There Ain’t Nothing Without Love (Isaiah 61:10-63:9)

We have come to the last of the shiva d’nechamta, the seven haftarot of consolation which frame the period between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Yitzchak Abrabanel (Spain 15th century) characterized its message in these words : “After the prophet has prophesied about the future redemption… and God has singled him out and anointed him from among the other prophets to present God’s complete message to the returning exiles, the prophet remembered Jerusalem’s and its people’s yearning for God.”  This longing is captured in the haftarah’s opening verse: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord (ה’), My soul shall be joyful in my God (א-להים) (Isaiah 61:10)

In the later part of this verse, the prophet described the return from exile as a union between a bride, the Jewish people, and God, the groom. This powerful imagery expressed the idea that physical redemption without a spiritual reunion with God would be incomplete. This idea is expressed dramatically in the following rabbinic parable: “There was a noble woman whose husband, son, and son in law went on a journey abroad. When she was told that her son had returned, she said: ‘My daughter-in-law will be very happy.’ When they told her: ‘Your son-in-law has returned,’ she responded: ‘My daughter will certainly rejoice.’ When they told her: ‘Here comes your husband,’ she said to them: ‘Finally, there is reason for complete rejoicing.’ So, too, when the prophets said to Jerusalem: ‘Your sons come from afar’ (Isaiah 60:4) Jerusalem replied: ‘Let Mount Zion be glad’ (Psalms 48:12) When they said: ‘Your daughters are carried to you on uplifted arms.’ (Isaiah 60:4), she responded: ‘Let the daughters of Judah rejoice’ (Psalm 48:12) But when they said to her: ‘Behold your king [God] comes to you,’ (Zechariah 9:9), then she will say to him: ‘Now there is reason for complete rejoicing.’ – ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord.’ (Isaiah 61:10)” (Adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 22:3 Mandelbaum ed. p. 328)

This midrash focuses on the idea that national redemption necessitates reconciliation with God. Without it, homecoming is empty and joyless. Rabbi Joseph Kimche (12th century Provence) tries to bring this idea home on the individual level. He notes that the opening verse uses two different names for God. In keeping with traditional rabbinic interpretation, he asserts that the first part of the verse uses God’s special four-lettered name to represent God’s mercy while the second part of the verse uses the name of God (E-lohim) which the sages designated as representing Divine justice. Each of these attributes, according to Kimche, attracts different aspects of a person’ identity; Divine mercy, the body, which is more in need of mercy, while Divine justice attracts the soul which ideally appreciates a sense of justice. When an individual is in sync with these divine qualities, their redemption is achieved, bringing them great joy.

As we edge toward the Days of Teshuva (repentance), may be work toward reconnecting with God as individuals, as communities and as a nation so that we might “greatly rejoice in the Lord”.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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