Revisiting and greatly expanding this musing, originally from 5766 (2006.) Also, since they are among my favorites, I encourage to also read the series of musings for Ki Teitze starting with 5757’s “The Torah, The Gold Watch, and Everything” and subsequent retellings and expansions in 5764 and 5772. (Links at the end of this musing.) It’s a wonderful, truth is stranger than fiction story.
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:
רָנִּ֥י עֲקָרָ֖ה לֹ֣א יָלָ֑דָה פִּצְחִ֨י רִנָּ֤ה וְצַהֲלִי֙ לֹא־חָ֔לָה כִּֽי־רַבִּ֧ים בְּֽנֵי־שׁוֹמֵמָ֛ה מִבְּנֵ֥י בְעוּלָ֖ה אָמַ֥ר יְהוָֽה׃
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
בְּרֶ֥גַע קָטֹ֖ן עֲזַבְתִּ֑יךְ וּבְרַחֲמִ֥ים גְּדֹלִ֖ים אֲקַבְּצֵֽךְ׃
“for a little moment I forgot you, but with great mercy I will bring you back.” (54:7)
And there is this wonderfully playful bit of text in 54:8
בְּשֶׁ֣צֶף קֶ֗צֶף הִסְתַּ֨רְתִּי פָנַ֥י רֶ֙גַע֙ מִמֵּ֔ךְ וּבְחֶ֥סֶד עוֹלָ֖ם רִֽחַמְתִּ֑יךְ אָמַ֥ר גֹּאֲלֵ֖ךְ יְהוָֽה׃
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:
Isn’t that fun! Word a great word pair.
There’s some speculation by scholars that the root of the first word
shin, tzadee, final fey
is actually a cognate of the root
shin, tet, final fei. Scholars believe that both these roots mean flowing, streaming, or, perhaps, an overflow. Thus both the nouns Shetzef and shetef are translated as “flood,” “flowing,” “overflowing” and the like.
The second word. That has been the cause of some speculation and division between scholars. 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.)
However, there is also a secondary meaning of the root, which is believed to mean “snap, splinter or break off, thus some conjecture that
can also mean splinter. So perhaps we have a flowing or flooding splinter (sliver?) (This occurrence is a hapax legomenon – a word occurring once in a book – appearing in Hoshea (10:7.)
So some scholars translate “b’shetzef ketzef” as “a flood of anger” which seems to fit in a sense of plain meaning. Others, including the JPS committee, perhaps speculate on some orthographic oddity here, both words ending with
and, playing off the alternate meaning of the second word, translate it as slight anger (or splinter of anger) though I’m not entirely sure where they then get the “anger: from. In this translation, the second word seems to have all the meaning of both splinter and anger/wrath and the first word seems to have none.
Perhaps the basis of this speculation is the belief that
is the cognate equivalent of a phrase found in Proverbs (27:4)
translated by JPS as an “overflowing of anger.” I think it’s a stretch, but who I am I to argue with the august editors of the new JPS translation?
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. The JPS committee, it seems, prefers the latter. In the context of the verses before and after it, that translation does make some sense, even though the actual Hebrew has to be sliced and diced to make it work. These are verses meant to reassure, to remind up though G”d may have briefly turned away from us, but will bring us back in love.
What’s important, as much as I might want it to be, prone as I am to not go easy on G”d, is not G”d’s 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. (Moshe, too, kept trying to reinforce this lesson for G”d.)
What matters in these verses 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. We can take our anger, and turn it into loving kindness. Observe. First we soften the hard “k” sound of the ק quf to the softer “kh”sound of ח khet. Another is to turn our sharp points into smooth surfaces, just as when we change a sharped-edged צ tzadee to a smooth ס samekh. With our softening and smoothing, we are led more easily to the end – the ף final fei, literally the end of the word end, which in Hebrew is sof, סוף 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 ף final fei to a ד 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. 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. We must go from a ף of soft acceptance to the stronger ד dalet, our determination to soften our edges in order to reach the One. 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 אחד Ehkhad. And so our determination to do t’shuvah transforms our soft ף final fey into a determined and deliberate ד dalet. The same sound we emphasize at the end of the word אחד to remind us that G”d is One. From Ketzef to khesed. From wrath to loving kindness.
Thus we have gone from
anger or wrath, to
loving kindness one letter at a time, step by step, our reflections upon our inner selves during this month of Elul, trying to turn away from anger and turn to love. To the Source of love.
The hard ק qufs and sharp צ tzadees make getting to the Ein Sof more difficult. Let us beat our ק qufs into ח khets and our צ tzadees into ס samekhs, and seek the path of t’shuva, of return to the One, the אחד Ekhad of חסד.
בְּשֶׁ֣צֶף קֶ֗צֶף. בְּשֶׁ֣צֶף חֶסֶד
B’shetzef ketzef B’shetzef khesed.
From a splinter of anger, or overflowing anger, to overflowing loving kindness.
©2015 (portions ©2006) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musing on This Parasha:
Ki Tetzei 5775 – Re-Honoring Inconsistency
Ki Teitzei 5774 – Microcosm
Ki Teitzei 5773 – Be True To Who You Are
Ki Teitzei 5772 – The Torah, the Gold Watch, and Another Retelling
Ki Teitzei 5771 – Metaphorical Parapets
Ki Tetzei 5769 – The Choice of Memory
Ki Tetzei 5767 – Honoring Inconsistency
Ki Teitzei 5766 – B’Shetzef Ketzef
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