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Sing out, O barren one, who has not given birth!
Break out into happy song, and be jubilant!
For southward and northwards you shall spread out mightily.
Your children shall drive out nations,
And settle desolate cities. (Isaiah 54:1,3)
For like the waters of Noah…
As I have sworn never again never again to pass the water of Noah over the Earth,
So have I sworn neither to be wrathful with you, nor to reject you.
For the mountains may be moved.
And the hills may waver.
But my kindness shall not depart from you and my covenant of peace shall not falter,
Says G-d, the One Who shows you mercy. (ibid, 9-10)
Rashi and many other commentators regard the 'barren one' as referring to the city of Jerusalem. This week's Haftara carries a powerful message describing how the world of Israel will ultimately be rebuilt: securely and safely in Jerusalem.
Like the previous weeks, the Haftara is taken from later chapters of the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a Navi: an individual who personally received the word of G-d and conveyed it to the people. Isaiah himself lived at around 720 BCE. That was when both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were going through spiritual and moral decline. In consequence, his earlier prophesies - messages directly from G-d - foresaw the exiles of both the northern Kingdom of Israel (which took place in his lifetime), and ultimately the southern Kingdom of Judah.
The Book of Isaiah also contains deeply inspiring words of encouragement, applying to both the Israelites and the world at large. It repeatedly stresses, as most notably in this Haftara, that the Israelite exiles and Divine punishments suffered will be temporary, and that G-d will eventually redeem His people and settle them permanently in His land. Many of the prophecies - including the ones in this Haftara - have been understood by commentators to refer to events that even today are in the future. The cycle of sin and punishment will be broken and the Israelites will realize the promise of, 'all your children will be students of G-d and abundant will be your children's peace' (Isaiah 54:13). So the Book of Isaiah is speaking as directly to us as to those in his own day.
As stated above, the Haftara carries a powerful message describing how the world of Israel will ultimately be rebuilt: securely and safely in Jerusalem. It is a progression on the message of the Parasha. Whereas G-d promised Noah that he would never bring another total destruction on the world, in the Haftara, He promised through the Prophet that He would, in the future, cease to afflict His people entirely. He would rule them with His love in the place He had chosen.
The previous familiar cycle - so well known from the Book of Judges onwards - will be broken. That vicious circle is: the Israelites sin / they suffer defeat and afflictions from their enemies or from other source / their agonies make them turn to G-d in prayer and in repentance / G-d sends them better times / and later on they return to their bad old ways and the cycle repeats itself. The prophecy in this chapter implies that this cycle will cease and give way to everlasting stability.
The spiritual product of this change, says the Prophet, is the learning of Torah: 'All your children will be students of G-d, and abundant will be your children's peace.'
What is special about the learning of Torah? Surely the Torah has been learnt throughout the ages? What is new about the Torah studied in this period? And what is the link between learning Torah and peace? Sadly, history shows many unpleasant controversies and communal divisions made in the name of the Torah - in some cases, by less than wholesome personalities.
The clue to understanding these issues may be found in the opening words of the above verse, 'All your children will be students of G-d'.
A person can learn Torah and promote Torah, without being a student of G-d. The classic expression of this would be studying Talmud Shabbat - on the day of Shabbat - and at the same time lighting up a cigarette (for that matter, even on weekday...) He learns Torah to give him a link with his past and/or as an intellectual exercise. More subtly, a Yeshiva student may deliver a brilliant pilpul (Talmudic discourse questioning and reconciling far flung casuistic sources) in the hope that it will earn him a few extra brownie points on the shidduch market. And in Diaspora, a parent may send his child to Hebrew Classes on Sunday classes primarily to get him out of the way to do some informal business over a round of golf.
These Jews are all students - yes! But do their studies bring them nearer to G-d?
Our daily prayers outline true Torah study. We pray to G-d before the Shema, to give us the desire not only to learn Torah, but to understand it in the right spirit and apply it to the very center of our lives: to live by it. We do not ask Him to help us concoct a series of public mental gymnastics to dazzle the public.
An recent incident illustratea that point:
The glass cover to the face of my watch broke as it fell on the floor. I took it in to an elderly Ben-Torah Jerusalem watch repairer, with a small shop in the center of the city. He told me that the repair would cost thirty shekels, a sum I happily agreed to pay. It turned out that the watch was of a non- standard design and it took a long time for a glass face to be suitably adapted. In the process, a tiny fragment of glass got into the mechanism and it took much skill and time to extract it - to the last particle. The battery seemed a little weak - so it had to be tested, and it turned out to be just fine. Then he then noticed that the watch may have lost its waterproof characteristics in his fashioning the new cover, so he took another ten minutes painstakingly gluing the face to bring the watch up to standard for swimming. Thanking him, I offered to pay him more money - after all I had taken a great deal of his time and skills. He refused, saying that thirty shekels was the sum agreed on, and he would not take a penny more. As I left the shop, I felt that I had indeed been privileged to meet a 'student of G-d'.
That perhaps gives us a glimpse of the Jerusalem of the future… when learning Torah will produce many personalities of such a caliber that whatever field they chose to go in, they will be 'the students of G-d'.
That can apply even today, and it is an ideal to work towards. However, commentators suggest that G-d will aid that process in the Messianic Age by coming closer to us as well… through communicating His word more directly through prophets, who by then will be addressing a public who will be ready to listen to them.
I heard someone remarking he would rather be a Navi than a Rav. As a Rav, he has to agonize whether he is giving the right decision - especially in personal matters involving family status. As a Navi, he gets his instructions from his hot line with G-d, so whatever the public say he at least knows he is saying the right thing…
QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES OF PARASHAT KI-TEITZEI
1. Where, in the Parasha, may the following values be observed?
2. The male sexual lust might indeed be exceptionally difficult to bear in certain circumstances - following Rashi.
3. Parental love of children must sometimes take second place to what is morally right for them - following Rabbeinu Bachya.
4. One should offer help to people who do make an effort to help themselves - according to Rashi.
5. People should show compassion where possible - according to the Ramban.
6. A person is not normally liable for anything completely beyond his control.
7. Prostitution must not be officially tolerated - according to the Ramban.
8. Business cheats and swindlers may not justify their activities with the claim that their profits go to good causes - following the Ramban.
9. Divorce must be for sound reasons, and may not degenerate into a ruse to sample other partners - according to the Ramban.
10. G-d takes note of kindness shown to others, even if they don't say 'thank you' - following Rashi.
11. A woman is financially liable if she tries to help her husband by causing embarrassment to someone else - following the S'forno.
ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES OF PARASHAT KI-TEITZEI
1. The opening words of the Parasha (21:10-14) acknowledge the inflamed passions of the soldier in battle towards one of his female captives. These verses recognize that his lust may cool down after the lengthy process described in the text. At the same time, he will find it easier to restrain himself at that moment of passion, if he believes he has something to look forward to later on…
2. The Torah's requirement of the parents to involve the courts when their son's conduct proves incorrigible (21:, illustrates that parents' love for children must sometimes take second place to what is morally right for them in the long run.
3. This is derived from the Torah's requiring a person to give assistance to someone whose donkey has fallen by the wayside. The words 'you shall stand them up, with him' (22:4) are understood to mean that the owner must make an effort as well - he cannot just sit at the roadside and leave it all to the passer-by.
4. Following the tradition of the Talmud (Berachot 33b), the reason that the Torah requires a person to send the mother bird from the nest before taking the eggs (22:7) is not because G-d has mercy on the birds and animals per se, but that people should inculcate compassion into the core of their personalities.
5. This may be learnt from the Torah's completely pardoning a betrothed woman who was raped where it is clear that she did nothing to facilitate that situation in the first place (22:26).
6. Prostitution must not be officially tolerated: according to the Ramban, is derived from the words 'there must not be a promiscuous woman among the daughters of Israel'. (23:18) This is understood to be primarily directed at the courts - ordering them to ensure that women should not parade their availability in public, and to prohibit facilities for such purposes.
7. This is derived from the prohibition of bringing an animal used as barter for a forbidden activity - such as a medium of exchange for the hire of a prostitute (23:19). The Ramban widens that to include ill-obtained gains being used for charitable causes - G-d regards the idea of their being 'laundered' for Mitzvot in justification for such activities as an 'abomination' (ibid).
8. According to the Ramban, that is the reason why a person may not remarry his divorced wife if she had been married to someone else in the meantime (24:4).
9. The Torah orders the creditor to return the essential-article pledge of a poor debtor when he needs it. The Torah reassures the creditor that G-d will always 'reckon it as an act of righteousness' (24:13) - whether or not the debtor shows gratitude.
10. The Torah's punishing the woman who comes to her husband's aid (2511-12) is understood by the S'forno to be referring to where she uses excessive force in the situation, causing the victim deep embarrassment. Such shame must be compensated, according to the Halacha.
ADDITIONAL QUESTION ON PARASHAT KI-TEITZEI.
'When a man marries a new wife, he shall not go out to the army, nor shall he be obliged to perform any duties. He shall be free for his home for one year and bring happiness to his wife.' (24:5)
'One must not take an upper or lower millstone as a pledge, for he would be taking life as a pledge.' (24:6)
The Torah puts the above two laws together. What does a newly-wed's year's exemption from the army (in any war other than one for survival) have in common with the articles a creditor may or may not take as security on his loan? What may be learnt from their placed next to each other?
My attempts to answer the above may be found on the Shema Yisrael website under Ki-Teitze 5762.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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