The final Shabbat of the year: Hastening the Redemption

A profound Midrashic insight based on Isaiah's words in this week's Haftara, the last of the 'Seven of Consolation' on the Return to Zion.

Daniel Pinner ,

Returning to Zion's stones
Returning to Zion's stones
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This Shabbat, with its double parashah Nitzavim-Vayeilech, closes the year 5780: next Shabbat, which will coincide with Rosh Hashanah, will already be the first Shabbat of the new year 5781.

The Haftarah (the Reading from the Prophets which is addended after the Torah-reading) for this final Shabbat of the year constitutes Isaiah 61:10-63:9.

The Haftarah usually complements or echoes the theme of the Torah-reading; but the final ten Shabbatot of the year follow a different paradigm.

The Haftarot for the three Shabbatot of the Three Weeks are called the תְּלָת דְּפֻרְעָנוּתָא (Aramaic: “the Three of Castigation”): they are prophecies of G-d’s wrath and punishment for our sins, leading to destruction and exile.

And the next seven Shabbatot, this year from the 11th of Av (1st August) until this final Shabbat of the year on the 23rd of Ellul (12th September), are called the שֶׁבָע דְּנֶחָמָתָא (Aramaic: “the Seven of Consolation”), all taken from Isaiah, foretelling the wonderful future that awaits us at the time of the Return to Zion.

Our Haftarah begins with the beautiful message, שׂוֹשׂ אָשִׂישׂ, I will greatly rejoice in Hashem, my soul will exult in my G-d, because He will have attired me in the clothes of Redemption, He will have enwrapped me in a Robe of Righteousness, like a bridegroom donning Priestly splendour, and like a bride adorned with jewellery” (Isaiah 61:10).

The Targum Yonatan renders this verse into Aramaic, “Jerusalem has said: I will greatly rejoice in Hashem’s word, my soul will exult in my G-d’s salvation, when He will have enwrapped me in a Robe of Righteousness…”.

The Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi, France, c.1160-c.1235) cites the Targum’s interpretation (that these are the words of Jerusalem herself rejoicing at the time of the final redemption), and adds, “alternatively they are Israel’s words when they return from exile; and my father and teacher wrote that the words ‘in Hashem’ denote ‘in His attribute of mercy’”.

The Ibn Ezra and Metzudat David both agree with the Radak, that these are the words of Israel at the time of the Redemption.

The Midrash gives us an insight based on the Prophet’s precise words here: Isaiah begins with the words שׂוֹשׂ אָשִׂישׂ, which we have translated here “I will greatly rejoice”. The doubling of the verb (שׂוֹשׂ אָשִׂישׂ, literally “rejoicing I will rejoice”) is standard Hebrew idiom to intensify any verb. An instantly familiar example is from the Shema: אִם שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְוֹתַי, literally “if hearkening you will hearken to My Commandments…” (Deuteronomy 11:13), idiomatically meaning “if you will diligently hearken to My Commandments…” or “if you will perpetually hearken to My Commandments…”.

Hence שׂוֹשׂ אָשִׂישׂ, “I will greatly rejoice” or “I will assuredly rejoice”.

The Midrash cites Rabbi Azariah, who in turn was citing Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon:

“Isaiah said: I was enjoying a pleasantly uneventful life in my House of Study, when I heard G-d’s voice saying…, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said: Here I am; send me!’ (Isaiah 6:8).

"G-d said to him: Isaiah, My children are trouble-makers, they are obstinate; if you accept upon yourself being humiliated and beaten by My children, then go on your mission… [Isaiah] replied to Him: For this I will go, ‘I give my back to those who whip me, and my cheeks to those who tear off my hair’ (Isaiah 50:6) – so am I not worthy to go on a mission to Your children?! G-d said to him:… ‘Therefore G-d, your G-d, has anointed you with oil of rejoicing more than all your fellow[-prophets]’ (Psalms 45:8).

"What does ‘more than all your fellow[-prophets]’ mean? – [G-d] said to him:… By your life! All the [other] prophets prophesied prophecies of one single word, you [will prophesy] with double expressions of comfort, such as ‘Awake, awake!’ (Isaiah 51:9, 52:1), ‘Arouse yourself, arouse yourself!’ (51:17), ‘Rejoicing I will rejoice’, ‘It is I, it is I Who comforts you’ (51:12), ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye My nation (40:1)” (Vayikra Rabbah 10:2).

Let us note that all these examples which the Midrash cites appear in the Seven Haftarot of Consolation:

“Awake, awake!” (Isaiah 52:1), “Arouse yourself, arouse yourself!”, and “It is I, it is I Who comforts you” are in the Haftarah for Parashat Shoftim; “Rejoicing I will rejoice” is in this week’s Haftarah; and “Comfort ye, comfort ye My nation” is in the Haftarah for Parashat Va-et’chanan, the first of the seven Haftarot of Comfort.

And scattered through the Isaiah’s prophecies are several other double expressions of comfort, for example: –

“Pass through, pass through the gates, clear the path of the nation; pave, pave the highway, clear it of stones” (62:10, in our Haftarah).

“It is I, it is I Who is Hashem, other than Me there is no Saviour” (43:11).

“It is I, it is I Who erases your sins for My own sake” (43:25).

Now all these prophecies share a grammatical peculiarity – a very abstruse point of Hebrew grammar, particularly difficult to identify because it is not something which appears in the text, rather something that does not appear: specifically the pasek, which grammatically should have appeared but which is missing.

The pasek is a vertical line, inserted between two words, separating them; grammatically, it indicates a break or pause, somewhere between a comma and a semicolon in English (see Rashi on Genesis 18:21, s.v. הבאה אלי עשו, and Rashbam ibid., s.v. עשו כלה).

When a word is repeated in the Tanach, Hebrew grammar demands that there be a pause separating the doubled word or name. This pause can be indicated by the cantillation marks (the “trop” in Yiddish, often called simply “notes”): these are classified as either טְעָמִים מַפְסִיקִים (separative cantillation marks) or טְעָמִים מְחַבְּרִים (conjunctive cantillation marks), and the required pause between two identical words can be indicated by separative cantillation marks.

For example: –

  • וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֥ים עֲיָרִ֖ים לָהֶ֑ם לָהֶ֞ם יִקְרְא֣וּ חַוֺּ֣ת יָאִ֗יר, “and they had thirty towns, they called them Yair’s Farms” (Judges 10:4): the אֶתְנַחְתָּ֑א under the first “לָהֶם” is a separative cantillation mark.
  • וַיַּֽעֲבִרֵ֥נִי בַמַּ֖יִם מַ֣יִם בִּרְכָּ֑יִם, “He led me through the water, water knee-deep” (Ezekiel 47:4): the טִפְּחָ֖ה under the first “מַיִם” is a separative cantillation mark.
  • אֲנִ֨י אֲנִ֤י אֶטְרֹף֙ וְאֵלֵ֔ךְ, “I, I will devour and will go” (Hosea 5:14): the פַּשְׁטָא֙ above the first “אֲנִי” is a separative cantillation mark.

But when the cantillation marks for the repeated word or name are conjunctive, then the required pause is indicated by a pasek.

For example: –

  • וַיְהִ֕י כְּדַבְּרָ֥הּ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֖ף י֣וֹם ׀ י֑וֹם, “And it happened, as she spoke to Joseph day-by-by” (Genesis 39:10): the מֻנַּ֣ח under the first “יוֹם” is a conjunctive cantillation mark.
  • וְאָֽמְרָ֥ה הָֽאִשָּׁ֖ה אָמֵ֥ן ׀ אָמֵֽן, “And the woman will say, Amen, amen!” (Numbers 5:22): the מֵרְכָ֥ה under the first “אָמֵן” is a conjunctive cantillation mark.
  • וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֶל־אָבִ֖יו רֹאשִׁ֣י ׀ רֹאשִׁ֑י, “And he said to his father: My head! My head!” (2 Kings 4:19): the מֻנַּ֣ח under the first “רֹאשִׁי” is a conjunctive cantillation mark.

An interesting example which combines both forms is Isaiah’s famous phrase:

קָד֧וֹשׁ ׀ קָד֛וֹשׁ קָד֖וֹשׁ יקו֣ק צְבָא֑וֹת, “Holy, Holy, Holy is Hashem, Lord of Legions” (Isaiah 6:3). The דַּרְ֧גָּא under the first קָד֧וֹשׁ is a conjunctive cantillation mark, therefore there is a pasek dividing the first קָדוֹשׁ from the second. However the תְּבִ֛יר under the second קָדוֹשׁ is a separative cantillation mark, therefore there is no pasek between the second קָדוֹשׁ and the third.

And this is the grammatical peculiarity: All of Isaiah’s double-expressions of comfort are written with conjunctive cantillation marks, yet none of them have a pasek as Hebrew grammar demands:

  • נַֽחֲמ֥וּ נַֽחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י יֹאמַ֖ר אֱלֹֽקֵיכֶֽם – “Comfort ye, comfort ye My nation” (40:1).

  • אָֽנֹכִ֥י אָֽנֹכִ֖י יקו֑ק וְאֵ֥ין מִבַּלְעָדַ֖י מוֹשִֽׁיעַ – “It is I, it is I Who is Hashem, other than Me there is no Saviour” (43:11).

  • אָֽנֹכִ֨י אָֽנֹכִ֥י ה֛וּא מֹחֶ֥ה פְשָׁעֶ֖יךָ לְמַֽעֲנִ֑י – “It is I, it is I Who erases your sins for My own sake” (43:25).

  • עוּרִ֨י עוּרִ֤י לִבְשִׁי־עֹז֙ זְר֣וֹעַ יקו֔ק – “Awake, awake! Wear garments of might, O Arm of Hashem!” (51:9).

  • אָֽנֹכִ֧י אָֽנֹכִ֛י ה֖וּא מְנַֽחֶמְכֶ֑ם – “It is I, it is I Who comforts you” (51:12).

  • הִתְעֽוֹרְרִ֣י הִֽתְעוֹרְרִ֗י ק֚וּמִי יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׁתִ֛ית מִיַּ֥ד יְקוָ֖ק אֶת־כּ֣וֹס חֲמָת֑וֹ – “Arouse yourself, arouse yourself! Rise up, O Jerusalem, who has drunk from Hashem’s Hand the cup of His fury” (51:17).

  • עוּרִ֥י עוּרִ֛י לִבְשִׁ֥י עֻזֵּ֖ךְ צִיּ֑וֹן – “Awake, awake! Wear your garments of might, O Zion!”(52:1).

  • שׂ֧וֹשׂ אָשִׂ֣ישׂ בַּֽיקו֗ק תָּגֵ֤ל נַפְשִׁי֙ בֵּֽאלֹקַי – “I will greatly rejoice [literally “rejoicing I will rejoice”] in Hashem, my soul will exult in my G-d” (61:10).

  • עִבְר֤וּ עִבְרוּ֙ בַּשְּׁעָרִ֔ים פַּנּ֖וּ דֶּ֣רֶךְ הָעָ֑ם סֹ֣לּוּ סֹ֤לּוּ הַֽמְסִלָּה֙ סַקְּל֣וּ מֵאֶ֔בֶן – “Pass through, pass through the gates, clear the path of the nation; pave, pave the highway, clear it of stones” (62:10, in our Haftarah).

Why these formations?

Why נַֽחֲמ֥וּ נַֽחֲמ֖וּ, instead of the grammatically-correct נַֽחֲמ֥וּ ׀ נַֽחֲמ֖וּ? And why אָֽנֹכִ֥י אָֽנֹכִ֖י, instead of the grammatically-correct אָֽנֹכִ֥י ׀ אָֽנֹכִ֖י? And so on, with all Isaiah’s double-expressions of comfort?

I suggest: –

The first instance of this grammatical peculiarity occurs when G-d first called to Moshe at the Burning Bush:

  • וַיִּקְרָא֩ אֵלָ֨יו אֱלֹקִ֜ים מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַסְּנֶ֗ה וַיֹּ֛אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֥ה מֹשֶׁ֖ה, “And G-d called to him from the midst of the bush, saying: Moshe, Moshe!” (Exodus 3:4).

The Midrash notes that there is no pasek: מֹשֶׁ֥ה מֹשֶׁ֖ה, instead of the expected מֹשֶׁ֥ה ׀ מֹשֶׁ֖ה, and explains:

“You find [that the angel called] אַבְרָהָ֣ם ׀ אַבְרָהָ֑ם, ‘Abraham, Abraham’ (Genesis 22:11), with a pasek; and [G-d called] יַֽעֲקֹ֣ב ׀ יַֽעֲקֹ֑ב, ‘Jacob, Jacob’ (Genesis 46:2) with a pasek; and [He called] שְׁמוּאֵ֣ל ׀ שְׁמוּאֵ֑ל, ‘Samuel, Samuel’ (1 Samuel 3:10) with a pasek; but [G-d’s call] מֹשֶׁ֥ה מֹשֶׁ֖ה, ‘Moshe Moshe’ is without a pasek. Why is this? – It is like a man upon whom was placed a terrible burden, and cried out: Anyone, anyone! Come close to me and unload this burden form me!” (Shemot Rabbah 2:6).

And then the Midrash elucidates this explanation:

“Rabbi Shimon bar Yochay taught: What is the inference of מֹשֶׁ֥ה מֹשֶׁ֖ה, ‘Moshe Moshe’? – This is an expression of love, an expression of haste” (ibid.).

When the Children of Israel were suffering intolerable burdens in Egypt, and when G-d had decreed that their time for redemption had come, He did not suffer a moment’s delay.

מֹשֶׁ֥ה מֹשֶׁ֖ה, “Moshe Moshe”, without even that minuscule pause which the pasek would have indicated had He called מֹשֶׁ֥ה ׀ מֹשֶׁ֖ה, “Moshe, Moshe”.

And similarly, when the Prophet Isaiah tells us of the magnificent, glorious, halcyon days yet to come, he uses the same formulation: from נַֽחֲמ֥וּ נַֽחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י – “Comfort ye, comfort ye My nation”, through אָֽנֹכִ֥י אָֽנֹכִ֖י יקו֑ק – “It is I, it is I Who is Hashem”, to עִבְר֤וּ עִבְרוּ֙ בַּשְּׁעָרִ֔ים...סֹ֣לּוּ סֹ֤לּוּ הַֽמְסִלָּה֙ – “Pass through, pass through the gates…pave, pave the highway”, and all his other double expressions of comfort, he invariably uses conjunctive cantillation marks without a pasek.

Indeed, “an expression of love, an expression of haste”. Because in the time of the final Redemption, when G-d decrees that His children have suffered intolerable burdens, when He decrees that the time for final Redemption has come, He does not suffer a moment’s delay.

Last week’s Haftarah – which leads directly into this week’s Haftarah – concluded with the words, “I am Hashem, in its time I will hasten it” (Isaiah 60:22). This phrase has different implications; but the Radak, the Malbim, and Metzudat David in their respective commentaries give the simple explanation: that when the time for Redemption comes, whenever that may be, G-d will hasten it.

When Israel is suffering, both we and G-d Himself are enjoined to do all we can to hasten the redemption.

It is with this vision of Redemption, and our obligation to hasten it, that we conclude the old year and begin the new one.

Daniel Pinner is a veteran immigrant from England, a teacher and an electrician by profession; a Torah scholar who has been active in causes promoting Eretz Israel and Torat Israel.



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