Haftarah Parshat KI Tavo
August 24, 2002
In the penultimate verse of the haftarah, God comforts the people of Israel, after their redemption, with a description of their new status: “And your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for all time (l’olam), They are the shoot that I planted, My (God’s) handiwork in which I glory.” (Isaiah 60:21) Ostensibly, this verse describes those who have returned from the exile to the land of Israel. These people have a unique status before God. They represent the “shoot” that God has personally planted and will nurture so that it will become firmly rooted. What gives these people their unique status? Are they all assumed to be righteous? Radak, the 12th century Provencal commentator, explains that the returnees were counted as righteous because God purified them and helped them achieve this status.
The Mishnah amplifies the theological significance of this verse. In the Mishnah, this verse is used as proof that all Jews have a share in the world to come: “All Israel has a share in the world to come, as it is stated: “And your people are all righteous, forever they shall inherit the land; the branch of My plantings, My handiwork, in which to take pride.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1; see also the liturgical introduction to Pirke Avot) The word “l’olam” in the verse, is taken by the Mishnah to refer to the world to come. The Mishnah posits that “all Israel” has a place in the world to come. This seemingly includes even those who are sinners. Rabbi Israel Lipschutz, in his 19th century commentary to the Mishnah “Tiferet Yisrael”, concludes like Radak, that this status can only be attained once the people will be purified of their sins.
In the following Talmudic statement Rabbi Yochanan uses the same verse to suggest a more active human role in precipitating the redemption: “And Rabbi Yochanan said: The son of David [the Mashiach] will come only in the generation that is entirely virtuous or entirely guilty. [From where do we learn that he will come when] the generation is entirely righteous? As it is written: “And your people are all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever.” [From where do we learn the he will come when] the generation is entirely guilty? As it is written: “He [God] saw that there was no man, He was amazed that there was no intercessor [someone to work on the people’s behalf]…A redeemer shall come to Israel” (Isaiah 59:16;19) (Sanhedrin 98a)
What does it mean for a generation to be entirely virtuous? This seems virtually impossible. The answer, according to the Maharsha, the 16-17th century Polish Talmudist, can be found in a single word: “teshuva – repentance”. If people willingly examine their behavior and their relationship with God in order to mend this relationship, then this change will bring about the redemption. We are now in the midst of the month of Elul, the month which precedes the Yamim Hanoraim – the Days of Awe. This is a perfect time to dedicate ourselves to this task. In these troubled times, it really would not hurt for us to get the process of redemption on track.