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Friday, September 25, 2009

Parashat Ki Tavo - the Haftara

Ki Tavo – the Haftara
Isaiah 60:1-22
Reading date: 5th September 2009 – 16th Elul 5769

Our Highlighted Haftara Text

"Arise, shine, for your light has dawned,
The Presence of Adonai has shone upon you!
Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick clouds, the people,
But upon you Adonai will shine,
And God's Presence be seen over you.
And nations shall walk by your light,
Kings, by your shining radiance." Isaiah 60:1-3

The people of Israel in partnership with the Divine source of Light, can usher in the light of redemption.

We continue with the sixth and penultimate Sabbath of Consolation (our series of seven special haftarot: shiva d'nechemta’. These seven readings are linked to the calendar, bridging the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple and the exile from Israel. Like for previous weeks, Alkabetz borrowed phrases from this week's haftara in his Shabbat hymn Lecha Dodi: "Kumi ori ... Arise, shine, for your light has dawned..." (60:1).


Isaiah, son of Amotz is the most popular of the prophets for the haftara: fourteen of the weekly portions (in the Ashkenazi calendar) are from Isaiah. Isaiah lived in the southern kingdom of Judah in the latter half of the 8th century B.C.E. While Isaiah hoped that the northern kingdom of Israel would be restored (regrettably, the ten northern tribes vanished permanently), his prophecy was also a warning that to the leaders and population of Judah. 'You could be next if you don't change your behavior.' Indeed, a hundred years later, Judah was conquered, but this time, a remnant did survive, and returned to Israel and re-established a new nation.


Reading the Haftara for this week's Parashat Ki Tavo, the imagery of light jumps out at us. Light is a symbol of the Divine (Adonai is my light Ps. 27:1), and Isaiah promises, "No longer shall you need the sun, for light by day, nor the shining of the moon for radiance by night; for Adonai shall be your light everlasting, your God shall be your glory..." (Is. 60:19). Light was YHVH's first creation, and light is also a symbol of revelation. The light of our haftara is the third point of Rosenzweig's triangle (in his Star of Redemption): a symbol of redemption.


There is the physical light of creation (sun, moon, and stars). Technically, I know that actually, the moon is not a 'source' of light, and is really only reflecting the sun's light. In the ancient world, the moon was used for the calendar, and its light was quite important. As the 'Wise' of Chelm point out, 'The moon is more important than the sun, for after all, the sun shines during the day when it's light, but the moon shines at night when it is dark! (There is actually a real 'Chelm' but I am referring to a mythical town of foolish people).


The occurrences at Sinai are described with fire and lightning, and the Torah itself is likened to light: Torah Or.


 The final light of redemption will outshine the other sources of light. This brings us right back to a midrash on the light of creation, since if we read the text carefully, we will notice that in fact the 'light' created on the first day precedes the creation of the sun, moon and stars, (on day four), the only natural sources of light in the ancient world. The Rabbis resolve this difficulty by suggesting that the original light of the first three days was not any light that we have today, but a primordial light (today we might suggest the light of the Big Bang)! This light, was 'hidden away' for the righteous, and will be revealed at the end of days.
Now most of the time, we can tell the past tense from the present tense. But without context, "I read the newspaper" could be present tense- (the answer to "What do you do in the morning?") or the past ("What did you do yesterday?"). In Hebrew the verb to read is clear, since kara’ means read (pronounced rehd) vs. korei’ (meaning read pronounced reehd). But some verbs in Hebrew are similarly ambiguous. The verb lavo’, to come is both ‘ba’ for the masculine singular present (He comes) hu ba, and 3rd person masc. past, (He came). Verse one of our haftara begins, "Arise, shine, for your light has come/came" ki va oreich’. The verse continues with a parallel: YHVH's glory shone zarach’ past tense. So translators are probably right to keep the first verb also in the past tense, as in biblical poetry, these parallels are usually symmetrical. But the very next verse continues that YHVH's light will shine yizrach’. So now, I'm legitimately confused. Shone, shining, will shine? Which is it? This is not only a question of translations. The issue is when is our redemption? Isaiah is describing the restoration of Zion and YHVH's redemption. But which comes first? Do we wait to be redeemed, and then we will be restored to Zion, or is it the other way around. After all, the original opposition of some Orthodox to the early Zionist movement (and sad to say, of some extremist groups still today - many of whom actually live in Israel without supporting the State) was this very question.
Clearly our 'light shining' is connected to our redemption. But I think an answer can be found in one more use of the word light in the phrase, Or goyim’. I, Adonai, in My grace, have summoned you, And I have grasped you by the hand. I created you, and appointed you a covenant people, a light of nations— Opening eyes deprived of light, Rescuing prisoners from confinement, From the dungeon those who sit in darkness (Is. 42:6,7). The people of Israel themselves are also a source of light when we act in partnership with the Divine source of Light. Then surely will all enjoy the light of redemption.

Shabbat Shalom

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