September 16, 2006
This week\’s haftarah brings to a close the seven special haftarot of consolation which follow Tisha b\’Av. It is also the last haftarah before Rosh Hashanah, making it the last haftarah of the month of Elul, the month in which we make preparation for the Y\’mei Teshuva – the days of Repentance. Isaiah\’s prophecy opens with the joyful image of the nuptial joining of groom and bride, each envisioning the other in their marital finery: \”I greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole exults in my God. For he has clothed me in 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)
This image, of course, was intended to express the exuberant joy at the physical restoration of the nation, its redemption from foreign subjugation and the return of the Babylonian exiles to their long dreamt for homes in Jerusalem and Judea. The conjoining of the image of marital union with a sense of returning home came to mean much more than a representation of physical return of God\’s people to their land. It also came to embody the essence of the very relationship between God and His people, as we note in the following midrash: \”[This matter is similar to the case of] the orphan girl who was raised in the palace. When it came time for her to marry, they said to her: \’Have you anything for a dowry?\’ She answered them: \’I have an inheritance from my father and an inheritance from my grandfather.\’ So, too, the people of Israel have merits from Abraham and they have merits from our father, Jacob. \’For he has clothed me in garments of triumph\’ – because of the merits of Jacob, [as we learn from the verse,] \’And the hides of the offspring of goats she
(Rebecca, his mother) wrapped (clothed) on his hands\’ (Gen. 27:16). \’Wrapped me in a robe of victory\’ – this refers to Abraham, our forefather, [as it is written,] I [God] have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right, in order that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what He has promised.\’ (Gen. 18:19) \’Like a bridegroom adorned with a turban, like a bride bedecked with her finery.\’ – You find that when the children of Israel stood at Mount Sinai, they comported themselves with the modesty of a bride, veiling one eye and leaving the other uncovered.* (Pesikta d\’Rav Kahana 22:4. Mandelbaum ed. pp. 328-9)
The people of Israel yearn to reestablish their intimate relationship with God. For this purpose they call upon the merits of their ancestors, Abraham, Jacob and all of Israel who stood at Sinai to provide them with the means to restore their relationship with God. In particular, the rabbis saw in the special modesty of the people at the moment of the revelation at Sinai, behavior worth emulating as a model for returning to God. May we, too, approach God with all the humility and modesty that we can muster so that we might also restore the intimacy that we have lost with Him during this past year.
*[Hagrash Lieberman points out that it was the custom of Jewish women in Eretz Yisrael during rabbinic times, as a matter of modesty, to cover themselves with a veil, leaving only one eye uncovered . This custom, he notes is attested to in both Jewish and no-Jewish sources. See \”al Hataim v\’Onsham\”, Louis Ginsberg Jubilee Volume, p. 370)
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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