Parashat Ki Teseh: Strengthening Ourselves in Preparation for Redemption
In the prophecy read as the Haftara for Parashat Ki-Teseh, the prophet Yeshayahu foresees the return of the Jewish People to its homeland. He turns to the Land of Israel and cries, "Expand the space of your tent, and the curtains of your residences shall be moved… Extend your ropes, and strengthen your pegs" (54:2). Whereas the land lay empty throughout the years of exile, the prophet promises that the time will come when the land will need to expand to accommodate the influx of Jews who will return.
The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909) offers a deeper explanation of the words, "Vi’ytedotayich Hazeki" ("strengthen your pegs"). The plain meaning, of course, is that this refers to the pegs used to bind the ropes of the tent to the ground. As the tent expands, the pegs need to be strengthened to hold down the extended ropes. The Ben Ish Hai, however, adds that a peg is shaped like the letter "Vav," and the prophet here exhorts us to strengthen our commitment to the quality represented by this letter. He explains that if the letter "Vav" is removed from the word "Kadosh" ("sacred"), the result is the word "Kadesh" – referring to a harlot, the diametric opposite of holiness. The letter "Vav," then, signifies the difference between decadence and sanctity, our maintaining proper standards of purity and morality so we attain Kedusha, rather than becoming the opposite, Heaven forbid. For this reason, the Ben Ish Hai notes, Yosef was dressed with "Bigdeh Shesh" (flax garments) when he was appointed vizier over Egypt (Bereshit 41:42). The word "Shesh" (flax) also means "six," alluding to the letter "Vav," which in Gematria equals 6. Yosef embodied the quality of "Yesod," of resisting temptation to maintain purity, and thus he is described as being clothed with "Shesh," the letter "Vav," the attainment of Kedusha.
The Ben Ish Hai explains that this is the meaning of the prophet’s charge, "Vi’ytedotayich Hazeki." He is telling us that in order to earn our final redemption, we must strengthen our "peg" – the letter "Vav," our commitment to maintaining our standards of Kedusha. This is a struggle that must be waged as we prepare for our final redemption.
It is no coincidence that in our times, as we inch closer to the arrival of Mashiah, we face unprecedented challenges particularly in this area, the area of purity and Kedusha. Already the prophet Yeshayahu informed us that as our nation returns to its homeland in preparation for the final redemption, we will need to work very hard to strengthen our "peg," our commitment to the Torah’s standards of purity. This challenge is an especially difficult one, but it is one which we must wage, with devotion and determination, confident that this struggle will bring us closer to our final redemption, may it arrive speedily and in our time, Amen.