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THE TWO COVENANTS

by S. David Ram    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The Haftorahs of the seven weeks between Tishah B'Av and Rosh Hashanah are collectively called the "seven of consolation." Each is taken from the second half of the book of Isaiah, and they describe prophetic scenes of both destruction and reassurance for the Jewish people.

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The Haftorahs of the seven weeks between Tishah B'Av and Rosh Hashanah are collectively called the "seven of consolation." Each is taken from the second half of the book of Isaiah, and they describe prophetic scenes of both destruction and reassurance for the Jewish people. Peculiar about these Haftorahs is that their subject matter seems to bear no connection with the weekly Torah portions that they follow. The reason that the rabbis established the reading of the Prophets every Shabbat was to counteract a decree forbidding the Jews from Torah study, including the weekly Torah reading. As such, these selections from the Prophets are supposed to highlight main points from the weekly Torah portion.

However, when it comes to these seven weeks, it seems that the rabbis were only concerned with the Jewish people remembering this period as a time for self-reflection and hope for the final redemption. If so, why do these seven Haftorahs appear in this particular order? They are not read in the order in which they appear in Isaiah, nor are they chronological. So it seems that there must indeed be some connection to their respective Torah portions.

This week's portion contains more mitzvot than any other portion in the Torah. Commenting on a verse in Proverbs (2:17) - "Who forsakes the friend of her youth and forgets the covenant of her G-d" - the Metzudas Dovid, a classic commentary on the Prophets and Writings, writes that the idea of forgetting "the covenant of her G-d" means not performing the mitzvot that are commanded to us by G-d through His Torah. Parshat Ki Teitzei first discusses our covenant with Hashem and our responsibilities to uphold it through the performance of the mitzvot. Then the Haftorah, from the 54th chapter of Isaiah, tells us that our relationship with G-d is a two-way street. We have responsibilities to Him, and He, in turn, has responsibilities to us. Both of these responsibilities stem from the covenant between Hashem and His people.

The Haftorah equates two covenants - the covenant that G-d made in the days of Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood, and the covenant G-d made with the Jewish people that the next redemption will be the ultimate and final one (Isaiah 54:9). What is the connection between these two covenants? To answer this question, we must first discover what were the causes of the two destructions: the destruction of the world in the days of Noah, and the destruction of the second Temple.

In Parshat Noach, the verse says, "The world was corrupt before G-d, and the land was filled with chamas" (Genesis 6:11). The Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 57a) points out that whenever the word corruption (hashchatah) is mentioned, it refers to immorality and idolatry. Chronologically, since the verse first mentions immorality and idolatry, and then mentions chamas, it seems that the true cause of the destruction of the world was chamas. This is where G-d drew the line. What is "chamas," the transgression for which G-d destroyed the world?

Rashi, and nearly all the commentators, simply translate "chamas" as "gezel - robbery." However, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a major figure of European Jewish education in the 19th century, wondered that if the Torah simply meant "gezel - robbery," then it should have said so. Rather, the Torah must have used the word "chamas" for a specific reason. He therefore interprets "chamas" as a wrongdoing that is too petty to be adjudicated by human justice, but if committed continuously can gradually ruin the victim. Society knows how to protect itself from "gezel - open robbery" through prisons and penalties. But the cunning and dishonesty of "chamas," done within the letter of the law, cannot be prevented by human justice and remains within the jurisdiction of G-d. Such transgressions weaken the human conscience and instinct to be concerned about others, corrupting the social fabric and leading to the destruction of society. Regarding the second Temple, there was a different corruption of morality that was labeled the cause of its destruction: sinat chinam, baseless hatred of one's fellow Man.

The end of this week's portion discusses the penalty for embarrassing another person, and the requirement to maintain honest weights and measures. Not only is one forbidden to use dishonest weights and measures, but one is not even permitted to own them. Rabbi Hirsch notes that these laws are devoted primarily to the nurturing of the feelings and ways of behaving which should form the principles of the Jewish national character. Thus, if we were to go against the very character of Mankind, we would obviously be risking the destruction of Man, just as in the days of Noah when the people were being dishonest with their neighbors. Even if they were only stealing a single grape, it was disrupting the very foundation of morality which G-d used to create Man. Because the people uprooted the pinnacle of Man's character, G-d had to destroy His creation and start anew with the one man who still maintained the character which G-d intended.

The same applies to the times of the second Temple. The destruction eventually occurred because of people not respecting their fellow. They were involved in unnecessary hatred and embarrassment, which the Torah explicitly forbids. This, as Rabbi Hirsch points out, infringes on the integrity and identity of the Jewish nation. As a result, G-d was forced to take away the holy Temple, which expressed the Jewish nation's identity to the world.

So not only does the Haftorah have many similarities to the Torah portion it follows, but these are also essential ingredients to the identity of the Jewish people and the entire human race. We should take these ideas to heart and work on ourselves during this vital period before the Days of Awe; not only in our relationship with Hashem, but also in our interactions with other people.

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S. David Ram, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta and Yeshiva University, is studying in the Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem.

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