Parshat Nitzavim (Isaiah 61:10-63:9)
October 1, 2016 / 28 Elul 5776
The process of redemption cannot take place in a mood of despair. It requires flicking a mental switch to overcome the mindset of a people or an individual for whom their self-image has been tainted. Oppression destroys people not only physically but also mentally and spiritually as well. This problem faced the prophet in the latter part of the book of Isaiah who prophesied during the return from Babylonian exile after a long period of exile. He faced disillusionment from a maligned, defamed nation. The nation’s anguish is reflected in the prophet’s attempt to kindle a spirit of enthusiasm in the heart of his fellow countrymen: “Nevermore shall you be called ‘Forsaken’ nor shall your land be called ‘Desolate’; rather you shall be called ‘Heftzi ba – I delight in her’, and your land ‘Espoused’. For the Lord delights in you. And your land shall be espoused.” (62:4)
The sense of abandonment felt by those who had been exiled left them feeling existentially unmoored and unwanted. Such feeling made it impossible for some to take part in renewing themselves and their nation. The symbolic name change was intended to poetically alter the mindset of the nation so the its negative self-image would be transformed by a message of God’s love so that the people might become enthusiastic about rebuilding their nation. (See Yishayahu, Olam HaTanakh, p. 269)
The intent of this message is equally applicable for each of us on an individual level as well. With the upcoming Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – before us, the possibility of becoming renewed by feeling God’s love can be reformatory for us as well. In fact, each of us can take part in this miraculous process by being agents of God’s love for each other by making others who might feel “forsaken” to feel “heftzi bah – desired”.
This is an important message for us at this season. This is an important Jewish message where many feel many Jewishly “abandoned”. A renewed spirit might be as close as the nearest kind word. Is that too much to ask?
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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