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Ki Tavo 5773

Haftarah Parshat Ki Tavo
(Isaiah 60:1-22)
August 24, 2013
18 Elul 5773

This week’s haftarah, the sixth of the seven special haftarot of consolation (Shiva d’Nehamta) which follow Tisha b’Av is eschatological in nature, that is, it talks of its author’s vision of the final redemption. This prophecy gives us insight into what the prophet saw as the essential ingredients for this ultimate event to occur. At the end of his message, one verse, well-known from rabbinic literature, is cited in this regard: “And your people, all of them righteous, shall possess all of the land for all time; they are the shoot (netzer) that I planted, My handiwork in which I glory.” (60:21)

The final redemption (the inheritance of the land), according to the “pshat” or plain meaning of this verse, is predicated on the people’s total righteousness. The result of their righteousness will be the absolute end of their exile. This approach marks a major theological innovation. Elsewhere in the Tanach, it is the anointed or messianic king who is the catalyst for the redemption. Here, the people as a whole are described using language previously reserved for the king. If elsewhere the anointed king is described as the “hoter megeza Yishai – a shoot that will grow out of the stump of Jesse (King David’s father)” (See Isaiah 11:1), here the people are described in these terms: “netzer mata-ai – they are the shoot that I have planted” marking the people themselves as the mechanism for redemption. (S. Paul, Isaiah 40-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 485)

(Incidentally, it is worth noting in this regard the botanical difference between a “hoter” and a “netzer”. A “hoter” is a sprout that grows out of the tree trunk, while a “netzer” sprouts independently, directly from the roots. This description adds to the potency of the role of the people in the redemptive process since their strength derives directly from the roots.)

According to the description found above, the redemptive process is totally this worldly. This differs from the following rabbinic interpretation of this same verse in which the intended redemption is other-worldly: “All Israel have a portion in the world to come, for it is written: ‘Your people are all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands , that I may be glorified.’ (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1) What follows in the Mishnah is a limited list of those who do not merit a place in the world to come. (This list includes mainly those who have heretical beliefs.) The upshot of this Mishnah is that those who have sinned and have somehow atoned have a place in the world to come.

We are left with two very interesting propositions. The prophet’s perspective builds the ideal world or cosmos on the shoulders of the righteous while the rabbinic viewpoint allows room for the sinner to reclaim him or herself to be included among the righteous, restoring the individual or microcosm (little world). As we edge closer to Rosh Hashana, during this season of repentance, it is good to know that we have the ability to restore both ourselves as individuals and the world that we live in.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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