Parshat Ki Tetze
11 Elul 5767
August 25, 2007
Despair is the greatest enemy of the human spirit. It is the antithesis of the prophetic spirit. It is antithetical to the Jewish spirit. For three weeks before Tisha b\’Av, our religious focus was one of mourning. After Tisha b\’Av, our focus turned toward transformation. For the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we read haftarot from the book of Isaiah filled with messages of consolation – messages filled with hope in situations where one might have thought that no hope existed. The Jewish message is that finding hope where no hope is readily apparent is not incongruous. Instead it is what gives us the strength to forge ahead. This week\’s haftarah opens with just such an incongruous scene: \”\’Shout, O barren one, you who bore no child! Shout aloud for joy, you who did not travail! For the children of the wife forlorn shall outnumber those of the espoused\’, said the Lord. (Isaiah 54:1)
The city of Jerusalem, perhaps even the whole Jewish nation, in the aftermath of the destruction of the city and the exile of its inhabitants, is likened to a barren and abandoned woman, a figure that one could easily imagine to be sunk in despair. The prophet\’s message to this symbolically despondent figure is to prepare to be restored and prepare your house for motherhood. For someone who has given up hope, this is not a simple thing to be convinced of. Even a prophetic message of consolation can be a difficult pill to swallow. Apparently, there were some among the sages who realized this and as a consequence produced a midrash to try to make this hope filled message more realistic for its audience:
\”\’…who makes the woman in a childless house a happy mother of children. (Psalm 113:9) There were seven childless women [mentioned in Scripture:] Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, the wife of Manoh (mother of Samsom), Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel), and Zion (Jerusalem or Israel) – [Note here that it is significant that there were seven, a number symbolically representing completeness.] 1. Another interpretation: \’Who makes a woman in a childless house a happy mother of children.\’ – this refers to our mother Sarah: \’And Sarah was barren\’ (Genesis 11:30). \’As a joyous mother\’ – \’Sarah suckled children\’ (Gen. 21:7); 2. \’Woman in a childless house\’ – this refers to Rebecca. \’joyous mother\’ – \'[And the Lord was entreated by him (Isaac) and his wife Rebecca conceived.\’ (Gen. 25:21); 3. \’Woman in childless house\’ – this refers to Leah. \’As a joyful mother\’ – \’For I have born him six sons. (Gen. 30:20); 4. \’Woman in a childless house\’ this refers to Rachel. \’As a joyous mother\’ – \’The children of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.\’ (Gen. 35:24); 5. \’Woman in a childless house\’ – this refers to the wife of Manoah. \’As a joyous mother of children\’ – \’And you shall conceive and bear a son\’ (Judges 13:3); 6. \’Woman in a childless house\’ – this refers to Hannah. \’As a joyous mother of children\’ – \’And she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters.\’ (1 Samuel 2:21); 7. \’Woman in a childless house\’ – this refers to Zion\’ – \’Sing aloud, O barren woman\’\” (adapted and abridged from Pesikta de Rav Kahana 20:1 Mandebaum ed. pp. 310-311)
This midrash grants the reader the ability to believe the unbelievable by presenting examples of God\’s redemptive powers. These examples provide evidence upon which to build one\’s faith and to restore confidence and hope. This kind of faith has enabled to the Jewish people to rebuild itself and its nation throughout the generations. It should provide us with this same hope to rebuild ourselves both as a nation and as individuals as we close in on this season of renewal with Rosh Hashanah but weeks away.
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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