Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, Chana bat Shmuel, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shoshana Elka bat Avraham, Tikvah bat Rivka Perel, Peretz ben Chaim, Chaya Sarah bat Reb Yechezkel Shraga, Shmuel Yosef ben Reuven, Shayndel bat Mordechai Yehudah, the Kedoshim of Har Nof, Pittsburgh, and Jersey City, and the refuah shlaimah of Mordechai HaLevi ben Miriam Tovah, Moshe ben Itta Golda, Yocheved Dafneh bat Dinah Zehavah, Reuven Shmuel ben Leah, and the health and safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
This week’s haftorah, “Chazon Yeshayahu,” includes the first 29 pasukim of Sefer Yeshayahu. While many of these verses are fascinating and a treasure trove of Jewish thought, I find the final pasuk particularly intriguing: “Zion shall be redeemed through justice (mishpat) and her penitent, bitzdakah.” (This and all Tanach translations, unless otherwise noted, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach) Bitzdakah is a conjunction of the letter bet, with the connotation in our verse of “in” or “through,” and the word tzedakah. In turn, tzedakah may be interpreted as righteousness or charity, and, as we will see, these approaches are followed by various Rabbinic authorities.
In the view of Rabbi Yosef Kra ben Shimon zatzal (1065-1135), who is considered one of the leading interpreters of Nach (Navi’im u’Ketuvim), “bitzdakah” in our pasuk must be understood as referring to righteous behavior, as it is in proximity to the word, “mishpat:”
And you must know that in every instance that you find the word, “tzedakah,” in proximity to “mishpat,” it does not refer to the giving of money [to the poor,] rather, it is an expression of the rendering of true judgment. So, too, do we find [in reference to Avraham Avinu,] “la’asot tzedakah u’mishpat” (“to perform righteousness and justice,” Sefer Bereishit 18:19), [and regarding Dovid HaMelech:] “va’ye’hi Dovid oseh mishpat u’tzdakah l’chol amo” (“and David performed justice and righteousness for all his people,” Sefer Shmuel II: 8:15, translations and brackets my own)
Based upon this analysis, Rav Kra would translate our pasuk as: “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent in righteousness.”
An alternative approach is found in Talmud Bavli, wherein Ula follows the standard meaning of tzedakah and declares: “Yerushalayim will not be redeemed except through tzedakah, as the text states: ‘Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent through tzedakah.’” (Shabbat 139a and Sanhedrin 98a) Since Rashi (1040-1105) does not comment on the meaning of tzedakah in these passages, we may readily assume that he understands it in its normative sense, in consonance with the positions of the Rambam (1135-1204) and the Maharsha (1555-1631:
…The throne of Israel will not be established, nor will the true faith stand except through charity, as the text states: “You shall be established through righteousness.” (Sefer Yeshayahu 54:14) And Israel will be redeemed solely through charity, as the text states: “Zion will be redeemed through judgment and those who return to her through charity.” (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zerayim, Matnot Aniyim 10:1, translation, Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)
[When the text in Sefer Yeshayahu states: “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent bitzdakah,” tzedakah actually means] “according to the merit of [the mitzvah of] tzedakah that will exist in that generation.” This is the case, since one who gives of his money, and gives away that which is his to others, will certainly not steal from others. And through this merit, [authentic] judgment will return to Yerushalayim… (Maharsha, Chidushei Aggadot, Sanhedrin 98a, translation and brackets my own)
In many ways, the interpretation of tzedakah in our pasuk as charity, and the emphasis of the Rambam and Maharsha upon its singular import, is congruent with a celebrated statement in Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 9a: “Rav Assi said: ‘Tzedakah is the equivalent of all the mitzvot of the Torah.’” Little wonder, then, that the Rambam ruled at the beginning of the above-cited passage: “We are obligated to be careful with regard to the mitzvah of charity to a greater extent than all [other] positive commandments…”
Whether we follow Rabbi Yosef Kra ben Shimon’s lead and interpret tzedakah as righteous actions, or take this term at face value as referring to charity, as do Ula, the Rambam and the Maharsha, the message is clear. Yeshayahu is teaching us that we must be cognizant of our behavior toward others, and act with equity towards all humankind. Through the merit of attaining these often-elusive goals, may we witness our people’s return to Eretz Yisrael and the redemption of Tzion, soon and in our days. V’chane yihi ratzon.
Shabbat Shalom and may Hashem in His infinite mercy remove the pandemic from klal Yisrael and all the nations of the world.
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