Category: Ki Tetze
Jerusalem our Mother
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21:10-25:19 | Yesha'yahu (Isaiah) 54:1-10
This week's Haftarah comes as the fifth in a series of comforting passages from the book of Isaiah. In particular, this week's reading is a prophecy of comfort issued to the city of Jerusalem. The prophet speaks metaphorically of Jerusalem as a barren woman, separated from her husband, who is surprised by a multitude of children and a dramatic restoration to her husband. Interestingly, Paul quotes a passage from this Haftarah in the book of Galatians.
The Mother of all that Believe
In the fourth chapter of the book of Romans, Paul establishes that Abraham is the father of all who believe, not Jews alone, but also the Gentile believers in the Messiah. Therefore, Gentile believers can say, along with Jewish believers, "Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father." If Abraham is our father, then it follows that Sarah, the beautiful wife of Abraham, is our mother.
Paul was apparently thinking along those lines when, in the book of Galatians, he wrote a midrash on the Sarah and Hagar story. Therein Paul refers to Sarah as the mother of us all. Galatians 4:21-31 is Paul's own home cooked midrash. According to his symbolism, he states that Sarah represents the Abrahamic Covenant and, therefore, Heavenly Jerusalem. Hagar, on the other hand, he relates to the Sinai covenant, which in his day, was interpreted by the teachers of the Torah in earthly Jerusalem. The Jerusalemites he refers to as "those in slavery" are his opponents who were arguing against Gentile inclusion in Israel. In the Galatians midrash, Paul contends that all believers (Jew and Gentile) are children of Heavenly Jerusalem.
Sarah as Jerusalem
All of this is very intriguing and worthy of a full length treatment in itself, but we are actually interested in investigating Paul's use of symbolism. He has created an analogy where Sarah represents Heavenly Jerusalem and is, therefore, the mother of those whom God has freed. To establish his analogy, he quotes the following passage from this week's Haftarah:
"Sing, O barren, you that did not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you that did not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, says the LORD." (Isaiah 54:1)
Now this can be confusing. The prophet Isaiah is speaking of Jerusalem. Paul is speaking of Heavenly Jerusalem. Paul uses Sarah to represent Jerusalem. Jerusalem connotes the center of the Jewish world, namely the Temple. By what leap of logic does Sarah represent the city of Jerusalem and the Temple and then Heavenly Jerusalem?
Actually, Paul was not inventing these interpretations. We find within Jewish tradition an ancient midrash which uses Sarah to represent Jerusalem and the Temple. These traditions firmly place Sarah as a symbol of Jerusalem and the Temple. Paul probably reworked the existing midrash to suit his purposes. But where do we find the original?
"You find that as long as Sarah lived, a cloud hung over her tent.... As long as Sarah lived, her doors were wide open... As long as Sarah lived, there was a blessing on her dough, and the lamp used to burn from the evening of the Sabbath until the evening of the following Sabbath..." (Genesis Rabbah 60:16)
The Midrash Rabbah speaks fancifully of Sarah's tent. At the entrance of Sarah's tent a cloud hovered. This cloud was the Divine Presence, the Shekinah of God. The same was also true of the Tabernacle and of the Temple in Jerusalem. God's Presence was manifested in a cloud of glory above the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The same cloud of glory came to rest on Solomon's temple.
The Midrash Rabbah goes on to say that within Sarah's tent there was a blessing in the bread dough. The blessing preserved the bread and kept it from spoiling. The same was true of the Bread of the Presence in the Temple. Though the Bread of the Presence remained on the table in the Temple for seven days, it was still fresh and warm when replaced at the end of the week.
The same midrash also states that the Sabbath lamp in Sarah's tent did not extinguish throughout the week. This parallels the Menorah which burned continuously in the Temple.
Finally, in the midrash, we learn that the curtains of Sarah's tent were always opened wide in a gesture of hospitality, to welcome all. The same was also true of the Temple, which was meant to be a house of prayer to all nations.
Had Paul quoted the second verse of the Isaiah passage he uses to establish his analogy, we would read:
"Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of your habitations: spare not, lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes." (Isaiah. 54:2)
Just as the prophet instructs Jerusalem to stretch forth her tent curtains wide, the midrash told us that the curtains of Sarah's tent were opened wide. It is clear that the Rabbinic idea in which Sarah represents Jerusalem and the Temple finds its origins in Isaiah 54. The Sages could not resist the temptation of identifying the barren woman from Isaiah's analogy with Sarah, the archetypal barren woman. If Sarah equals the barren woman of Isaiah 54, and the barren woman of Isaiah 54 represents Jerusalem, then Sarah must represent Jerusalem.
Though Galatians is older than the midrash quoted above, it is not unlikely that a similar, oral form of the same teaching predates Galatians. Most likely, Paul did not manufacture the symbolism of his Galatians midrash, but simply reinvented a similar existing interpretation for his own purposes. He probably used a well known midrashic teaching on Sarah to cast new light on Torah and explain how it is that the Gentile believers have an inheritance in Israel.
Â© 2012 First Fruits of Zion. All rights reserved. We encourage you to share this material with your friends for further personal study. However, this material may not be republished, in print, electronically, or any other form without our prior permission.
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