Haftarah Parshat Ki Tavo
August 28, 2010
18 Elul 5770
Haftarah Commentary for Parshat Ki Tavo (Isaiah 60:1-22)
One of the goals of the prophet was to inspire. Another was to offer comfort. Sometimes these two tasks were cojoined. Isaiah\’s prophecy, in this sixth of the seven haftarot of consolation (shiva d\’nehamta) which follow Tisha b\’Av, attempts to transcend the people\’s despair over their exile by promising them that their return to the land of Israel will be not only glorious but also idyllic. Everyone will acknowledge God and follow in His ways and as a consequence, all will be righteous: \”And your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for all time; they are the shoot that I planted, My handiwork in which I glory.\” (Verse 21) The people, in their righteousness, will be like hearty plants, nurtured by God. They will strike firm roots, never to be uprooted.
The last chapter of the mishnaic tractate Sanhedrin presents us with a list of those who warrant a portion in the world to come, using the above verse as a proof text: \”All Israel has a portion in the world to come, as it says: \’ And your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for all time; they are the shoot that I planted, My handiwork in which I glory.\’\” (Sanhedrin 10:1) Where Isaiah\’s original message was intended as a promise of earthly restoration, this mishnah interprets this verse as a parable to be understood as follows: All of Israel will be considered righteous after they die, even if they sinned (provided they have proper beliefs) and will inherit a portion in the world to come (possess the land). [Maimonides also includes the righteous of the nations of the world among those meriting the world to come.] (See Mishnah Torah, Laws of Repentance 3:5)
There are a number of different interpretations of what the world to come mentioned in this mishnah might be, but more important for us than this eschatological speculation, particularly at this season, is the idea that no one will be \”left behind\” – that everybody has the potential to be redeemed – that there are no \”lost souls\”. Even the sinner has the possibility of being redeemed. This potential is critical to our understanding of this season. It is where Judaism differs from the other traditions which it spawned. Each of us has the potential to reconnect with God in this world and in the world to come. Is there any greater panacea for despair than this?