Parshat Nitzavim – Vayelekh
25 Elul 5767
September 8, 2007
This Shabbat, we read the last of the seven haftarot of consolation (shiva denehamta), linking the period between Tisha b\’Av and Rosh Hashanah. Isaiah\’s prophecy relates the joyous end of the exile and the reunion of God with His people, and the people with their land. No longer are the people and the land to be considered abandoned and unloved. Their redemption implies a new status for the renewed relationship – that of beloved spouse, bride and groom. God, Himself, initiates this renewal. Israel is no longer, symbolically, the undesired spouse; God wants the relationship. This restoration is symbolized in these words: \”and you shall be called by a new name which the Lord, Himself, shall bestow.\” (62:2)
What name is referred to by this verse? Rabbi Yitzhak Abrabanel suggests that the name will suggest to all who hear it that the nation is no longer to be considered exiled (golim) but rather redeemed (geulim). This line of interpretation is taken up by the modern commentator, A. Hakham, who asserts that the name will indicate to the nations of the world that the nation is no longer weak and lowly. Instead it is now heroic and great. It will also not suffer destruction again. (Isaiah, Daat Mikra, p. 653) Others, among the medieval commentators, desired to choose a specific name from among those mentioned in the continuation of the prophecy. Rabbi Joseph Kaspi lists the possibilities: \”Heftzibah – I delight in her\” (62:4); \”Am Kadosh – The Holy People\” (62:12); \”Geulei HaShem – The Redeemed of the Lord\”; \”Derusha – Desired\” (Ibid.). Hakham concludes that these names are simply descriptive and that no specific name is intended by the prophecy. God\’s association with the name will be sufficiently clear and self evident from the names which the nations of the world associate with the nation of Israel and will indicate their awareness that God has redeemed Israel and cares for them.
In a recent teshuva (a rabbinic response to a query), Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg z\”l, among the most important rabbinic authorities of the late 20th century and a leading Jewish authorities on medical ethics (Israel), was asked regarding the origins of the custom of naming baby girls upon being called up to the Torah. While I am not sure that his answer to this question can be considered an historical study of the subject, still, it is religiously significant. He quotes a work which records the customs of German Jewry \”Minhagei Yeshurun\”, which in turn quotes another work, \”Shulhan HaKriyah\”, which states: \”that the reason that people give their newborn daughters names when called up to the Torah is associated with the verse: \’and you shall be called by a new name which the Lord, Himself, shall bestow.\’\” (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 18:44) This explanation wants us to know that the names that we give our little daughters has God\’s imprimatur and indicates His desire to welcome them into our redeemed community.
In these last few days before we enter into the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe, where are yearly \’redemption\’ is at stake, may our names also prove chosen by God and may He grant us the strength to renew our names, and the humble and contrite souls that they represent.
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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