Haftarah Parshat Ki Tetze
August 21, 2010
11 Elul 5770
Haftarah Commentary for Parshat Ki Tetze (Isaiah 54:1-10)
This week\’s haftarah is the fifth of the seven haftarot of consolation (Shiva d\’nehamta) which follow Tisha b\’Av and end with the advent of Rosh Hashanah. The essence of the message of these haftarot is that God has not abandoned His people. His care and concern for them is eternal. This week\’s haftarah expresses this poetically in its last verse: \”For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken, but My loyalty shall never move from you, nor My covenant of friendship be shaken, said the Lord who takes you back in love.\” (54:10)
Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) captures the plain sense of this verse: \”[Mountains and hills] are considered permanent. Still, sometimes even mountains and hills move and shake in an earthquake. God\’s love and His covenant are more permanent than these (the mountains and hills).\”
The message of this haftarah was originally intended for the exiles who despaired after the destruction of the First Temple. There are those among us for whom this season before Rosh Hashanah brings despair. Some people feel despondent because they feel that they can never make things right – that they can never fix things between themselves and God. The Talmud relates a very colorful story on this count:
It was said of Rabbi Eleazar be Dordia that he did not leave out any harlot in the world without coming to her. Once, on hearing that there was a certain very expensive harlot in one of the towns by the sea, he took a purse full of money and crossed seven rivers for her sake. When he was with her, she let forth that Eleazar ben Dordia will never be received in repentance. He thereupon went, sat between two hills and mountains and exclaimed: Oh, hills and mountains, plead for mercy for me! They replied: How shall we pray for you? We stand in need of prayers ourselves, for it is said, \”For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken\” (Isaiah 54:10)! So he exclaimed: Heaven and earth, plead for mercy for me! They, too, replied: How shall we pray for you? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, \”For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment\” (Isaiah 51:6). He then exclaimed: Sun and moon, plead for mercy for me! But they also replied: How shall we pray for you? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, \”Then the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed\” (Isaiah 24:23). He exclaimed: Stars and constellations, plead for mercy for me! Said they: How shall we pray for thee? We stand in need of it ourselves, for it is said, \”And all the hosts of heaven languish\” (Isaiah 24:4). He said to himself: \”It all depends on me!\” He placed his head between his knees and wept aloud until his soul departed. Then a Heavenly voice was heard proclaiming: \’Rabbi Eleazar b. Dordai is destined for the life of the world to come!\’ Rabbi [on hearing of it] wept and said: One may acquire eternal life after many years, another in one hour! Rabbi also said: People who repent are not only accepted, they are even called \’Rabbi\’! (adapted from Avodah Zarah 17a)
This story teaches us something valuable and quintessentially Jewish. Every person has the potential to right him or herself before God. Intercessors of any sort, whether they be mountains and hills or other people, are totally unnecessary. Those who have the fortitude and courage to make the necessary changes in their lives are ultimately heroic in the eyes of the tradition.
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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