Haftarah Parshat Ki Tetze
September 1, 2012
14 Elul 5772
Parshat Ki Tetzei (Isaiah 54:1-55:5)*
This week’s haftarah (54:1-10) consists of two messages. The first message (1-8) seeks to comfort Jerusalem as it becomes repopulated by the returning exiles from Babylonia. At the end of this prophecy, God apologizes to the nation for His temporary anger which caused the destruction of the nation and the exile of its population. In the second prophecy (9-10), God strengthens His promise, asserting that it has the strength of His promise to Noah not to bring about another flood to annihilate the inhabitants of the world. These seemingly separate prophecies are intended by the prophet to form a single message.
At the end of the first prophecy, God offers His apology in the following words: “For a little while I forsook you, but with vast love I will bring you back. In slight anger (b’shetzef ketzef), for a moment, I hid My face from you, but with kindness everlasting I will take you back in love, said the Lord your Redeemer.” (verses 7-8) God’s promise in the second prophecy is expressed this way: “For this to Me is like the waters of Noah: As I swore that the waters of Noah would never again flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry (mektzof) with you or rebuke you.” (verse 9)
These two prophecies are linked both in imagery and in language. The idiom “shetzef ketzef” used in the first prophecy is translated here to mean “slight anger” but its actual meaning is more colorful than this translation indicates. The word “shetzef” is what is called a hapax legominom – a unique usage found only here in the Tanach. It has the meaning of the word “shetef – flood”. It was transformed for poetic purposes to “shetzef” in order to match “ketzef”. God’s anger is thus likened to a flood. This, of course, leads into the second prophecy where God promises that no such flood (read: burst of anger) will occur again. This idea is further reinforced with the use of the word “ketzef” in the first prophecy (remember – short burst of anger) and the word “mektzof – angry” in the second prophecy where God’s anger is neutralized by His oath promising mercy. (S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, pp. 378; 383-4)
The prophet has woven these two prophecies into one, the first containing God’s acknowledgement of a lapse in His relationship with Israel and the second an oath that this will not happen again. We can only hope that this promise will be perpetuated in our day.
(*This week we combine the haftarah we normally read this Shabbat (54:1-10) with the haftarah we would have read to weeks ago for Parshat Re’eh (54:11-55:5) had it not been Shabbat – Rosh Hodesh. See what I wrote then for further explanation.)