Haftaras Ki Seitzei

In this week’s haftarah, it is written (Yeshayah 54:4): “Do not be afraid, for you shall not be shamed. Do not feel humiliated, for you shall not be disgraced. For you shall forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you shall remember no longer.” The Maggid discusses this verse in connection with a Gemara in Berachos 32b.
The Gemara expounds on Yeshayah 49:14-15 (in haftaras Eikev), interpreting these two verses as a dialogue between Hashem and the Jewish People. Hashem tells the Jewish People: “Can I possibly forget the offerings that you brought before Me in the wilderness?” The Jewish People reply that His having not forgotten these offerings leads them to conclude that He has also not forgotten the sin of the golden calf. Hashem replies that He has forgotten this sin (i.e., He directs His attention away from it). The Jewish People then say His having forgotten this sin leads them to conclude that He has forgotten their acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. Hashem replies that this merit He has not forgotten.
The Maggid explains this Gemara as follows. Sometimes a person’s conduct is not virtuous enough to be rated highly on an absolute scale, but can still be rated favorably in comparison with his past conduct. For example, when Achav delayed his first meal of the day as an act of repentance, and ate three hours later than usual, he was viewed as having fasted (Melachim Aleph 21:27-29, Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:36). Based on this principle, on occasion Hashem purposely recalls our past misdeeds, in order to justify a favorable judgment. In this vein, it is written (Hoshea 7:1-2, homiletically): “When I set out to heal Yisrael, the iniquity of Ephraim was revealed, along with the evils of Samaria …. Let them not say in their hearts that I raised the memory of all their evil deeds; rather, their misconduct brought them [into view].” (The word savavum in the verse, which in context means “surrounded them” [i.e., surrounded the Jewish People] can be read as meaning “brought them” [i.e., brought their evil deeds into view].) Hashem was saying that the Jewish People’s misconduct at that time created a need for Him to recall more serious evils that they committed in the past, in order to show them mercy.
In the dialogue recorded in the Gemara, the Jewish People were worried when they heard Hashem speak of their righteousness in the days of the wilderness. They feared that they might (again) reach a state where they could be rated favorably only in comparison with their past conduct, and they reasoned that if Hashem would recall only their past merits they would have no hope. They would be indicted for neglecting the Torah they had previously accepted. In order for them to be rated favorably in comparison with the past, Hashem would have to recall not only the Jewish People’s acceptance of the Torah and their good deeds in the wilderness, but also the sin of the golden calf. Hashem replied that He had forgotten the sin of the calf but still recalled the acceptance of the Torah; He was telling them that He knew they were approaching the level where they could be rated highly on an absolute scale, without reference to the misdeeds they committed in the past.
In the same vein, Yeshayah declares elsewhere (verses 29:22-23): “Therefore, thus said Hashem, who redeemed Avraham, to the House of Yaakov: ‘Yaakov will now not be ashamed, and his face now will not pale, when he sees his children, My handiwork [evident] within them, sanctifying My name – indeed, they will sanctify the Holy One of Yaakov and show awe for the God of Yisrael.’” When Yeshayah speaks of Hashem’s handiwork being “[evident] within them,” he is saying that the Jewish People will be imbued with such Godliness that they can be judged as eminent in an absolute sense, just observing them as they are. There will be no need to recall their previous lowliness – and they therefore will suffer no shame. Yeshayah’s prophecy in this week’s haftarah is along the same lines: “Do not be afraid, for you shall not be shamed. Do not feel humiliated, for you shall not be disgraced. For you shall forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you shall remember no longer.” The time will come when we will no longer suffer the humiliation of having our past disgrace called to memory, for we will reach the level where we can judged as eminent based solely on our current state.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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