Parshat Ki Tetze
September 2, 2006
The interrelationship between tribulation and redemption has played a critical role in the history of the people of Israel and the formulation of the Jewish outlook on the significance of life. Many of the commandments found in the Torah presuppose an awareness of our past tribulations or the fact that God redeemed us from past tragedy. Whatever the didactic value of these life experiences has been on our people (and one can easily say that these experiences have molded the people of Israel into a unique religious community), the constant cycle of tragedy and redemption is bound to have become wearisome. Still, even during Biblical times, constantly having to contend with the onslaught of conquering nations, destruction, exile, redemption, return, rebuilding, and the reformulation of religious and national identity were monumental barriers to national wellbeing. They were more often than not a source of pain and shame, as this week\’s haftarah, the fifth of the seven special haftarot which follow Tisha b\’Av (shiva d\’nehamta – seven of consolation) indicates: \”Fear not, you shall not be ashamed; Do not cringe, you shall not be disgraced; For you shall forget the reproach of your youth and remember no more the shame of your widowhood.\” (54:10)
This prophecy seems to contain the promise that those who return from exile after the destruction of the First Temple will no longer be vanquished, exiled, and insulted by their enemies. (A. Hacham, Isaiah, Daat Mikra, p. 579) This idea is elaborated in the following midrash: \”The children of Israel say to the Holy One blessed be He: \’Master of the Universe, whenever we are enslaved, we are shamed and embarrassed, so You, God, redeem us and we will no longer be embarrassed, since when You redeem us, it will be forever\’… The children of Israel retorted: \’Didn\’t you long ago redeem us by the hands of Moses, and by the hands of Joshua, and by the hands of judges and kings? Yet we are again in slavery and shame, as though we had never been redeemed.\’ God responded: \’Since these previous redemptions were carried out by flesh and blood, and you were led by mortals, here today and tomorrow in the grave, that is why your redemption was only temporary, but in the future when I (God) redeem you, your redemption will stand forever… God added: In the past you were able to suffer embarrassment and shame because you were young, but now that have grown old, you no longer have the strength to withstand the shame of exile. Therefore, \’Fear not, you shall not be ashamed… For you shall forget the reproach of your youth…\’\” (Adapted and abridged from Midrash Tehillim 31:2 Buber ed. p. 237)
This midrash expresses the idea that human patience can also wear thin and urges upon God to help us bring about the ultimate redemption – one that will be eternal, so that we may build God\’s kingdom on earth.
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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