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Ki Tetze 5773

Haftarah Parshat Ki Tetze
(Isaiah 54:1-10)
August 17, 2013
11 Elul 5773

This week’s haftarah, the fifth of the seven haftarot of consolation (Shiva d’nehamta), ends by emphasizing the steadfast relationship that God has established with His people: “For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken, but My (God’s) 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 (pshat) of this promise: “Mountains and hill are among the most stable portions of the world; still, at times, they may move or be shaken in an earthquake, but My mercy and My covenant is more stable since it is everlasting.” Targum Yonathan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets, adds that this promise was made specifically to Jerusalem. What is clear is that this prophecy was intended to give God’s people a sense of steadfast security during a period when they felt insecure. The prophet wanted them to know that while those things which seem “immovable” may be move, their relationship with God was immutable.

Kimche alludes to another interpretation in which the mountains and hills symbolically represent the surrounding nations which to a small beleaguered nation seem a permanent irritation. Accordingly, God promises them that these intrusions which seem lasting do not measure up to His promise to them.

The following midrash offers up an alternative symbolic interpretation which turns the meaning of this verse on its head: “Rabbi Yudan ben Hanan in the name of R. Berehiah said: If you see that the merit of the Patriarchs is failing and the merit of the Matriarchs slipping away, go and occupy yourself with acts of loving kindness (gemilut hasadim). This is borne out by the verse: ‘For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken; but My loyalty (love) shall not depart from you’ (Isaiah 54:10); ’mountains’ signify the Patriarchs, ’hills’ the Matriarchs, and after that ’My love shall not depart from you’” (Vayikra Rabbah 36:6 Margulies ed. p. 852)

This midrash imposes upon God’s subjects major responsibility for maintaining the love relationship between them and God. It was an assumption in the rabbinic worldview that God’s love and mercy for His children was based on “credit” accumulated through the noble and pious acts of the patriarchs and matriarchs. This credit was deemed to be immeasurable, but in hard times, I imagine, it seemed to the author of this midrash that this source of credit seemed to be unstable. In its stead, this midrash offers a new source of credit upon which to ensure God’s everlasting love – acts of loving kindness. God willingly reciprocates His love for His people for acts of love that they perform for others.

A transformation has taken place. God’s subjects have become God’s partners – His agents of loving kindness. It is this shared mission that now becomes both the source of God’s love and the linchpin in His relationship with those He loves.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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