Haftarah Ki Tetze
September 10, 2011
11 Elul 5771
The vanquished nation of Judea is likened to a childless woman who hopelessly yearns to build for herself a household. The prophet promises this woman (the nation of Israel), who clamors for children, a revitalized population with more children than she can possibly imagine and more than the nation can currently hold. The prophet likens the restored nation to a tent which will miraculously stretch and enlarge to contain all the returned exiles. The nation’s expansion is expressed in the words: “For you shall spread out to the right and the left (ki yamin u’smol tifrotzi)”. (54:3)
What does this phrase mean and to whom does it refer? Are the people of Israel to burst forth and bring God’s message to the world or is this verse a reference to “Eretz Yisrael – the land of Israel and/or to Jerusalem to spread forth to contain the returning exiles? Contextually, the answer would seem to be the latter, since the land would obviously need to expand to accommodate the new inhabitants. This is exactly how the Targum Yonathan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, translates this phrase: “Behold to the south and to the north you shall spread forth”, namely the borders of the nation will expand to absorb the returnees. This explanation assumes that the city or nation faces east and the nation will expand to the north and the south. Interestingly, Rabbi Yitchak Abrabanel (15th century Spain) assumes that the expansion will be to the east and the west.
This geographic approach is also taken up in the following midrash: Rabbi Yochanan went to ask a question of Rabbi Hanina. He found him studying the verse: “At that time, they will call Jerusalem: ‘Throne of the Lord’ and all of the nations shall assemble there, in the name of the Lord, at Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 3:17) He said to him: ‘Rabbi, will Jerusalem contain all of them?’ Rabbi Hanina replied: ‘Lengthen and broaden yourself (Jerusalem) and take in the people, as it is written (in our haftarah): ‘Widen your tent’ (54:2) Why? ‘For you should spread out to right and left, for your offspring will displace the nations and shall people the desolate towns.’ (54:3) (Leviticus Rabbah 10:9 Margoliyot ed. p. 318) This midrash goes beyond the original intent of Isaiah’s prophecy which looks for the land to expand to contain the Babylonian exiles. It looks to a world where everyone will recognize God and consequently the world will become Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael.
This messianic vision is one of the ideas which inform the recitation of this verse in the Kabbalat Shabbat hymn, Lecha Dodi. In this hymn, we envision the universal acknowledgement of God and the ensuing ingathering of all peoples to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s oneness. This idea is central not only to this Shabbat hymn but also to the holidays which will soon be upon us. On Rosh HaShanah, we acknowledge God’s universal kingship over the world as its Creator. It is ultimately our hope as Jews that the world will recognize this as well.