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The Haftarot of Consolation: Encouraging Words from the Prophet Isaiah

Dr. Tamar Kadari
| 01/08/2021
Bible
Jewish Life & Thought
Shavua Tov @ Schechter

We are now in the period between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah, when the weekly Torah reading is accompanied by the seven haftarot of consolation.

In this inspirational video, Dr. Tamar Kadari, dean of The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and a lecturer in midrash and aggadah, provides encouraging words of hope and comfort from the Prophet Isaiah.

While we may have cause for despair, we have to believe that God is already at work preparing the foundation for the future, even if we do not see it happening.

Read the full article below:

Have you ever seen a pearl as large as a pigeon’s egg? Or even larger?

No?

You should read this amazing story. But first let me put it in the right context.

We are now in the days between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah, during the seven weeks also known as “Shiv’ata Denechemta,” the seven haftarot of consolation. These are days when we look ahead and hope for a better future.

On each of these special Shabbatot, we read in the Prophets words of both encouragement and consolation. This shabbat, parashat Re’eh, we will be reading from Isaiah.

עֲנִיָּה סֹעֲרָה לֹא נֻחָמָה

Unhappy, storm-tossed one, uncomforted!

I will lay your stones with fair colors,

And make your foundations of sapphires.

I will make your windows of rubies,

and your gates of precious stones,

and the whole encircling wall of gems.

And all your children shall be disciples of the Lord,

and great shall be the happiness of your children. (Isaiah 54:11-13)

Jerusalem is described in these verses as poor, distressed and restless. God comforts her and assures her that he will restore her beauty and adorn her with stunning, strong stones. The city will be refilled with children and become a source of learning and joy.

The Midrash Pesikta deRav Kahana (18:5) preserves a beautiful story on these verses. Rabbi Yochanan sat in the great synagogue of Tzippori and he read the verses of Isaiah: “I will make your windows of rubies, and your gates of precious stones…”

Rabbi Yochanan said, “The Holy One will carve out the east gate of the Temple and its two doors out of one pearl stone.”

A certain heretic, a sailor man, who was present, said, “Why, one can’t find a pearl even as large as a pigeon’s egg and this person sits and says such things?!”

Sometime afterwards, the heretic was sailing upon the great sea. Suddenly his ship sank and went down to the depths of the sea. He saw ministering angles hollowing, shaping and carving.

He asked them, “What is this?”

They replied, “It is the east gate of the Temple with its two doors being made out of one pearl.”

The story conveys a message that even while we see a ruined temple, God is already busy building the future temple. It is miraculous, made of special stones, built by the angels in a hidden place under the sea.

This construction occurs in parallel to the reality above. At the same time that Rabbi Yochanan sits and teaches the verses from Isaiah, this happens beneath the sea.

The story seeks to instill hope. The words of the prophet Isaiah in the first of the haftarot of consolation turn from a far and an unknown future into the reality of the present.

This message is especially important these days. We have to believe that great things happen, even if we do not see them happening, and the future holds good for all of us.

Shavua Tov from Schechter.

Tamar  Kadari  is the Dean of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and a lecturer for Midrash and Aggadah. She received her PhD in Midrashic literature from Hebrew University and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at The University of Pennsylvania. In 2009 Dr. Kadari received a grant from the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF) to head a research group preparing a critical edition of Song of Songs Rabbah. Her research interests include biblical women in the eyes of the rabbis, aesthetics and beauty in rabbinic literature and literary readings of midrash. Dr. Kadari is also a sculptor whose work has been exhibited in galleries in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

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