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Va-ethannan 5768

Parshat Vaethanan
(Isaiah 40:1-26)
August 16, 2008
15 Av 5768

This week\’s haftarah begins a series of seven special haftarot which follow Tisha b\’Av. These haftarot, known as the \”shiva d\’nechamta – the seven haftarot of consolation\” are intended to bring the Jewish people solace after the period of three weeks marking the destructions of the First and Second Temples and the loss of Jewish sovereignty which occurred along with these tragedies. One of the key messages of this particular haftarah is God\’s sovereignty over the world and the impact of this idea on those who dwell in God\’s world. The prophecy establishes this idea dramatically. God is described in these words: \”It is He (God) who is enthroned above the vault of the earth, so that its inhabitants seem like grasshoppers; who spread out the skies like gauze, stretched them out [tautly] like a tent to dwell in.\” (Verse 22)

The imagery used to describe the manner by which God created the skies is particularly striking. God stretches out the skies \”tautly\” like a tent to dwell in. (See also Psalm 19:5) The Hebrew for this verse has the sense that God\’s participation in this act is a continuous process. This same idea is expressed in the prayers of Shaharit (the morning prayers): [God] renews in His goodness everyday continuously the works of creation. (See A. Hacham, Isaiah 2, Daat Mikra, p. 420) God is particularly interested in maintaining the pristine and ideal nature of His creation.

This idea is emphasized in a teaching from the Talmud of Eretz Yisrael (the Yerushalmi): \”Rabbi Isaac and Rabbi Simeon b. Lakish. – R. Isaac commented [first]: When a human being sets up a tent, after a while it becomes a little slack; but here [regarding God], it says: \’He stretched them out tautly like a tent\’ and it says [elsewhere]: \'[The heavens are] as a molten mirror.\’ (Job 37:18). Resh Lakish said: When a mere mortal makes a metal vessel, in the course of time it will become rusty; but in truth here they are ’Strong as a molten mirror ’: they [the heavens] continue to maintain their new appearance.\” (Y. Berachot 1:1 Venice ed. 2d)

The point made by both of these sages is that God, unlike human beings, created and continues to maintain His creations in optimal condition. One must assume then that God expects those whom He has appointed \”guardians\” over His creations to attempt to the best of their ability to do the same.

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. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp. Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus .  Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:

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