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Is Redemption Fixed or Flexible

Shiv'a de-Nechemta: The Philosophy of Comfort and Redemption - 1



Written by the rabbi


The phenomenon of "Kiddush clubs" (groups of men leaving Shul during the Haftorah for a lechayim) has led to much debate in many American Shuls. One of the problems raised, is a severe lack of respect for the words of the Prophets being read at the time. We would like to show in the next few weeks just how important these words are and how much philosophical and theological depth they hold for us, today in the 21st century. In particular we will be focusing here on specific verses and theological/philosophical messages that arise from the Shiv'a de-Nechemta (Seven Haftarot of Consolation from the book of Isaiah always read in the weeks following Tisha be-Av) – not necessarily in synch with each particular week's Haftorah.
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Yeshayahu wastes no time and dives headlong into the existential question that has bothered centuries of Jews throughout the four corners of the globe: How long will we suffer? When will the Geulah (final redemption) arrive? What will bring Mashiach? The prophet gives us the following formula: "Dabru al lev Yerushalayim ve-kir'u eleha ki mal'a tzva'ah ki nirtza avona ki lakecha mi-yad Hashem kiflayim be-chol chatoteha." (Is 40:2) A loose translation renders: Explain with feeling to the people of Jerusalem that the end of fighting occurs when her sins are "nirtza" for she has received double her share of punishment. The commentators point out that the word "nirtza" can be translated in different ways, leading to variant understandings of the verse and two opposing views of when and how we will merit the final redemption.

Radak and Ibn Ezra understand the word to denote a fixed time that has come to its conclusion. The prophet is then implying that there is a fixed "sentence" that has been decreed on Am Yisrael because of all its sins. Once that sentence has been fully served ("nirtza"), then the mashiach can come. In other words the date of arrival of mashiach has been fixed in advance! Seemingly nothing can influence that date. Moreover, Chazal tell us not to even try and calculate that date: "For the vision is yet for an appointed time but at the end it shall speak and not lie; though he tarry await him (Havakuk 2:3) … R' Shmuel b Nachmani said in the name of R' Yonatan: May the spirit of those who calculate the end [of days] expire ... rather await him!" (Sanhedrin 97b).

On the other hand, Rashi and Malbim explain that "nirtza" means appeasement. Our sins can be appeased and forgiven either by our repentance, or due to the overbearing punishment we've received. This then is dependant on us and our actions. As a result, the time of the Geulah is flexible! Chazal list numerous things which can hasten the redemption: "He who occupies himself with Torah study for its own sake brings redemption closer" (Sanhedrin 99b); "If they repented for even one day, they would be immediately redeemed and [mashiach] the son of David would come" (Shir Hashirim Rabba 5:1); "Even if Jews remain only with hope and expectation, they deserve redemption as a reward for their expectation and hope".

We already see now how one word of the prophet Yeshayahu can hint at a wealth of world outlooks. This in turn can affect one's actions, thoughts and prayers: Are we working towards hastening the Geulah, or fulfilling our obligations to our Creator and when the time is right, the redemption will come regardless?


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