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August 9, 2013

This commentary is a reprint of an original written and published in 2012 by Rabbi Wayne Allen.

Parashat Shof'tim

Isaiah 51:12 - 52:12

Sometimes the haftarah is linked to the Torah portion by theme. For example, Parshat Hayye Sarah narrates the concern for succession when Abraham is in his dotage and the haftarah narrates David's identical concern. Sometimes the haftarah connects with the Torah portion by virtue of an expression. For instance, the haftarah for Parshat Noah consists of a part of Isaiah's vision of a restored Zion that includes an oblique reference to the "waters of Noah" (Isaiah 54:9). This week's haftarah, the fourth of the seven haftarot of consolation, is linked to the Torah portion by means of a grammatical construct.

Biblical Hebrew knows several ways of emphasis. Repetition of words is one of them. That Abraham's descendants will be exceedingly numerous (Genesis 17:2) is emphasized by the repetition of the word "me'od" (very). Similarly, the enormous size of the army described by the prophet Ezekiel (37:10) is signified both with the word "great" (gadol) as well as with the repetition of the word "very." The same pattern enters Modern Hebrew with the idiom for "slowly" being the repetition of the word "l'at."

To emphasize the importance of justice as a principle that ought to infuse Israelite society, the word "justice" (tzedek) is repeated as the goal that ought to be vigorously pursued (Deuteronomy 16:20). While many interpreters have suggested other meanings for the repetition (pursue justice justly or pursue only justice being but two examples) the doubling for emphasis cannot be ignored or dismissed. In his Torah commentary, Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz (p. 820) takes the call to justice to be "the keynote of the human legislation of the Torah." This brings us to the haftarah.

It is no accident that the opening words of the haftarah are repeated: anokhi anokhi, "I, even I." The doubling serves two purposes. First, in the prophetic text it emphasizes that God and only God is the source and guarantor of our comfort. It is God alone who has the power and the interest to intervene in human history on behalf of His people. Second, it immediately calls to mind the central theme of the Torah portion as intimated by the doubling of the word "tzedek." It is this second purpose that serves to connect the Torah portion with the haftarah. By hearing the words "anokhi anokhi" the listener is immediately signaled to recall "tzedek tzedek." So as much as the haftarah brings a message of consolation, it simultaneously reinforces the vital call to justice.

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Wayne Allen, Ph.D. Rabbi Allen has served as a congregational rabbi for 35 years, taking on postings in New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto. He is currently serving as the Provost of the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School. He is the author of Perspectives on Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Israel, e-mail: Books@schechter.ac.il.
Visit Rabbi Allen's website for more commentaries and information: rabbiwayneallen.ca
Rabbi Allen is an editorial board member, The Unraveller.


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