The seven haftarot of consolation (shiva d’nehamta), were born of a yearning for redemption. Those who returned to Jerusalem after seventy years of exile in Babylonia, encountered a city, downtrodden and desolate. They longed to see and feel the light of renewal and growth. They wanted the darkness to dissipate and the warmth of God’s light to shine upon them. In this week’s haftarah, the sixth in the series, God’s redemptive power is expressed through the image of divine light: “Rise (kumi), shine (ori), for your (Jerusalem’s) light has come (ki va oraikh); and the glory of God has dawned upon you!” (Isaiah 60:1) Jerusalem (The Jewish nation) is given reason to rejoice for the light of God’s redemption has come to restore them.
This opening verse is not as simple as it appears. The medieval commentators disagree over its exact meaning. Targum Yonathan, the 7th century Aramaic translation of the prophetic books, translates this phrase: “Arise, shine, Jerusalem, for the time of your redemption has come.” This interpretation, which is likely the plain meaning of the verse, understands “light” to be a symbol of joy over God’s restoration of His people. This is a fitting affirmation for the returning exiles. (See S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 473)
Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, the 11th century Spanish commentator and grammarian, reads the phrase ‘ki va oraikh’ to mean “for your light came”, referring to the setting of the sun rather than the coming of dawn. The prophetic message, then, becomes a harbinger of the ultimate redemption, when the natural order will be replaced by God’s divine light: “Your light, namely, the natural light found in this world is about to set, but, in exchange, God’s great light of redemption and joy will come and replace it.” (See Ibn Ezra and Rabbi David Kimchi)
Not atypically, the following fourth century midrash intentionally reads this verse “differently” in order to produce a “meaningful” anomaly. It interprets the word “ori”, not as a command but rather as a noun, meaning “My light”, namely, ‘God’s light’: “Arise for My (God’s) light, for your own (Jerusalem’s) light has dawned.” Out of this somewhat awkward phrasing an important message is born: “And the Rabbis said: ‘Said the Holy One Blessed be He to Israel: My children, since My light is your light and your light is My light, let us, the both of us together, go and give light to Zion. Arise, shine, for your light has come.” (adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 21:1, Mandelbaum ed. p. 319)
This midrash sees the redemptive process as a partnership between God and human beings. Making God’s world is not a “free” gift. It is a shared responsibility. To make it happen, we must combine God’s light with our light in sacred partnership. Only then will the light of redemption shine forth.