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Nitzavim 5772

Haftarah Parshat Nitzavim
(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)
September 15, 2012
28 Elul 5772

This haftarah is the last of the Shiva de’Nehamta (the Seven Haftarot of Consolation) which lead up to Rosh Hashana. In it, the joy of the redemption is likened to the rejoicing of a bride and groom: “I greatly rejoice in the Lord. My whole being exults in my God, for He has clothed me with garments of triumph, wrapped me in a robe of victory like a bridegroom adorned with a turban; like a bride bedecked with her finery.” (61:10)

The following midrash found on this verse links it to the upcoming New Year festival: “It is taught in the Mishnah: ‘If one has married a woman and lived with her for ten years and she has not produced a child, he is not allowed to refrain from the mitzvah of reproduction [rather he must marry someone else.] (M. Yevamot 15:6) There was a case in Sidon where a man married a woman and lived with her for ten years and she did not give birth. They came before Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai to be divorced. The husband said to his wife: ‘Anything that I have in my house, take it and return to your father’s house.’ R. Shimon ben Yohai said to them: ‘Just as you married over food and drink so, too, you should part except over food and drink.’ What did she do? She prepared a great repast and she got him drunk and she gave a sign to the slave girl and she said to her: ‘Bring him to my father’s house.’ In the middle of the night, he awoke from his sleep and he said to them: ‘Where am I?’ She said to him: ‘Didn’t you say to me to take any possession that I wanted from your house and to bring it to my father’s house?’ And now, I have no more precious possession than you! When R. Shimon ben Yohai heard this, he prayed for them and they were remembered [with a pregnancy]. God answers the barren, so, too, do the righteous [answer the barren].” (Adapted from Pesikta deRav Kahana 22:2 Mandelbaum ed. pp. 326-7)

This midrash alludes to one of the major themes of Rosh Hashanah which is also known as Yom Hazikaron – the Day of Remembrance. It is our expectation of God on this day that God remembers those in need. We are reminded of this theme in the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah which recounts the story of how God remembered Sarah who was childless and afforded her the birth of Isaac. Similarly, in the haftarah, we read the story of Hannah who was also barren and how God answered her prayers with the birth of Samuel.

Our haftarah this week is ostensibly about the “rebirth” of the redeemed nation. This midrash teaches us cleverly that God’s remembering us is always welcome, whether it be on a grand level or on the individual level. Either way it is spectacular.

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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