Today is September 19, 2017 -

Nitzavim 5768

Parshat Nitzavim
(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)
Sept 27, 2008
27 Elul 5768

The prophet assures us that God will not abide Jerusalem\’s lowly status. He will not remain silent until the dignity of Jerusalem (Zion) is restored: \”For the sake of Zion I will not remain silent; for the sake of Jerusalem I will not remain still until her victory emerges resplendent and her triumph like a flaming torch.\” (62:1) This victory will only be realized when \”nations will see your victory and every king your majesty and you shall be called by a new name which the Lord Himself will bestow.\” (62:2)

A name change in Biblical thinking (and in the ancient Near East in general) represented a change in status, a kind of rebirth. We already see this phenomenon earlier in Isaiah: \”and you shall be called city of the Lord, Zion of the Holy one of Israel.\” (60:14) It is also familiar to us from Abraham\’s name change from Avram to Avraham and Sarah\’s name change from Sarai to Sarah when God changed their status (Genesis 15:5;15). (S. Paul, Isaiah 40 – 66, Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 501-502)

The following midrash adopted this idea with an appropriate message for this season: \”In the future, the Community of Israel will say before the Holy One Blessed Be He: the witnesses against me stand before us [to testify regarding our sins]: \’I call heaven and earth this day to witness against you\” (Deut. 4:26) God responded: \’I will replace them\’, as it is written: \’For behold, I am creating a new heaven and a new earth.\’ (Isaiah 65:17) The Community of Israel said before the Holy One Blessed Be He: \’But my name remains the same. [Even though I have repented, still I will be answerable for my sins.] God responded: \’I will change your name\’, as it is written: \’you shall be called by a new name which the Lord Himself will bestow\’.\” (adapted from Sifre Devarim 306, Finkelstein ed. p. 329)

The original idea of this verse was political in nature. Jerusalem\’s status would change from a conquered and vanquished city to a vibrant and renewed city. Its population would be transformed from an exiled community into a redeemed community. This midrash expresses Israel\’s anxiety over whether teshuva (repentance) is sufficient to transform a sinner into a recognized penitent. God\’s response is that He will do all that is in His power to insure this transformation. He will manipulate the witnesses and He will change the identity of the former sinner to guarantee a new start. Such is the power of repentance and such is the love of God for His creatures.

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.

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