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Ki Tavo Haftarah Companion

Ki Tavo Haftarah Companion

For an informed reading of Isaiah 60:1–22

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Overview

The haftarah for Ki Tavo, the sixth of the “seven haftarot of consolation,” speaks entirely of the bright future in the days of Moshiach. In the days prior to his coming, there will be much “darkness” in the world. It will be out of this darkness that Jerusalem and its people will “shine,” illuminating the entire world with their light.

Many of the details spoken of in the reading are particularly interesting, in that they resonate as the exact reverse of the kind of suffering the Jews have endured during their long exile.

The prophet describes how, when the time comes, the Jewish people will swiftly return to their land. Israel will flourish, with the highest quality of merchandise brought into its midst, its gates never having a free moment to close. In that time to come, the nations of the world will sail together with the Jews of their countries to Jerusalem. Not only will they bring them with all their possessions, but the nations will add many gifts of their own, and will happily lend a hand in both sponsoring and rebuilding the Holy Land. (All of this contrasts with how Jews, during their exile, were often—after their possessions were confiscated—herded onto ships sailing to no particular destination, and were put to physical slave labor, building the houses and cities of their oppressors.)

Torah law mandates that a thief who is found guilty pays back double to the person from whom he stole. In this spirit, the verse states that for all the stolen assets and inflated taxes imposed on the Jews throughout the ages, the perpetrating nations will pay back manyfold: “Instead of the copper I will bring gold, and instead of the iron I will bring silver, and instead of the wood—copper, and instead of the stones—iron.”1

(The Talmud observes in this connection: “Rabbi Yochanan said: Woe to the idolaters, as they have no remedy for the sins they committed. The verse states… [what is quoted above, that each item taken from the Jewish people will be replaced by something of greater value; but] in place of Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues (whom they tortured and killed), what [greater replacement] can they bring? With regard to them it is stated:2 ‘Though I cleanse, their bloodshed I will not cleanse.’”3)

The revelation of G‑dliness at this time will secure eternal peace and tranquility for the holy city and its people. Moreover, the Divine presence will eclipse any source of “light” and goodness emanating from natural causes. In this sense, we will not be the needy recipients of the sun and moon for light, for we will all be in the presence of G‑d Himself.

“Your people are all righteous,” says the next-to-last verse of the haftarah. In its simple sense this means that at that time the Jewish people will be entirely righteous, for wickedness will disappear. Famously, however, the Mishnah4 takes this to mean that “all Israel have a share in the world to come.” This is because, ultimately, every Jew is “righteous” at his or her core. Even if the person is submerged in evil, it cannot affect or efface that core identity. After the evil is dealt with, every Jew will merit the ultimate days of Moshiach.5

The haftarah concludes with the G‑dly promise that “in its time, I will hasten it”: when the time comes for all this to come about, it will happen quickly.

A little light in your life

“Arise! shine! For your light has arrived.” These opening words of the haftarah are directed to the city of Jerusalem. The prophet calls to it to go forth and illuminate, for the days of its own brightness are now upon it. On the surface, “light” is used here as a metaphor for the salvation and blessing that will prevail in the holy city. It is also used in reference to the wisdom and insight that the Jewish people will have at that time, thus also “illuminating” the surrounding nations of the world.6

On a deeper level, this verse can be understood as addressing each individual Jew. The initial call of G‑d to the Jew is “Arise!” The “fallen” state from which the Jew must arise is a state of spiritual laziness or depression. At times, one can be in the condition of lacking motivation and enthusiasm in fulfilling his or her Divine mission. The G‑dly call is to arise from such a situation and fulfill the mitzvot with alacrity and fervor. But how? The answer is contained in the second call of the prophet: “Shine!”

Darkness, either physical or spiritual, is a situation where a person does not see—or perceive—true reality. When in such a state, one often will construct a subjective “reality” based on the limited resources available in this dark situation.

The world is a dark place. G‑dliness, which is true reality, is not felt or or experienced in a direct and immediate fashion. Our experience is physicality. Being in this physical bubble, we automatically construct “reality” within the confines of physical existence. The highest-reaching form of physical existence is the human mind. The human mind is actually also able to look objectively at creation, and meditate upon the creator and upon the purpose of the creation.

This, it might seem, is a most lofty state of existence. However, the truth is that, devoid of Torah and mitzvot, the most lofty and elevated mind is as distant from G‑dliness as it could possibly be. Anything grasped or understood by the human mind must be something of which the human mind has some concept, some definition; and this is exactly what G‑d is not.

“A fool walks in the darkness,” writes King Solomon.7 It is one thing to be in the dark; it is another thing entirely to enjoy it! The construction of principles, priorities and purpose while being in the dark is something that only a fool will champion. It is this that can put man in a more inferior place than the most mindless of animals. Living in its own world of survival and pleasure, the animal does not have the ability to create any form ofworldview of its own. A self-created worldview, with the lack of any insight into true reality, is actually worse than not having a worldview at all.

Now, understanding and dwelling on these ideas will bring a person to a tremendous joy and gladness in his Divine service. Torah gives one the ability to break out of the darkness and to access truth. The laws and ideas of Torah are G‑dly. The ability of the Jew to imbibe and internalize Torah gives him access to true light—G‑dliness.

The joy of light that illuminates a situation of darkness is very great. Appreciating the ability to “shine” will invigorate the Jew to “arise” and fulfill his Divine task with the utmost of joy.8

Light for Light

As elaborated upon above, the haftarah contains many references to the “light” which will prevail in the days of Moshiach. A foundational idea in Jewish thought is that it is our actions in the time before Moshiach’s coming that will bring about the goodness at the time of Moshiach.9 Each mitzvah has its own unique G‑dly concept, and the achievement of each particular mitzvah will bring about a particular aspect of the G‑dly revelation in the days of Moshiach.

The purpose of the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles is in order to bring light to the home. The Midrash states that this mitzvah will precipitate the “light” spoken of in the time to come:

If you will safeguard the lights of Shabbat, [says G‑d,] I will show you the lights of Zion—as the verse states, “At that time I will seek out Jerusalem with lights.”10 I will not make it necessary for you to see by the light of the sun; rather, with My glory I will shine to you, as the verse states,11 “You shall no longer have the sun for light by day, and for brightness the moon shall not give you light, but the L‑rd shall be to you for an everlasting light, and your G‑d for your glory.”12

Footnotes
1.
See Maharsha on Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 23a.
3.
Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 23a.
4.
Sanhedrin 11:1.
5.
See Igrot Kodesh of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 1, pp. 149ff.
6.
See commentary of Metzudat David on vv. 1–3 of the reading.
8.
Maamarei Admor Hazaken, Nach, p. 155.
9.
See Tanya, ch. 37.
11.
Isaiah 60:19 (a verse in this haftarah).
12.
Yalkut Shimoni, Bamidbar, ch. 8 (sec. 719).
Rabbi Mendel Dubov is the director of Chabad in Sussex County, NJ, and a member of faculty at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, NJ.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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