May 29, 2024
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Parshat Ekev

When I began writing this column some years ago, I did so for a number of basic reasons. Firstly, I realized that these messages inspired hope and faith to our nation over the long bitter galut. For so many, the simple promise of a brighter future eased their ability to survive their dark present. How, therefore, could I not be moved by messages that meant so much to so many for so long? Secondly, I was truly moved when studying the nevuot, the prophecies, and seeing them come to fruition in our very days. Thirdly, and, perhaps sadly, I realized that too many did not feel that emotion, that inspiration, that connection that I did. In fact, when listening to the haftarah readings, I saw so many fine, serious and knowledgeable Jews who didn’t seem to understand the underlying messages of the haftarot and, as a result, failed to follow the reading carefully. I had even seen how many in shul used the haftarah recitation as a time to review questions they may have had regarding the parsha, to catch up on the tefillot or even to read the many handouts offered to the public.

And so I began to write. And a funny thing happened.

In preparing these hundreds of essays I realized how little I understood about the haftarot and their connection to the parsha or to the calendar. And I also learned how much better I could understand the messages found therein if I were to read beyond the text of the haftarah alone, and include the visions that preceded and/or followed the haftarah selection. And that is especially true regarding this week’s haftarah.

This second post-Tish’a B’Av haftarah of consolation is taken from the 49th and 50th perakim of Sefer Yeshayahu and begins with a most heart-wrenching cry of Israel: “Azavani Hashem,” “Hashem has abandoned me.” This cry is met with an equally moving response of God: “Could a mother ever forget her baby?” Using this metaphor of a mother-baby relationship, the navi goes on to issue a series of questions meant to enforce Hashem’s response to Israel’s opening claim of being abandoned by Hashem. In the opening pasuk of the 50th chapter, Yeshayahu (quoting God) asks the nation where the bill of divorce that I (supposedly) gave to your mother in sending her away? Or where are the creditors to whom I sold you? In underscoring the fact that Hashem is still connected to Israel, as a mother to her child or a husband to his wife, Yeshayahu teaches the people that they have not been abandoned by God and that, in fact, it was Israel who deserted their God and who need only to return to Him.

The navi then goes on to paint the glorious picture of a future when the nation who returns to God will also return to her land. And within that vision, Yishayahu describes in detail what the redemption would look like. It is, to my mind, one of the clearest depictions of the world in which we live today. I challenge each and every one to read the words of Yeshayahu and not see their fruition in the world that surrounds them. The prophet promises that your once-ruined and desolate land would be crowded with inhabitants, that the nations who once imprisoned your children will now bring them back to you, and that the kings and princesses will bow down to you and show you respect.

And then, surprisingly (or not), upon glancing at the earlier prophecy that preceded this haftarah I found that the navi had actually introduced this vision with an equally remarkable one—one that promised that the people who were once hated by the nations will find that those very kings “will see you and rise before you.” They will learn that God would help them and would keep His covenant with them “to restore the land and have you inherit the desolate portions.” And, finally, they will hear the promise that Hashem would make “all my mountains into roads” so that “they will come from afar, from the north and from the west,” causing the heaven itself to rejoice to “break out in song” for “Hashem has comforted His people.”

It is at this very point that our haftarah begins with the nation claiming that God had abandoned them. They were actually responding to the glorious picture shared with them by Yeshayahu. They could not believe it! They denied that it could happen since, after all, Hashem had seemingly abandoned them—which is precisely why the prophet had to repeat the promise in our haftarah.

The redemption would be so remarkable that, even those who witness it would find it difficult to believe. And that is exactly what David HaMelech told us in Tehillim (126): “B’shuv Hashem et shivat Tziyon….hayinu k’cholmim,” the geula would seem like a dream.

Well, doesn’t it?


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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