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Re\’eh 5773

Haftarah Parshat Reeh
(Isaiah 54:11-55:5)
August 3, 2013
27 Av 5773

In Isaiah’s ideal vision, found at the end of this week’s haftarah, David (or one of his messianic progeny) will act as the agent of God’s covenant, ensuring its maintenance: “Incline your ear and come to Me; Hearken and you shall be revived. And I will make with you an everlasting covenant, the enduring loyalty promised to David.” (55:3) Furthermore, David will act as a witness to all of the covenant’s reality: “As I made him a witness (eid) to the peoples, a prince and commander of peoples.” (55:4)

This promise was meant as an indication to the people returning from the Babylonian exile after seventy years that the covenant with David had not been abrogated. The leadership of the people, which might have been in “Davidic” hands (perhaps an allusion to Zerubbabel, one of the leaders of the return), was intended to herald a bright future where mercy promised to David would be perpetuated in the restored nation. Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence), on the other hand, sees in this prophecy a messianic vision which foreshadows a portrait of the ideal future where the divine mercy which was promised to David will be showered onto the nation in perpetuity.

The following midrash turns David’s “messianic” redemptive quality on its head, giving it an unexpected twist by drawing a connection between the above verses and David’s sin with Bathsheba: “To whom may David be compared? To a man who broke a limb and went to a doctor. The doctor said to him: ‘What a terrible wound! I have great sympathy for you.’ The patient responded: ‘Why are you so pained on my account? My injury is for your sake, since you will receive a fee for healing me.’ So, too, David said to the Holy One Blessed be He: ‘I sinned for Your sake, so that You will be able to say to sinners: Why don’t you repent? If You (God) accept me (David), all sinners will make peace with You. All will look at me and I will bear testimony that it is possible to repent.’ This is what is meant by the verse: ‘As I made him a witness (eid) to the peoples.’” (Midrash Tehillim 51:3 Buber ed. p. 281)

David, the “great sinner” on account of his sin with Bathsheba, is portrayed in this midrash as the paradigm of the penitent. He declares that if God willingly forgives him for his sin, it will be known to all that repentance is possible. David, according to this midrash becomes the “poster boy” for teshuva. Is it possible for a person to change – to be “reborn”? The answer of this midrash is a resounding yes.

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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