Haftarah Parshat Ki Tavo (Isaiah 60:1-22)
September 5, 2015 / 21 Elul 5775
One verse in this week’s haftarah plays an enormous role in traditional Jewish study since it was chosen to lead off the liturgical recitation of the Pirkei Avot, the tractate of the Mishnah dedicated to ethical maxims. This verse recounts the special relationship between God and the people of Israel: And your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for all time; they are the shoot (netzer) that I planted, My handiwork in which I glory.” (60:21)
This week, I want to diverge from my normal practice of examining how the classical interpreters understood this verse in order to deal with an agricultural aspect of this verse which my daughter, Meital informed me of after a stint working on a date palm orchard. In this verse, the people of Israel are described as a “shoot (netzer)” planted by God. To those of us whose closest contact to dates trees is to purchase a box of dates at the market, the process of growing date trees is something unfamiliar to us. Date trees are not generally started from seed. Date seeds are not easy to germinate and even if you are successful at germinating the seed, you cannot determine the quality of the tree which will grow from it. Generally, date trees are grown from a “netzer” which are the shoots which sprout out of the stem of a female date tree. A shoot is nurtured by packing its base with sawdust or top-soil until it develops roots. When this occurs, it is removed from the tree stem and planted to develop a new tree.
One only cultivates a “netzer” if it comes from good tree stock, namely, a tree which develops plentiful and goodly fruit. This process which people have known from ancient times helps us understand the significance of this verse. How is it that the people of Israel will possess the land in perpetuity? It is necessary that they will all be righteous. How will this come about? God will cultivate the righteous by ensuring that He grows only “shoots” from the very best trees which will guarantee “righteous” fruit.
In this season, as we approach Rosh Hashanah, we hope, pray and prepare ourselves to be the fruit of a “netzer” chosen by God so that we might truly be among His handiwork which bring Him glory.
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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