Parshat Ki Tavo
September 13, 2003
The theme of redemption links each of the seven haftarot of consolation (shiva d’nehamta). Jerusalem, downtrodden and desolate, is promised renewal and growth. This week’s haftarah, the sixth in the series, is no exception. The image used to express the idea of redemption in the opening verse is light: “Arise (kumi), shine (ori), for your light has dawned (ki ba oraih; the Presence of God has shown upon you!” (Isaiah 60:1) Jerusalem (The Jewish nation) has reason to rejoice because the light of God’s redemption has come to restore them.
The medieval commentators disagree over the meaning of the first part of this sentence. Targum Yonathan, the 7th century Aramaic translation of the prophetic books, translates this phrase: “Arise, shine, Jerusalem, for the time of your redemption has come.” Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, the 11th century Spanish commentator and grammarian, interprets this verse quite differently. He asserts that the phrase ‘ki ba oraih’ refers not to the coming of dawn but rather to the setting of the sun. Consequently, the meaning of the phrase would be: “Your light, namely, the natural light found in this world is about to set, but, in exchange, God’s great light of redemption and joy will come and replace it.” (See Ibn Ezra and Rabbi David Kimchi) In other words, the natural order is about to end, and the light of redemption is on the horizon.
A midrash, from the fourth century, has an entirely different take on this phrase. It interprets the word “ori”, not as a command but rather as a noun meaning “My light”, namely, ‘God’s light’. The sentence then becomes anomalous, speaking at first about ‘God’s light’ and then about “your light” – Jerusalem’s light (or the light of the Jewish people). This interpretation, of course, makes this phrase self-contradictory – “Arise for My light, for your own light has dawned.” The midrash dispels this problem: And the rabbis said: “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 of us together, go and give light to Zion.’ “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” (adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 21:1)
In this midrash, the redemptive process is a partnership between God and human beings. Through our shared light, the world will be redeemed.
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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