THE SHIRLEY AND JACOB
FUCHSBERG JERUSALEM CENTER
of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Haftarah Parshat Ki Tetzei (Isaiah 54:1-10)
September 2, 2017 / 11
Abraham and Sarah were promised both
progeny and a land in which to fulfill this promise. Reality got in
the way time and time again. The patriarchal couple were faced with
infertility and their grasp on the land was always fragile. This
story repeated itself often: Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel,
Hannah – the mother of the prophet Samuel. Infertility was a
constant test of faith in God’s promises. Ultimately God came
through and fulfilled His promises.
This week’s haftarah, the fifth of
the seven haftarot of consolation following Tisha b’Av (Shiva
d’nehamta), exercises this theme on the national level. Jerusalem
has suffered the exile of her children at the hands of the
Babylonians. She is empty and barren, without hope. The national hold
on its territory is tenuous. She is envisioned tragically as an
unfulfilled mother, abandoned and alone. At once, at divine behest,
she is transformed into a mother whose household is bursting at the
seams with children, stretching her capacity to contain them,
fulfilling divine promises harkening back all the way to the
patriarchs: “’Shout O barren one, you who bore no child! Shout
for joy, you who did not travail! For the children of the wife
forlorn shall outnumber those of the espoused’, said the Lord.
‘Enlarge the site of your tent, extend the size of your dwelling,
do not stint!...” (54:1-2)
Despair is a paralyzing emotion. It
creates only darkness. Even when the situation is bleak. Hope is the
only lifegiving alternative. This is what faith is all about. This
was the prophet’s message to a forlorn nation which could only see
“no” as the answer. The following midrash captures a faith
affirming response: “Rabbi Levi said: ‘Wherever Scripture says
something negative, [ultimately] the opposite will be the case. It
says that ‘Sarah was barren, she did not have a child’ (Genesis
11:30) and afterwards, she had one, ‘Sarah is suckling sons’
(Genesis 21:7). Similarly, ‘Peninah had children, but Hannah had no
children’ (1 Samuel 1:2); afterwards, Hannah did have children:
‘The Lord remembered Hannah, and she conceived.’ (1 Samuel 2:21)
[Finally], ‘Zion, there is no one to care for her.’ (Jeremiah
30:17) And then there was: ‘And a redeemer will come to Zion’
(Isaiah 59:20)” (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 18:3, Mandelbaum ed. p.
In real life, there are no guarantees.
One cannot always depend on the happy outcome. Still, without the
possibility of hope, life cannot continue. The battle is over.
Judaism takes ownership over hope. Hope is faith and faith is hope.
And that is the most redemptive of messages.