Thursday, February 20, 2020

Parshat Ki Teitzei

The confluence of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh that occurred two weeks ago, at which time we replaced the usual haftarah of Re’eh with that of Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, grants us the privilege of making up that “loss” this week by reading both the selection for Parshat Ki Teitzei as well as that which is usually read on Parshat Re’eh. The reason for this curious practice (as no minhag ever requires reading two separate haftarot on the same Shabbat) is simply because both readings complete the 54th perek of Sefer Yeshayahu, with the haftarah of Re’eh following that of Ki Teitzei and closing in the beginning of the 55th perek.

Interestingly, this reading also connects to the haftarah we read last week on Parshat Shoftim, the 52nd perek of Sefer Yeshayahu. There we read of the joyous song that will be sung on the occasion of Israel’s geula, and after the “interruption” of the 53rd perek, we read here, in the 54th chapter, that the navi calls to the Jews: “Roni,” to cry out in joy, describing the dramatic reversal from the desperate state of the past to the miraculous rebirth of the future.

As we focus in to the message of the first part of the perek—that section that is read each year on Parshat Ki Teitzei—we immediately notice how the navi Yeshayahu presents the contrast between what was and what would be: the desolate cities of the land will be repopulated; you’ve been forsaken but only a brief moment as you will be gathered in with overwhelming mercy; Hashem has abandoned you during His short-lived anger but will return to you with infinite mercy. Especially telling is the very first contrast mentioned by Yeshayahu in this reading, where the navi compares Israel to a rejected wife, but one who would be returned and loved. The mention of a rejected wife as opposed to a beloved one takes us back to the opening of our parsha, which deals with a similar issue.

In essence, however, the words of Yeshayahu also leave us with a very important message. All too often we tend to focus on that which we do not have. Always dreaming of perfection, of a glass that is always full, we are disappointed when our concept of “perfection” is not reached. By contrasting what was with what will be, the prophet subtly leaves us a message to appreciate how far we have come and how much Hashem has done for us.

I recall a particularly frustrating event that occurred during a half-year sabbatical in Israel that my wife and I enjoyed some 10 years ago. After giving a class in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem I made my way home at 4:30 p.m. with the expectation that I would soon be sitting comfortably at my dinner table. That was never to be. The unreasonably heavy traffic made my half-hour commute into a four-hour nightmare. But after seething in anger and frustration for three hours, I asked myself: “What would a 1948 resident of this city say if he lived to see this? Look at all of these cars and all of these people! What a remarkable miracle. What was, just some years ago, and what is now?”

So what should we say—we who can contrast what was with our nation to what is today?! As we live through the fruition of the prophecies from the past we must certainly recognize Hashem’s kindnesses and realize that each day he fulfills the promises that our fathers could only pray for.

How fortunate are we!

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

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