Haftarah Parshat Ki Tavo
18 Elul 5771
September 17, 2011
Parshat Ki Tavo (Isaiah 60:1-22)
The haftarah for Parshat Tavo is the sixth of the “Shiva d’nehamta – the seven haftarot of consolation” which were chosen by the sages for their optimistic messages. The original context for these prophecies, taken from the latter chapters of Isaiah, was the return of the Babylonian exiles after the destruction of the First Temple. Their message was intended to provide encouragement for Jerusalem, the land of Israel, their inhabitants, and the returnees. At the end of this week’s haftarah, the prophet offers an exceedingly generous promise to all those involved in the enterprise of rebuilding the national homeland: “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.” (60:22)
The intent of this prophecy was a this-worldly promise that the resettled land would be peaceful and prosperous because all of its inhabitants would be righteous. As a result of the inhabitants’ righteousness, they would possess the land in perpetuity without fear of future exile. (A. Hacham, Isaiah, Daat Mikra, p. 745)
The Mishnah brings this verse as proof for a very different promise. The first Mishnah of the last chapter of tractate Sanhedrin opens: “All of Israel has a place 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.’” (11:1) In this mishnah, the verse is taken to imply that every member of the Jewish people will be considered sufficiently righteous to merit “the land for all time”, which is here assumed to be the world to come. This statement seems particularly strange coming at the end the tractate Sanhedrin which deals in large part with the issue of who warrants capital punishment. This, however, was precisely the Mishnah’s intent. It wanted its audience to know that one of the purposes of punishment was expiation so that even the sinner would be included among the righteous after punishment.
The larger message seems to be that the opportunity to become “righteous” is not closed off to anyone, not for the purpose of building God’s society here on earth and not for achieving the state of righteousness before God. There is always an opportunity for mistakes to be mended and people to be renewed.