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Shoftim 5769

Parshat Shoftim
(Isaiah 51:12-52:12)
August 22, 2009
2 Elul 5769

\”I, even I, (Anochi Anochi) am He who comforts you\” – with these words, God offers maximum comfort to a nation constantly in fear for its existence. To the Biblical ear, the repetition of the word \”Anochi – I\” was intended to emphasize God\’s exclusive care.

The sages of the rabbinic period read such redundancy differently. Their poetic and theological sense was different. When they saw repetition, they discerned distinctive meaning in the double usage of the same word. This approach is taken up in the following midrash: \”I, even I, am He who comforts you\” Rabbi Abun in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish: \’The matter may be compared to the case of a king who grew angry with his noble wife and drove her out and put her away from the palace. After some time he wanted to bring her back. She said: \’Let him double the sum promised in my marriage settlement and then he can bring me back.\’ So, too, [in the case of Israel] said the Holy One Blessed be He to Israel: \’My children at Sinai I said to you one time, \”I am the Lord your God\’ (Exodus 20:2), but in Jerusalem in the coming age I shall say it to you two times: I, even I, am He who comforts you.\’\” (Pesikta deRav Kahana 19:5 Mandelbaun ed. pp. 306-7)

This midrash offers its message in two steps. On the popular level, it offers a parable. When a king marries, he offers his future wife one sort of settlement. If, at some point there is trouble between them and he breaks off the relationship, when he wants to reestablish it, he must improve on the previous conditions in order to win his wife back. This parable parallels the relationship between God and Israel. At Sinai, the wedding between God and Israel, the relationship with Israel was sealed with one \”Anochi\”. During the period between Sinai and the future redemption, there was a falling out between God and Israel. (This is how the sages understood the period of exile.) In the future, however, when God reestablishes His relationship with Israel (at the end of the exile) He will improve the conditions of the relationship.

This midrash ostensibly comes to teach a lesson about the strength of God\’s solace in times of trouble. It was a message meant to encourage the nation during the Babylonian exile. But it also teaches us a valuable lesson in how the sages go about understanding the way God works. The parable in this story teaches us that the sages use human behavior to understand God\’s actions, projecting what they know from their own lives onto their relationship with God.

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.

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