Parshat Ki Tavo
September 24, 2005
The desire for redemption rests deep in the heart of every Jew, indeed, in the heart of every human being. This yearning for the restoration of the world has prompted believers in all generations to ponder the conditions and the appropriate time for these events to occur. From the time of the first exile on, these questions have been one of the focal points of the Jewish tradition. The last verse of this sixth of the seven haftarot of consolation (shiva d\’nechamta) gives voice to this longing: \”The smallest shall become a clan; the least, a mighty nation, I the Lord will speed it (ahishena) in due time (b\’eetah). (Isaiah 60:22)
In context, this verse promises the restoration of the nation as a national entity with its decimated population replenished. Its final words are difficult. What does it mean that God will \”speed it in due time\”? These two conditions seem contradictory. Rabbi Amos Hacham offers two alternative solutions to this dilemma. In his first interpretation, he explains this phrase using imagery associated with birth. The redemption will be like the birth of a child, namely, the child will be born at the proper time but when the birth comes it will be quick and easy. His second interpretation sets the promised redemption at a set time in the future. When the promised time will come to pass, though, it will take place swiftly and assuredly. (Isaiah, Daat Mikra, p. 745; See also Joseph Kaspi\’s commentary for a colorful example of Hacham\’s second interpretation.)
The rabbinic tradition was equally taken by the anomalous combination of the words \”ahishena\” and \”b\’eetah\” but proposes a different resolution of the discrepancy between the meanings of these two words: Said Rabbi Alexandri: \’Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi pointed out the discrepancy between the words: \”achishena\” and b\’eetah\”! If they [the children of Israel] merit redemption, then it will come speedily (ahishena) but if they do not merit it, then it will come at the appointed time (b\’eetah). (Adapted from Sanhedrin 98a)
This interpretation, which emphasizes the distinctive meaning of these two words, uses this difference to accentuate the role of human responsibility for hastening the redemption. This opinion is part of an earlier debate found between two sages in the generations before the editing of the Mishnah: Rabbi Eliezer (ben Hyrcanus) said: If Israel repents, then they will be redeemed and if not they will not be redeemed; Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: [You say that] if they do not repent, they will not be redeemed? Rather, God will appoint a harsh king who will impose repentance upon them and then they will be redeemed. (see Sanhedrin 97b)
It is interesting to note that none of these sages deny the role of human beings in the redemption of the world. Judaism apparently could not abide the idea that redemption could come about through God\’s actions alone, without human involvement. This is an important lesson that Judaism has to teach the world.
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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