Adrian A. Durlester

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Ki Teitzei 5766

B'Shetzef Ketzef

On this Shabbat, parashat Ki Teitzei, we read the fifth haftarah of consolation after Tisha B'Av, taken from the first ten verses of Isaiah chapter 54.

You've heard the words before:

Rani, akarah lo yaladah pitzkhi rani v'tzahali lo khalah Ki rabim b'nei-shomeimah mib'nei b'olah, amar Ad"nai

Shout, O barren one, who bore no child! Shout aloud for joy, you who did not travail. For the children of the wife forlorn shall outnumber those of the espoused--said Ad"nai

The prophet Isaiah (or, in this case, some would say either deutero- or even tritero- Isaiah, scholars believing the book to be the work of more than one generation) provides us with an inspiring and positive outlook for the future, with rebuilt dwellings, restoration of lands.

The prophet has G"d saying "for a little moment I forgot you, but with great mercy I will bring you back." (54:7)

And there is this wonderfully play bit of text:

B'shetzef ketzef histarti panai rega mimekh uv'khesed olam rikhamtikh, amar go-aleikh Ad"nai

The JPS translation is "In slight anger, for a moment, I hid My face from you, But with kindness everlasting I will take you back in love --said the L"rd your Redeemer

Just say those first two words in Hebrew: B'shetzef ketzef.

Isn't that fun! Word a great word pair.

But what does it mean? No one is exactly sure. We know there is a Hebrew root word quf, tzadee, final fei. It's general meaning is to be wrathful or wroth, or wrought up. The noun form ketzef, usually means "wrath" (and in all but a few cases of late biblical text, it refers to G"d's wrath, not that of human beings.)

There is also a secondary meaning of the root, which is believed to mean "snap, splinter or break off, thus some conjecture that ketzef can also mean splinter. So perhaps we have a splinter (sliver?) of wrath?

However, there is also some speculation by scholars that the word shin, tzadee, final fei is actually a cognate of the root shin, tet, final fei. And this word root means an overflow. Thus the noun Shetzef/shetef is translated as "flood" and some scholars thus translate "b'shetzef ketzef" as "a flood of anger.

Seems to me there's a world of difference between a flood of anger and slight anger, or a splinter of anger. We have either an extremely wrathful G"d who has turned away from us, or a G"d only slightly annoyed.

What's important, however, is not the turning away. After all, we've all done it-turning away in anger. If we don't, we might do or say something we oughtn't do or say. G"d knows this as well.

What matters is that G"d will always take us back. And in this month of Elul, as we examine ourselves and our faults, and prepare for the Days of Awe, that is needed comfort. Soul-searching can be a painful and depressing task. Knowing that, however badly we have missed the mark, the gates of t'shuva, or returning to G"d,will always be open to us.

No sacrificial lamb, no rabbi on a crucifix to atone for our sins. Just us, humbly seeking G"d's presence. For whether G"d has turned away from us briefly in slight or flooding anger, G"d will always take us back with khesed - loving kindness.

How do we return? One way is to soften our edges, just as when we soften the quf to a khet. Another is to turn our sharps points into smooth surfaces, just as when we change a tzadee to a samekh. With our softening and smoothing, we are led more easily to the end - the final fei, literally the end of the word end, which in Hebrew is sof, samekh, vav, final fei. And what is the sof but the Ein Sof - the kabalistic name for G"d - "without end." But there is one more transformation to make or final fei to a dalet. For the ein Sof, the G"d without end, is elusive and hard to find. We must seek another manifestation of G"d that we know.

It is not enough to soften our edges and smooth our points. We must seek the Ein Sof with determination. It is not with an attitude of "feh" that we can find the path of t'shuva. No, it is the One we are seeking. The Ehkhad. And so our determination to to t'shuvah transforms our soft final fey into a determined and deliberate dalet. From Ketzef to khesed. From wrath to loving kindness.

The hard qufs and sharps tzadees make getting to the Ein Sof more difficult. Let us beat our qufs into khets and our tzadees into samekhs, and seek the path of t'shuva, of return to the One, the ekhad.

B'shetzef ketzef B'shetzef khesed

Shabbat Shalom,


©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester



Some other musings on the same parasha:

Ki Tetze 5764/5-The Torah, The Gold Watch, and The Rest of the Story
Ki Tetze 5757,9,60,63--The Torah, The Gold Watch, & Everything
Ki Tetze 5758--Exclude Me
Ki Tetze 5762--One Standard

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