April 16, 2024
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Parashat Ki Tavo

As we begin to study this week’s haftarah, a selection taken from the 60th perek of sefer Yishayahu, we quickly realize that it is a chapter whose text is focused on one theme alone: the theme of nechama, comfort. Of course, we are not surprised at this “revelation,” except that the previous haftarot often included the reaction of a grieving nation’s inability to believe the promises of the Navi or it might have reminded Israel of the sinful behavior that caused their exile and, at times, they would focus on Hashem’s great powers and the miracles He wrought. But this nevuah that makes up the sixth of the seven haftarot of consolation, disregards these other topics — important as they are to the comforting process, and urges the nation to “awake and rise” and witness the light which will shine upon them.

Yishayahu begins his words with that very theme — that Zion will see God’s light shine upon her, a light that will illuminate the entire world. The Navi continues to describe how the nations will follow that glow to Yerushalayim and gather there, to serve Hashem and offer sacrifices to Him.

But the last theme — and one I believe is the ultimate promise — is subtly included right before the Navi’s final words. There, Yishayahu closes his prophecy with fitting words that bring us back to his initial message. Echoing his first theme, the Navi closes his message by telling Israel that in the Messianic era: “Ki Hashem yihiyeh lach l’or olam — God will be your eternal light.” But how would that occur? As a reward for what accomplishment will the nation merit having His Divine glow lead and direct them? The almost hidden — perhaps, even ignored — answer is found two pesukim earlier. There, the prophet tells them, “vesamti pekudatech shalom venogsayich tzedaka — Hashem will make your officers ‘peace’ and your rulers ‘righteousness.’”

The ultimate vision of the promised future is not returning from exile, nor the reviving of our homeland, nor military victories nor economic success. The ultimate dream, the final goal or the “perfect” world is one that is based upon peace and righteousness. The promise of peace is — of course — an integral part of yemot haMashiach. It is Yeshayahu who defines this most clearly when describing the Mashiach as a descendant from the Davidic line, who would be known as “Sar Shalom,” the Prince of Peace (see Chapter Nine: 5-6 or the final verses on the haftarah for Parshat Yitro). But too often forgotten is the second promise included in this haftarah: “venogsayich tzedaka — righteous rulers.

And when Yishayahu speaks of righteousness, he does not refer to religiosity that we often define as practicing rituals, studying Torah or davening daily. No… The promise of righteous rulers of “nogsayich tzedaka,” does not refer to their relationship with the Almighty, but with their treatment of others. It refers to honesty, trustworthiness and justice. Our promise of a perfect world demands tzedaka — and it is something we must demand today as well.

You see, this is exactly how the Navi began his sefer. For when he condemned Israel for her sins, he asks what happened to Yerushalayim that “once was filled with justice, and where righteousness once dwelled.” Additionally, when the Navi closes his message he tells Israel, “

Ziyon bemishpat tipadeh,veshaveha betzedaka —Zion will be redeemed through justice and her penitents through righteousness.” We are mistaken to believe that we must wait for Hashem to perfect our world. Our ideal world can only be built through justice and righteousness. And it is Hashem, Who is waiting for us to create that world.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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