(Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23)
March 20, 2010
5 Nisan 5770
In this week\’s haftarah, Isaiah presents us with two contrasting worldviews, one which we are encouraged to accept and defend and the other, to renounce. One verse asks us to bear witness to God\’s exclusive existence as deity: \”I (God) foretold, and you are My witnesses (edim). Is there any god before Me? \’There is no other rock, I know none!\’\” (44:8) In the other verse, Isaiah chides us to reject the false gods of idolatry who themselves bear witness to their own irrelevancy: \”The makers of idols all work to no purpose; and the things they treasure can do no good, as they (the idols) can testify (v\’edeihem). They neither look nor think and so they shall be ashamed.\” (44:9)
The critical word in these two verses is \”eid – witness\”. How are we to bear witness to God\’s special role in the world and in our lives, on the one hand, and to proclaim our denial of that which is idolatrous, on the other? The Jewish tradition proffers a concrete example, in a midrash on a verse similar to the one in our haftarah: \”On one tablet (of the Ten Commandments) was written: \’Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.\’ And opposite it on the other tablet was written: \’You shall not bear false witness.\’ This means that if a person profanes the Sabbath it is as though he gave testimony before Him who spoke and the world came into being that He did not create the world in six days and rest on the seventh, as it said: \’You are My witnesses, said the Lord\’\” (Isaiah 43:10) (Mechilta de Rabbi Ishmael Bahodesh 8 Horowitz – Rabin ed. p. 234) This midrash asserts that a person who observes Shabbat acts as a witness to the world of his or her belief in God.
Professor Asa Kasher, one of Israel\’s preeminent philosophers and ethicists, relates Shabbat observance to the alleviation of idolatry as well. He asserts that idolatry in the modern world consists of veering from the middle path and allowing one\’s life to be overcome by extreme behavior. Shabbat, as a day devoted to holy pursuits, protects against the idolatrous pursuit of work and other secular obsessions like overuse of the computer and television, and crass materialism. (See Yahadut and Elilut (Heb.) pp. 60-61)
Shabbat, then, is more than simply a day of rest and synagogue worship; it is a day on which we bear witness to our most significant belief – our belief in God.
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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