Monthly Archives: August 2014

Shabbat Shoftim 5774: Doubled Prophecy, Double Significance

Word repetition is one of the most common tools used in Biblical texts to add emphasis to a point, but it also provides interpreters with the opportunity to add layers of meaning to the text. This makes the process of reading Torah interactive and the experience of revealing new facets of meaning available to any careful and creative reader. The opening verse of Shoftim gives one such opportunity, since it employs the root shin-fay-tet (meaning judge or justice) not two, but three times in one verse, and also emphasizes the singular “you.” So too must we place “judges” or perhaps “filters” at our own three “gates”—our eyes, ears and mouth—so that the way that we observe the world and express ourselves will always employ good judgment and lead to justice. In Bavli Brakhot 61b Rabbi Yosi HaG’lili says that for the righteous, the “good inclination” is their judge, while for the wicked, the evil inclination is their judge, while middling types have to contend with both judges and their competing advice. The Hasidic author Noam Elimelekh picks up on the Tanna’s identification of himself as a “middling” type to say that we too should always think about ways to open the gates of the mitzvot and to perform them with more pure intention. Two hollyhocks

Though the parashah is extremely rich this week, I would like to focus more on our haftarah, the fourth message of consolation taken from Second Isaiah, chapters 51 and 52. This haftarah employs repetition several times, beginning again with the first verse, “I, I am He who comforts you!” Israel is instructed, “Rouse, rouse yourself!” and “Awake, awake, O Zion!” (NJPS trans). Michael Fishbane writes in Humash Etz Hayim (1107), “These repetitions intensify the divine commands and spotlight the haftarah’s three themes of divine presence, national transformation, and return from exile.” Rabbi Shlomo Alkebetz incorporated Isaiah’s second and third repetitions into the fifth stanza of his mystical prayer Lekha Dodi, which is dedicated to the unification of God’s two aspects of Tiferet and Malkhut, which is assisted by the prayers and sabbath observance of Israel. Thus a simple emphasis in the biblical texts becomes a hint of mystical dimensions for the adept reader, and a guide to the most efficacious practice of Shabbat.  Continue reading

Ekev 5774: Reimagining God

On the surface, Parashat Ekev is about what kind of people God expects that Israel will become. We read that Israel’s God “demands” many things—reverence, love, obedience and devotion. Israel is warned of the afflictions of affluence—ingratitude and materialism, and is reminded of the many benefactions that God has bestowed upon them since the days of the patriarchs. And yet on a deeper level the parashah draws a portrait not of Israel but of God. Who is this deity of ours? An impartial judge, or a benevolent parent? Is this God almighty, or is that a mirage? In rabbinic literature we have many bold efforts to expose and explore the apparent contradictions in the Torah’s image of God.  Continue reading