. Everything depends on how well we reflect this light in our thoughts and in our actions. The implications of Rabbi Aha’s interpretation are awesome. The responsibility is tremendous but ultimately so is the reward.
This Motzie Shabbat (Saturday evening) as we begin the recitation of the Selichot (penitential prayers), we should ponder our role as partners with God in ushering in the light of redemption. May we make ourselves worthy of this sacred task.
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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