Parshat Ki Tetze
Sept. 13, 2008
13 Elul 5768
\”A heretic once asked Beruria (the wife of Rabbi Meir who was herself childless): It is written: \’Shout, O barren one, you who bore no child! Shout aloud for joy!\’ (Isaiah 54:1) Because she did not bear a child, what should she sing about? Bruria replied to him: You fool, look at the end of the verse, where it is written: \’For the children of the forlorn wife will outnumber those of the married wife – said the Lord.\’ (Ibid.) So, the heretic asked, what is the meaning of \’the barren one, you who bore no child\’? She chided him and said: \’Sing, O community of Israel, who resemble a barren woman, for not having born children destined for the netherworld like you (the heretic).\” (Berachot 10a) In another midrash, Rabbi Aha in the name of Rabbi Yochanan identifies the reason why the barren woman rejoiced even though she lived in the generation of the destruction. He concluded that the generation of the destruction produced many more tzadikim (righteous people) than the generations which preceded the destruction. Consequently there was tremendous reason for her to rejoice. (See Pesikta d\’Rav Kahana 20:5 Mandelbaum ed. p. 313)
Bruria\’s anecdotal interpretation of this verse and Rabbi Yochanan\’s interpretation highlight the curious nature of the imagery which opens this prophecy of consolation. The heretic sought to cause Bruria pain by demanding an explanation of this verse from her. She offered a creative interpretation which was intended to grate on the questioner\’s nerves. Rabbi Yochanan, on the other hand, explained what made the hard times after the exile so worthy of a blessing. He found the blessing in the quality of the returnees.
Even its pshat or simple meaning is not so simple. It seems to say that God offers comfort to Jerusalem, which is likened to a \”barren woman\”, a \”woman who has never had the travail of childbirth\”, and a \”desolate place\” without inhabitants. How will she be comforted? Those who return from the exile will be so plentiful that the city will barely contain them. With the return of the exiles, God will also return to His forlorn city. (See Shalom Paul, Isaiah 40 – 66, Mikra L\’Yisrael, p. 379)
Rav Tzadok from Lublin (Poland 19th-20th century) offered another interesting interpretation of this verse which he related in the name of the Ari. He explains that those who were dedicated to God in that particular generation were really only a small number of people and consequently the city seemed desolate. However, the great sincerity and energy of this small group of people in their service to God made up for their small numbers. God considered their service as if they were the offerings of a great multitude. (Pri Tzadik Ki Tetzei 12)
After all, sometimes big blessings do come in small packages.
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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