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Nitzavim-Vayelekh 5771

Haftarah Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelekh
(Isaiah 61:10-63:9)
September 24, 2011
25 Elul 5771

On rare occasions there are different traditions of how a word or even a sentence in the Bible should be read or punctuated. The most prominent example of this phenomenon is where we find a word written one way – “ktiv” – but read differently – kri”. The Jewish tradition, known as the Mesorah, generally understands the text according to the “read” or “kri” tradition but sometimes the “written” or “ktiv” tradition yields an entirely different message. Such is the case in the last two sentences of this week’s haftarah.

The translation according to the “kri” tradition yields: “He (God) thought: ‘Surely they are My people, children who will not play false. So He is their Deliverer. In all their troubles there is to him (lo) trouble (tzar) and the angel of His Presence delivered them…” (63:8-9) In the Biblical text itself, the word “lo” is written – “lamed alef” which means “no” but read “lamed vav” meaning “to him”. In the text as we have it, the written tradition is not easily understood. The read tradition, however, expresses God’s tremendous empathy for His people.

The Septuagint, the early Jewish Greek translation of the Bible, might be of help in reconstructing the intention of the written version of the word in these sentences. It reads: “And He said, Is it not My people? The children surely will not be rebellious: and He became to them deliverance out of all their affliction: not (lo) an ambassador (tzir), nor a messenger, but Himself saved them, because He loved them and spared them: He Himself redeemed them, and took them up, and lifted them up all the days of old.” The Greek translation has adopted the written tradition of the word in question with one further modification. It seems to have changed the vocalization of the word that “lo” modified from “tzar” meaning “trouble” to “tzir” meaning “ambassador”. The message of the prophet would them be similar to one we are familiar with from the Pesach Haggadah: “And God redeemed us from Egypt” – not by means of an angel, nor by means of a fiery angel, nor by ambassador, but rather the Holy One Blessed be [He redeemed us], by Himself, in His glory. (S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 521))

The written tradition, then, probably intended to express God’s singularity in redeeming His people, a message which has become integral to the Jewish tradition no less than God’s intimate concern for His creatures. Both of these thoughts should give us strength as we approach the coming Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe.

Ktiva va’Hatima tovah – May we all be written and inscribed for a good year.

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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