Nitzavim: Garments of Righteousness

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Nitzavim

Friends, we have reached the end of our seven-week cycle of “haftarot
of consolation,” and indeed, we have gone from sitting on the floor,
in sackcloth and ashes (metaphorically if not physically) on Tisha
B’Av, a mere seven weeks ago, to the exultation of imminent redemption
as portrayed by the opening verse of our haftarah:

“I greatly rejoice in the Lord,
My whole being exults in my God.
For He has clothed me with garments of triumph,
Wrapped me in a robe of victory,
Like a bridegroom adorned with a turban,
Like a bride bedecked with her finery.” (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 61:10)

Notice how the image of garments is fourfold, in just one verse:

1) garments of triumph [bigdei yesha, literally “garments of salvation”],

2) robe of victory [me’il tzedakah, literally “robe of righteousness,”
but more on this in a moment]

3) a bridegroom adorned with a turban [ ke’khatan y’khahen p’er,
literally “like a groom, like a priest, glorious”- the Hebrew is tough
to translate]

4) a bride bedecked with her finery [ kha’kalah ta’adeh khale’ah-
again the Hebrew is hard but you get the idea.]

Hirsch picks up a the connection between “me’il tzedakah” and the most
famous “me’il,” the robe of the High Priest, and translates this
phrase as “in the priestly mantle of devotion to duty He has
enwrapped me.” That, in turn, is supported by the next line, wherein
the bridegroom is glorious, like a priest [y’khahen is like kohen,
priest]. The prophet seems to be suggesting that redemption is going
to convey the glory of the priesthood on all Israel, and the joy will
be like that of bride and groom.

These images of outer finery and glory are not only in contrast to the
torn garments of the mourner that we (metaphorically) wore at Tisha
B’Av, but also suggest an inner transformation. We have gone from
exiles to priests; that is, distant from the Divine Presence,
symbolized by distance from Jerusalem and the Temple, to being in
communion with the Sacred, symbolized by the act of priesthood, which
in Biblical terms is what connects Israel to God. A further analogy is
suggested between the priest- who connects the people to God, bringing
them to spiritual intimacy- and the bride and groom, another image of
bridging distance and creating relationship.

Perhaps a further implication of the “me’il tzedakah” is the
transformation of the priestly “me’il,” or robe, symbolizing the
ritual duties of the priest, to a moral state, of tzedek, righteous or
just behavior. That is, the journey from exile to communion is one in
which our very being comes to display the moral or spiritual qualities
associated with redemption, or the healing of disconnection and
alienation. The new garments are the way we are seen and experienced
in the world, that is, coming to manifest in our actions the
redemptive qualities for which we pray.

So we’ve come full circle: on Tisha B’Av we mourn that which we lost,
and seven weeks later, we celebrate that which we might become. This,
in turn, brings us to Rosh Hashanah, when we contemplate the context
of our lives and renew our deepest commitments. On Tisha B’Av, we
grieve the past; on Rosh Hashanah, we are called to the future, when
we can, like the exile putting on the priestly robes, become something
nobler, more compassionate, more befitting our true selves.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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