Eretz Yisrael in the Haftara
Exactly 100 years ago, the British Foreign Minister declared, “His majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The Balfour Declaration was the first significant diplomatic achievement of the Zionist movement and a major step towards the establishment of the State of Israel.
How ironic that such a document would come from “His majesty’s Government” whose royal ancestors persecuted the Jewish people with great brutality throughout history. King Henry III proclaimed the Edict of the Badge requiring Jews to wear a yellow patch and King Edward I expelled all Jews from the Kingdom in 1290. The fact that the same monarchy completely reversed its position regarding the Jewish people is alluded to in our haftara.
The haftara for Parshat Ki Tavo (Yishayahu 60:1-22) is the sixth of the seven consoling haftara readings after Tisha B’Av. It stands in stark contrast to the tochacha found in our parsha, the stinging rebuke and curses that will befall the Jewish people over the course of history.
Yishayahu describes a complete reversal of fortunes for the Jewish people. Not only will Israel and Yerushalayim be blessed with great prosperity and security, but the prophet promises that it will be specifically those who had oppressed and persecuted the Jews who will be the ones to assist our rehabilitation: “In place of copper I will bring gold; and in place of the iron I will bring silver… I will set you appointed officials for peacefulness and your overlords for righteousness” (v. 18). Rashi interprets that “the appointed officials” and “overlords” had been our very oppressors and are now the agents of our “peacefulness” and “righteousness.”
Yishayahu explains the unusual process of redemption through a description of contrasting images in the haftara’s opening verses:
Arise, shine, for your light has dawned; The Presence of the LORD has shone upon you! Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth, And thick clouds the peoples; But upon you the LORD will shine, And His Presence be seen over you. And nations shall walk by your light, Kings, by your shining radiance. (60:1-3)
The Geulah is compared to illumination and radiance, which can only be appreciated in contrast with the cover of darkness that has previously engulfed mankind. Furthermore, our very oppressors will be the ones who appreciate this light the most and will undertake a complete reversal: “Behold, you will glow (venahart) … for the wealth of the sea shall pass to you, the riches of nations (chayl goyim) shall flow to you.” (v. 5)
This vision is similar to the Gemara (Bava Batra 4a) that describes the evil king Herod who killed a number of Sages, yet spared the life of Bava ben Buta, blinding him instead. During a conversation with the wounded rabbi, Herod came to recognize the profound moral character of Bava ben Buta and regretted his brutal actions.
The king asked Bava ben Buta how he might repent from his egregious mistake. The old rabbi replied: “He who extinguished the light of the world by killing the Torah sages should go and occupy himself with the light of the world, the Temple – as it is written, “And the nations shall flow (venaharu) unto it [Isaiah 2:2]” since venaharu also means illuminate, as in our haftara. In an act of repentance, Herod went on to build the magnificent Second Temple, whose footprint is still visible to this day in Jerusalem.
The building of the Second Temple can be seen as a fulfillment of this passage in both the illumination it provided along with the abundant wealth it required to construct. However, other Meforshim explain chayl goyim not as “the wealth of nations” but the “armies of nations.” In other words, the very enemies who destroyed Yerushalayim will be the ones to assist us in its rebuilding.
When it comes to acharit hayamim, Isaiah describes a process where Israel will gain assistance from the most unlikely of allies: “Bowing before you, shall come the children of those who tormented you; Prostrate at the soles of your feet shall be all those who reviled you” (v. 14).
In many ways, this haftara is the perfect reversal of the tochacha in our parsha proving that our eventual redemption will be complete and perfect. Not only will we return to Israel in peace and harmony, our strange and ironic journey will highlight Hashem’s hand in the process. The Balfour Declaration is but an example of how the very kings who oppressed Israel will assist in her ultimate restoration.