Posted by: Subway Conductor | August 28, 2020

A Derasha for Parshat Ki Teitzei

Although there are many interesting topics in this week’s Torah portion, I want to focus on the Haftarah reading.

In previous derashas I have shown that the period of the High Holidays really begins with the two fast days in the middle of the summer, the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. These dates are the low point in the Jewish calendar, commemorating as they do the many destructions and persecutions in Jewish history. It is from this low point of Tisha B’Av – where we literally sit on the floor and read the Book of Lamentations – that we begin a process of ascent that leads us to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. One of the clearest links between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah is that on the seven Sabbaths between them we read seven special Haftarah portions called the “Haftarah portions of consolation.” These portions, which are among the most beautiful and poetic Haftarah readings, are meant to encourage us to get off the floor of Tisha B’Av and prepare for Rosh Hashanah. These portions are all from the prophet Isaiah and were originally spoken to the Jewish People in exile in Babylonia. These prophetic words assure the people that they will return to Israel and will there enjoy a bright and fruitful future.

It is interesting to note that in this week’s Haftarah, Isaiah specifically states that the Jewish population will increase in Israel and that they will expand their territory and build new towns. These words are quite remarkable when read in the context of the modern State of Israel. We have seen the fulfillment of the prophetic vision with our own eyes. We have winessed how the population of Israel has grown dramatically and we can see the new towns and cities that have sprung up there.

This Haftarah portion is remarkable for another reason. Consider the following verses:

“For He who made you will espouse you – His name is ‘Lord of Hosts.’ ….The Lord has called you back as a wife forlorn and forsaken. Can one cast off the wife of his youth? – said your G-d. For a little while I forsook you, But with vast love I will bring you back. In slight anger for a moment, I hid my face from you, But with kindness everlasting I will take you back in love – said the Lord your Redeemer.” (Isaiah 54:5-8)

These words which describe the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People as a relationship between a husband and wife are quite striking, some might even say surprising. We need to put them into a context. First, let’s start by saying that this is a metaphor, of course. When we attempt to talk about G-d, when the Bible talks about G-d, we really do not have adequate words. G-d is so far beyond our experience, so far above our comprehension, that our words cannot possibly describe G-d. We struggle to find some way to speak about G-d and the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People. Therefore, we employ metaphors. One of the most common, one that will play an important role on Rosh Hashanah, is G-d as king. This metaphor is appropriate for Rosh Hashanah since it is the Day of Judgment. There is an entire section of the Musaf prayer that is called Malchuyot – verses that use terms that describe G-d as a king. On Rosh Hashanah we accept the kingship of G-d. It is G-d who gives the laws, who enforces the laws, meting out reward and punishment. It is G-d as king who judges us on Rosh Hashanah.

On Rosh Hashanah we also use another metaphor for G-d. In the famous prayer avinu malkeinu we refer to G-d as avinu our father. We can certainly relate to the description of the relationship between G-d and us as a relationship between a parent and child. Like a king, a parent gives us rules to live by and metes out rewards and punishments. However, the image of a parent is one that emphasizes that the rules they give and the punishments they might enforce come out of their concern for our well-being. They punish us only because they love us and want us to become good people, who know right from wrong. We can expect forgiveness from a parent and we know that our relationship will always remain no matter what we do.

The metaphor used by Isaiah in this week’s Haftarah reading of a husband and wife is a particularly powerful one and one which raises the relationship to a higher, more sublime level. Unlike the relationship of a king to a subject, or a parent to a child, the relationship of a husband and wife is more equal. It is one that is mutual. And the relationship of husband and wife is based on love. A husband and wife have a desire to be close to one another because they are in love. When we apply this metaphor to the relationship of G-d to the Jewish People, it makes us understand that we should desire to be close to G-d. We observe the commandments of a king out of fear. We observe the commandments of a parent out of respect. We should study the Torah and observe the commandments that G-d taught us as an act of love.

There is a blessing in the daily service that highlights this idea. Every morning and evening before the Shema there are two blessings. The second one has a slightly different version in the morning and evening. I have always felt that the evening version of this blessing is a beautifully worded statement of our relationship with G-d. “With an everlasting love You have loved your people the house of Israel. You have taught us Torah and mitzvot, laws and precepts. Therefore, O Lord our G-d, when we lie down and when we rise up, we will speak of Your laws and rejoice in Your Torah and commandments forever….”

Note that this blessing says that “we shall rejoice in Your Torah and commandments.” If we understand that G-d gave us the Torah and mitzvot as an act of love and that our study of the Torah and observance of the commandments is an expression of our love for G-d, then we should be glad, we should be eager, we should have a great desire to study the Torah and observe the commandments. This I think is the power of this metaphor which we find in this week’s Haftarah portion. It is a message that we should keep in mind during this month of Elul.

Good Shabbos!!!

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