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Nitzavim Haftarah Companion

Nitzavim Haftarah Companion

For an informed reading of Isaiah 61:10–63:9

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Overview

The haftarah of Nitzavim is the last of the “seven haftarot of consolation,” as well as the haftarah read on the last Shabbat of the year. As noted in a previous article, while all seven of these haftarot are taken from the book of Isaiah, they are not read in the order they appear in Scripture; Siddur Rashi and Tosafot maintain that the pattern in which we read these segments is that of an escalation in the level of consolation contained within each one. It follows, therefore, that this seventh and final haftarah constitutes the peak of hope and redemption. Indeed, the narrative is filled with intense, passionate and fiery devotion.

The joy of young newlyweds is used by the prophet to describe the kind of joy we will experience at the final redemption. The Jewish people will be bound to their land and to G‑d with the inseparable bond of a young bride and groom. Although the days of Moshiach will essentially be our reinstatement and return to how things were the exile, the level on which this will all take place will entirely eclipse even the greatest days of Jewish glory. It is therefore compared to the joy of a young and never-married bride and groom, whose joy is pure and unbounded.

In this vein, the verses describe the fact that Jerusalem will be “renamed” in time to come. Until now, Jerusalem would be known as a forsaken and desolate place; but at this time, any such association will be entirely erased. It will be referred as the very opposite, “Sought after” and “[G‑d’s] desire is in her.”

With great fervor, the prophet describes the oaths taken by G‑d and the Jewish people never to forget the plight of Jerusalem. G‑d designates constant “reminders,” never allowing Jerusalem to fall off the G‑dly agenda. Designated angels on high, and the Jewish people below, constantly—multiple times each day—remind G‑d and beseech Him for the restoration of His holy city and all that it represents. The stones of Jerusalem itself pose a silent but immovable protest. “Do not give Him silence!” the prophet urges. Until the bitter exile will come to an end, we, and they, will never be silenced.

Throughout the Bible, “Edom” is identified as the nation who brings about the agony of the Jewish exile. In the next part of this haftarah, G‑d is described as a warrior who singlehandedly meets out a deservedly devastating blow to this colossus of evildoing. The prophet pictures an onlooker marveling at this mighty individual who returns from the capital city with bloodstained clothes, and who receives a reply from the “warrior” that He has finally done justice after such a long period of excruciating restraint. Mighty Edom has had its pride and lifeblood entirely drained. The “warrior” emphasizes how he has done this “alone”—referring to the fact that regardless of the apparent merit or fault of the Jews at the time, G‑d will do His part, with or without the “help” of meritorious deeds.

The haftarah ends with an awakening to the present. G‑d had chosen the Jewish people, knowing that ultimately they would not falter. He had elevated them and bestowed goodness on them like no other people in history. He is there with them in all their pain and suffering, carrying them through it, until they reach the destiny of their final redemption.

Joy and Exultation

An important aspect of note is that our haftarah is read just as we usher in the new year and the High Holiday season. Even though the reading seems to carry a different theme, there are still a number of verses in it that are deeply connected with the preparation for and experience of the High Holidays.

An example of this can be found in the opening words of the haftarah: “I will rejoice intensely (Sos asis) with the L‑rd; my soul will exult (tagel) with my G‑d.” The two Hebrew roots used here are sasson and gilah. The difference between the two is that sasson denotes a joy that is outwardly and visibly displayed, whereas gilah is an introverted and deeper feeling of exultation, with little or nothing visibly apparent.

Spiritually, there is something incredibly great contained in the mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah:

The G‑dly vitality that creates and sustains all of creation is something that obviously emanates from G‑d Himself. We are told that although the decision for creation in the general sense was made long ago, the entire project is “rethought” every Rosh Hashanah—the anniversary of man’s creation, man being the agent through whom is fulfilled the objective for which creation came into being in the first place. G‑d has to, so to speak, “rediscover” what drove Him to create.

(As it is in the human condition, “coming forth” to a place or situation necessitates a drive, a level of pleasure that will push the person to action. A person will be able do things seemingly very far from his personality, as long as some pleasure lies within within this particular deed. A genius whose life is devoted to the most abstract of sciences can enjoy sitting on the floor and playing with a small child. The small, innocent and loving child is a source of pleasure to this great man, even though his entire persona is so distant from the world of child’s play.)

The sounds of the shofar are the sounds of a cry. The shofar itself is shaped such that the sound begins from a narrow hole and bursts outwards in an alarming sound. The concept behind this is that indeed at this time, when the vital essence of the physical world as a whole is brought to the fore, the Jew realizes and meditates on how lowly and distant from G‑dliness is this physical world, and its microcosm, man himself. Just being a physical being and a part of a material world shakes the Jew to the core, as he cries out in want for G‑dliness. If his enjoyment and attachment is more to some tasty food than to Torah study and prayer, then this means he is is not remotely close to anything G‑dly…

This deep feeling of lack and want actually touches, reveals and brings forth the essence of G‑d Himself. “The arousal from below brings a similar arousal from on high.” The desperate cry of the Jew arouses the desire of G‑d to be there with and for the physical Jew in the material world. This, in turn, is what elicits the renewed drive and vitality for the sustained creation of the physical world itself.

The emotional outcome from all this is a dual one. On the one hand, as we emphasize and elaborate upon in the prayers of Rosh Hashanah, this is the day when G‑d becomes ”king” of the world: G‑d’s presence re-enters the entirety of the world for the coming year. There is barely any other response to this than to stand in awe. Deeper down, the heart of the Jew is filled with deep exultation and elation about the cause for all this, G‑d’s essential bond that is in him and with him, its revelation elicited by the mitzvah of shofar.

The open joy emerges in the outburst of rejoicing of the festival of Sukkot, climaxing in Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. It is there that this essential desire and pleasure of G‑d in the Jew emerge in the fullness of its glory. Sukkot is the time when the Jew enters a sukkah: G‑d “embraces” the Jew entirely and takes him into His presence. The joy now is open and unbounded.

So it is these two forms of elation, described in the verse at the beginning of the haftarah, that actually encapsulate the entire experience of the High Holidays.

It is important to note that in the order the verse has it, sasson, the open joy, precedes gilah, the hidden joy. The reason for this is that there will always be a level of of open joy at all times The Code of Jewish Law elaborates upon the fact that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are festivals, in honor of which which festive clothing should be worn, and—in the case of Rosh Hashanah—festive meals should be prepared. The joy we have in being Jewish and being able to fulfill the Divine intention will always be open and apparent, especially at such a special time as Rosh Hashanah.1

Footnotes
1.
Likkutei Torah, Nitzavim 48a–b; Sichos Kodesh 5735, p. 487.
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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