Haftarah Parshat Noah
October 12, 2002
Isaiah’s prophecy promises that Jerusalem will be rebuilt after the devastation wrought by those who afflicted her. The people are promised that their connection with God will not be severed and that their children will be God’s students: “And all of your children (banayich) shall be students of the Lord and great shall be the peace of your children (banaich).” (Isaiah 54:13) This relationship will bring peace to the troubled nation.
This notion was transformed by the sages into a proactive prescription. Instead of peace being a gift offered by God to bring solace to a troubled nation, this verse was transformed into a source for the idea that those who study Torah and the Torah they study are active agents in the pursuit of peace. The following midrash, which appears at the end of a number of tractates of the Talmud (Berachot, Yevamot, Nazir and Kritot) is also found at the conclusion of the morning tefillot: Rabbi Eleazar said in the name of Rabbi Hanina: The students of the wise (talmedei hachamim) increase peace in the world, as it says, ‘And all of your children shall be students of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children (banayich).’ Don’t read this word ‘banayich – your children’ [as the regular vocalization suggests] but rather read it ‘bonaich – your builders’.
Later commentators attempted to explain in what sense those who study Torah become world builders and bring peace to the world. Rabbi Josiah Pinto, a 15-16 century Syrian – Eretz Yisrael commentator to the Ein Yaakov [a compendium of the non-legal sections of the Talmud], notes two different approaches. The first explanation is based on God’s promise that those who observe the Torah and study it will be provided for and granted peace simply because they fulfill God’s will. (See Rashi to Leviticus 26:3). His second explanation interprets the word ‘bonaich’ not as ‘builders’ but as ‘understanders’ from the Hebrew word ‘binah’. Since those who study bring understanding of the Torah to the world, peace will ensue. Rabbi Shmuel Edels, a 16th-17th century Talmud commentator, attempted to explain the anomaly created by using this midrash to conclude tractates of the Talmud when it bears no connection to the subject matter of the tractates. He asserts that the purpose of the decisions made by the sage is to bring peace to the world. The foundation of our tradition is based on the interaction of “mishpat – law” and “shalom – peace” following the idea found in the well known verse: “its ways [the Torah] are ways of pleasantness and its paths are paths of peace. (Proverbs 3:17)
Word games like the one found in this midrash, at first glance, strike the reader as bazarre. The sages, however, who operated under the assumption that the Biblical text is never superfluous, often attempted to grasp inner meaning in texts which to their eyes would otherwise have appeared to be redundant. In this verse from Isaiah, the fact that the word “banaiyich” is used twice in the same sentence offered an opportunity to explain the second use of this word in an interpretive sense. Consequently, those who study Torah become world builders or understanders. (see Maharsha, end of Masechet Berachot)
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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