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Yitro 5769

Parshat Yitro
(Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6)
February 14, 2009
20 Shevat 5769

The last two verses of the haftarah were brought from chapter 9 in order to end the haftarah on a redemptive note. They represent a note of consolation because they prophesy the birth of a redemptive leader who will lead the people in troubled times. Most Jewish commentators assume that this leader was King Hezekiah, a righteous king, who rose to the monarchy after the demise of his corrupt father, Ahaz. His rise to the throne was accompanied by the fall of Assyria which had sought to conquer Jerusalem. The concurrence of these two events brought with them great expectations from this new leader: \”For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us and authority has settled on his shoulders. He has been named \”Wonderful in counsel, Mighty God, Eternal Father, a Peaceable Ruler\” – In token of abundant authority and of peace without limit upon David\’s throne and kingdom, that it may be firmly established in justice and equity now and evermore. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall bring this to pass.\” (9:5-6)

What is the significance of the names assigned to this child prodigy? There are different approaches to the assignment of these four names. Rashi sees the first three names as appellations of God with only the last name – \”sar shalom – peaceable ruler\” referring to the king since \”peace and truth will be realized in his lifetime\”. Rabbi David Kimche follows Rashi\’s assignment of names but adds an interesting twist: \”even though these names refer to God, still, they signal qualities of Hezekiah: \’Pele – wonder\” – refers to the miracle that God granted him an extra fifteen years; \”yoetz – counselor\” – signifies that God caused his counsel to be accepted and not that of Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians; \”gibor – hero\” – for he was able to stand up against the army of the Assyrians; \”Eternal Father\” – since God is the author of time, he added fifteen years to Hezekiah\’s life.\”

Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, assigns all of these appellations to the new king: \”since God would do miracles in his lifetime (pele); since as king, he took counsel with his advisors (yoetz); was tough (takif); his kingship perpetuated the Davidic monarchy (avi ad); and he brought peace in his day (sar shalom).

What is clear from all of these medieval interpretations is that these names represented the hope and expectations of God and the nation for the new leader. His name was intended to become synonymous with these hopes. This was Hezekiah\’s challenge. It is the challenge facing those who take on power today.

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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