September 11, 2004
This week’s haftarah is the last of the shiva d’nechamta (the seven haftarot of consolation). Rabbi Yitzchak Abrabanel (Spain 15th century) characterizes its message as the culmination of the messages found in the previous six haftarot: “After the prophet has prophesied about the future redemption… and God has singled the prophet out and anointed him from among the other prophets to present God’s complete message to the returning exiles, the prophet remembers Jerusalem’s and the people’s yearning for God.” This desire is expressed particularly in the first verse: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God.” (Isaiah 61:10)
The following midrash captures how powerful this yearning for God was felt by the people and how the redemption was incomplete without God in the picture: “This verse can be compared to the case of a noble woman whose husband, son and son in law went on a journey abroad. When they came and told her that her son has returned, she said to them: ‘My daughter-in-law will rejoice.’ They said to her: ‘Your son-in-law has returned,’ she responded: ‘My daughter will be happy.’ When they said to her: ‘Here comes your husband,’ she said to them: ‘Now there is reason for complete rejoicing. So, too, the prophets said to Jerusalem: ‘Your sons come from afar’ (Isaiah 60:4) And Jerusalem retorts: ‘Let Mount Zion be glad’ (Psalms 48:12) When they said: ‘Your daughters are carried to you on uplifted arms.’ (Isaiah 60:4), she said: ‘Let the daughters of Judah rejoice’ (Psalm 48:12) But when they said to her: ‘Behold your king [God] comes to you’ (Zechariah 9:9), then she will say to him: ‘Now there is reason for complete rejoicing.’ – ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord.’ (Isaiah 61:10)” (Adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 22:3 Mandelbaum ed. p. 328)
This midrash focuses on the national aspect of this reunion. The people’s reunification with their land would be incomplete if God were not part of the picture. Rabbi Joseph Kimche (12th century Provance) talks about this exuberant joy flowing from the individual’s quest for God. He notes that the verse uses two different names for God. The first part of the verse uses the four letter name of God which represents the aspect of Divine mercy while the second part of the verse uses the name of God which stands for Divine justice. Each of these aspects attracts a different part of the individual: Divine mercy attracts the body, which is more in need of mercy, while Divine justice attracts the soul which appreciates justice. The individual will ultimately rejoice when he or she is capable of achieving this Divine homecoming.
As we edge toward the Days of Teshuva (repentance), may be work toward meriting this reunion and make this season one of true joy.
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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