Haftarah The Seventh Day of Pesah
(2 Samuel 22:1-51)
April 10, 2015 / 21 Nisan 5775
The Seventh Day of Pesah is the day that we celebrate the splitting of the sea and God’s victory over the marauding Egyptian army bent on the destruction of the children of Israel. The celebration was commemorated in Shirat Hayam – The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15). There, God is celebrated with the following description: “The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is His name.” (verse 3) The haftarah for this special day is David’s song thanking God for redeeming him from his enemies. It also uses language which represents God as a warrior, although its language is even bolder and more concrete than the above verse from Exodus. (See the verses in bold letters)
The above portrayals inspired a midrash in which Rabbi Judah amassed a variety of the verses from the Tanakh where God is described as a warrior in order to contend with a poignant religious question: “’The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is His name’ – Rabbi Judah says: Here is a verse made rich in meaning by many passages, (for) it declares that He revealed Himself to them with every manner of weapon: He revealed Himself to them as a warrior girt with his sword, as it is said, ‘Gird your sword upon your thigh, O warrior’ (Ps. 45:4); He revealed Himself to them as a cavalry officer, as it is said, ‘And He rode upon a cherub, and did fly’ (2 Samuel 22:11); He revealed Himself to them in coat of mail and helmet, as it is said, ‘And He put on righteousness as a coat of mail’. (Isa. 59: 17); He revealed Himself to them with a spear, as it is said, ‘At the shining of Thy glittering spear’ (Hab. 3:11), and it says, ‘Draw out also the spear, and the battle-ax’. (Ps. 35:3); He revealed Himself to them with bow and arrows, as it is said, ‘Thy bow is made quite bare’. (Hab. 3:9), and it says, ‘And He sent out arrows, and scattered them’. (2 Samuel 22: 15); He revealed Himself to them in buckler and shield, as it is said, ‘His truth is a shield and a buckler’. (Ps. 91 :4), and it says, ‘Take hold of shield and buckler’. (Ps·35:2). Shall I deduce (from all this) that He is in need of any of these means? The verse says, ‘The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is His Name’: by means of His Name He makes battle, and has no need of any one of these means! But if so, why does Scripture feel it necessary to itemize each and every single one of these? For this reason, that if Israel require it, God will make battle for them. And woe to the Nations of the World at what they hear with their own ears! For lo, it is He Who Spoke and the World Came to Be who will battle against them in the Future!” (Mechilta deRabbi Ishmael, Shirta 4, Horowitz-Rabin ed. p. 129-30)
Rabbi Judah’s conclusion makes us aware that he felt that all of the representative language used in these verses to describe God’s actions did not really reflect the truth of who God really is and how he acts in the world. His answer is also revealing. He asserts that the imagery was necessary to impress God’s enemies that He is truly powerful. Translated for us, this expresses an important religious truth. When we use language to express what we mean about God, it is a tool for human comprehension. It allows us to make God approachable on our terms. Our caveat must be that we must recognize the limits of our human expression so as not to get trapped by it. We must express for ourselves the glory of the miracle that God is but know in our hearts and minds but He is beyond our ability to express.
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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