October 1, 2005
Isaiah\’s prophecy symbolically presents God\’s redemption of Israel as a marital union between God and Israel. Israel, the bride, is further promised that she will be like a fertile garden: \”For as the earth brings forth her growth and a garden makes the seed shoot up, so the Lord God will make victory (tzedakah) and renown shoot up in the presence of all the nations.\” (Isaiah 61:11) This promise of fecundity, in and of itself, was enough to bring hope to the beleaguered and diminished nation which had undergone the trials and tribulations of conquest and exile.
This verse, however, adds another element to the equation. Rabbi Yitchak Abrabanel (14th century Spain) points out that Israel\’s new found fruitfulness after so much tragedy also prompted awareness that God is the source of this success. This belief was based on a promise made earlier in the book of Isaiah: \”And on that day you will say: \’I will give thanks to You, Lord, for though you were angry with me, Your anger is turned back and You comfort me.\’\” (Isaiah 12:1) This triumph after such tremendous loss made God\’s justice particularly poignant.
Abrabanel emphasizes God\’s redemption of the nation and its justified victory over adversity. This was itself sufficient cause to proclaim God\’s justice in the world. It is based on understanding the word \”tzedakah\” to mean \”victory\”. Targum Yonathan (Eretz Yisrael 7th century) translates this word, according to our conventional understanding of the word, to mean \”righteousness\”. This meaning is captured in the following midrash: \”The nations often claim that God shows favoritism but [in the end] they will acknowledge Him, as it is written: \’The nations will acknowledge You, all of them.\’ (Psalm 67:6) Why? Because the Holy One blessed be He will bring the righteousness of Israel to light, as it is written: \’And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light\’ (Psalm 37:6); and as it is written: \’And the nations shall see your righteousness and the kings your glory (Isaiah 62:2); and as it is also written: \’The Lord will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations (Ibid. 61:11)\’\” (Adapted from Midrash Tehillim 67:1 Buber ed. based on Parma Manuscript, pp. 314-5)
This midrash seeks to justify Israel\’s redemption. It stresses that Israel was worthy of God\’s attention and concern because of their righteousness. It wants Israel and the nations of the world to know that God has expectations and hopes that we will try to meet them. This is a perfect introduction to this season of repentance.
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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