Haftarah Parshat Ki Tetzei (Isaiah 54:1-10)
September 2, 2017 / 11 Elul 5777
Abraham and Sarah were promised both progeny and a land in which to fulfill this promise. Reality got in the way time and time again. The patriarchal couple were faced with infertility and their grasp on the land was always fragile. This story repeated itself often: Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Hannah – the mother of the prophet Samuel. Infertility was a constant test of faith in God’s promises. Ultimately God came through and fulfilled His promises.
This week’s haftarah, the fifth of the seven haftarot of consolation following Tisha b’Av (Shiva d’nehamta), exercises this theme on the national level. Jerusalem has suffered the exile of her children at the hands of the Babylonians. She is empty and barren, without hope. The national hold on its territory is tenuous. She is envisioned tragically as an unfulfilled mother, abandoned and alone. At once, at divine behest, she is transformed into a mother whose household is bursting at the seams with children, stretching her capacity to contain them, fulfilling divine promises harkening back all the way to the patriarchs: “’Shout O barren one, you who bore no child! Shout for joy, you who did not travail! For the children of the wife forlorn shall outnumber those of the espoused’, said the Lord. ‘Enlarge the site of your tent, extend the size of your dwelling, do not stint!…” (54:1-2)
Despair is a paralyzing emotion. It creates only darkness. Even when the situation is bleak. Hope is the only lifegiving alternative. This is what faith is all about. This was the prophet’s message to a forlorn nation which could only see “no” as the answer. The following midrash captures a faith affirming response: “Rabbi Levi said: ‘Wherever Scripture says something negative, [ultimately] the opposite will be the case. It says that ‘Sarah was barren, she did not have a child’ (Genesis 11:30) and afterwards, she had one, ‘Sarah is suckling sons’ (Genesis 21:7). Similarly, ‘Peninah had children, but Hannah had no children’ (1 Samuel 1:2); afterwards, Hannah did have children: ‘The Lord remembered Hannah, and she conceived.’ (1 Samuel 2:21) [Finally], ‘Zion, there is no one to care for her.’ (Jeremiah 30:17) And then there was: ‘And a redeemer will come to Zion’ (Isaiah 59:20)” (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 18:3, Mandelbaum ed. p. 295)
In real life, there are no guarantees. One cannot always depend on the happy outcome. Still, without the possibility of hope, life cannot continue. The battle is over. Judaism takes ownership over hope. Hope is faith and faith is hope. And that is the most redemptive of messages.
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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