Haftarah Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelekh
September 4, 2010
25 Elul 5770
Haftarah Commentary For Parshat Netzavim-Vayelech (Isaiah 61:10-63:9)
With this week\’s haftarah, we conclude the seven special haftarot of consolation (shiva d\’nehamta) which follow Tisha b\’Av and lead up to Rosh Hashanah. Ostensibly, the prophet\’s messages in these prophecies were intended to bring solace to the generation which had returned to rebuild both the nation and the Temple after their destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. The people were sorely in need of encouragement at what was for them a very difficult moment. The prophet\’s messages help them to triumph over their despair. This is reflected in the opening words of the haftarah: \”I will surely rejoice in the Lord, my soul will be joyful in My God.\” (61:10)
This message was set in a particular historical context. In rabbinic times, the message of the prophet was also given a different reading, this time in a liturgical context. Since this haftarah was set at the tail end of the month of Elul, immediately before Rosh Hashanah, its encouraging message could also be applied to themes relevant to the season. For serious minded people, who have a high level of self awareness, this season of introspection has the potential to prove quite troubling since it is easy to develop a sense that self repair is not possible.
One rabbinic tradition offered an interpretation of the doubling of the opening verb in this week\’s haftarah to counter this sense of disillusionment: \”\’Sos Asis – Rejoicing I rejoice\’ – The word \’rejoicing\’ refers to Israel\’s being delivered from the punishment of Gehinnom (the netherworld); \’I will rejoice\’ refers to the time when the yetzer hara (the evil inclination) will be rooted out of Israel; \’my soul will be joyful in my God\’ refers to the time when my sins will be forgiven.\” (Pesikta Rabbati 27:2)
This passage anticipates the joy of the potential repentance and atonement found in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. No person need suffer despair, for provided he or she takes the message of this season seriously, redemption and self repair are truly possible. Consequently, despite our fears and inadequacies at this season, there is reason to rejoice. Why? Because it is truly in our power to be renewed.
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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