Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Shoftim

This week's Torah portion is famous for the phrase צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף - Justice, justice shalt thou pursue. This phrase, with the repetition of the word Justice, emphasizes that the end does not justify the means -- even in the pursuit of justice, just methods must be observed (c.f. current events in Ferguson MO and elsewhere....)

The Haftorah, from Isaiah 51 and 52, echoes this style, with FOUR separate repetitions:

51:12:אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי הוּא, מְנַחֶמְכֶם  
I, I am He who comforts you!

הִתְעוֹרְרִי הִתְעוֹרְרִי, קוּמִי יְרוּשָׁלִַם, אֲשֶׁר שָׁתִית מִיַּד יְהוָה, אֶת-כּוֹס חֲמָתוֹ 
Rouse, rouse yourself!
Arise, O Jerusalem,
You who from the Lord's hand
Have drunk the cup of His wrath

עוּרִי עוּרִי לִבְשִׁי עֻזֵּךְ, צִיּוֹן
Awake, awake, O Zion!
Clothe yourself in splendor

And finally, 52:11:
סוּרוּ סוּרוּ צְאוּ מִשָּׁם, טָמֵא אַל-תִּגָּעוּ
Turn, turn away, touch naught unclean
As you depart from there;

Once again, the repetition is significant.

Does the repetition mean the same thing both times?  In Genesis, G*d repeats Abraham's name when he stays his hand from completing the Akedah, in case the first time was not heard.  How often do we need to hear a message more than once before we get it?  And yet, the repetition is not the same.  It is more urgent: a greater need for the speaker, and more "urging" -- insisting, pushing, nagging -- for the listener.

How can we recognize G*d when He repeatedly calls to us?

How can we repeatedly awaken and rouse ourselves in the face of adversity and "clothe ourselves in splendor" instead?

How can we repeatedly turn away from the things which wreak havoc in our lives?


  1. The repetition of a Biblical word or phrase is usually seen as emphasis, and that's a legitimate interpretation (albeit a somewhat simple-minded one). It certainly works here -- to cite your first example, "Justice, JUSTICE, shalt thou pursue", putting the emphasis on justice as the goal to be sought, not on the pursuit.

    However, you've added an interesting twist on this, by giving the repetition a different meaning than the original -- "Justice shalt thou pursue, JUSTLY". This is a poetic interpretation -- Hebrew has much clearer ways of expressing the idea that justice must be pursued in a just manner, e.g. "tzedek BEH-tzedek tirdof" -- but I like this interpretation a lot!

    In music and in theater, it's common to hear that one should not say the exact same thing twice in sequence. If a phrase is repeated, it should mean something new the second time. (Alternatively, we conclude that the author's intent was to bore the reader.) For example, Gertrude Stein's famous "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose" -- say it straight, then say it again with a different emphasis or intensity for each repetition. The second way will be much more meaningful (and interesting) to hear.

  2. Can we interpret the other phrases from Haftorah Shoftim like that? yes, we can, although it's a challenge! To me, for example, "Anochi Anochi hu, menachemchem" -- which also interestingly repeats a sound in the final word -- could be "I, and ONLY I, am He who comforts you".

    The passages from 51:17 and 52:11 are interesting in that a word is repeated, and then a different word or phrase, meaning something similar, is used -- "Rouse yourself, rouse yourself! Arise, Jerusalem!", and "Turn away! Turn away! Get out of there!" I could interpret the first in terms of the linguistic ambiguity -- "hitoreri" is an imperative to a second-person feminine singular, and yet it is addressed to Jerusalem -- so the first "hitoreri" could be seen as addressed to the individual, while the next speaks of a wider obligation (not just to awaken, but to awaken one's neighbors as well, and finally to rouse all of Jerusalem). 52:11 is more difficult for me, but I'm strongly tempted to note the similarity between "turn away" (suru) and 52:4's reference to the Assyrian oppressors (Ashur). Indeed, the preceding text does not provide a reference for "turn away, get out of there" -- where? What, or whom, should be turned away from? So perhaps that connection is relevant.

    And it's interesting that "Uri uri" (with a strong connection to "hitoreri hitoreri" -- basically different forms of the same Hebrew word) is echoed earlier, in Isaiah 51:9. Mechon Mamre, by the way, uses a different translation -- "clothe yourself in strength" -- which makes sense in the 51:9 context: "awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD". In that context, it might make sense to see the first "uri" as "wake up", but the next as "prepare", to go with "put on thy strength, O Zion" -- particularly since the verse continues with "for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean".

  3. Sorry, but suru סוּרוּ is not related to Ashur אשור. From the context, it is referring to departing from exile when the time of ingathering has arrived. The point of the emphasis might be that the exile still holds its charms for the exiles, who, like their predecessors during the exodus from Egypt, must be repeatedly exhorted to abandon the illusory benefits of סיר הבשר in favor of the Promised Land.


Jewish Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf