This week’s haftorah concludes the three week series regarding the Jewish people’s exile and the destruction of their Bais Hamikdash. This final reading of rebuke goes down in history as the strongest message of reprimand ever delivered to the Jewish people. The prophet Yeshaya depicts the moral conduct of the Jews to be the most corrupt and wicked since the days of Sedom and Gemorah. He declares the Jews worse than the animals, and says in the name of Hashem, “The ox knows his master and the donkey his owner’s feeding tray but My nation doesn’t know and doesn’t even consider Me. Woe guilty people, heavy with sin, evil and corrupt children who forsook Hashem and disgraced Israel’s Holy One.” (1:3,4) Yeshaya continues with harsh words of chastisement, and says, “Why should you continue to be beaten if you just increase your straying? From head to toe there is no clear spot, only stabs, bruises and open wounds. But you have not treated them, not bandaged them or even softened them.” (1:5,6) The prophet indicates that after all the beatings they have received the Jewish people haven’t even made an attempt to rectify their faults.
Yeshaya then concentrated on the Jewish service in the Bais Hamikdash and attacked them even on that count. He expressed that Hashem was displeased with their sacrifices and lacked interest in their service. Hashem says, “When you come to see Me who asked you to trample on My courtyard? Don’t continue bringing useless offerings; your incense is disgusting to Me. I cannot tolerate your gatherings on Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, and I despise your festivals and celebrations; they’re too much bother for Me.” (1:12,13) The Jewish people were going through the motions of Judaism but lacked any level of sincerity. They assembled in the Bais Hamikdash during the holiday seasons but did not dedicate their efforts to Hashem, rather to themselves. Hashem therefore referred to those gatherings as theirs rather than His. Even their prayers, their direct line to Hashem, were being rejected. Yeshaya said in the name of Hashem, “When you stretch out your hands in supplication I will ignore you; even when you increase your prayers I won’t listen because your hands are full of blood.” (1:15) These last words refer to the increasing number of murders and crimes that were taking place amongst the Jewish people, even in the Bais Hamikdash proper. Yeshaya said that Hashem had literally closed the door on His people and was not interested in seeing or hearing from them anymore.
Suddenly, we discover a complete change in nature and the prophet extends the Jewish people an open invitation. Hashem says, “Please go and reconcile, if your sins are likened to scarlet they will be whitened like snow and if they are like deep red crimson they will be like white wool. If you consent and listen then you will eat the goodness of the land.” (1:18,19) This seems to indicate a total reversal of direction. Moments earlier, the prophet proclaimed that Hashem had absolutely no interest in His people and despised their trampling on His property. Hashem was so angry and disgusted with them that He severed all lines of communication. And now, one passage later Hashem was prepared to brighten and whiten the Jewish people to the extent of glistening snowflakes?!
The answer to this perplexing message is found in the insightful words of Chazal in explanation of a puzzling passage in Shir Hashirim. Shlomo Hamelech presents the overall status of the Jewish people shortly before their bitter exile from their homeland. They project themselves to Hashem in the following manner, “I am asleep but my heart is awake.” (Shir Hashirim 5:2) Rashi (ad loc.) quotes the comment of Chazal in the Pesikta explaining the Jewish people’s response. They said that they fell into a deep slumber and basically abandoned their service of Hashem but their heart, Hashem himself would always remains awake. He doesn’t permit them to disappear from the scene and continuously sends them opportunities to return to Him. He consistently sends His prophets to awaken His people even from their deep comatized state.
This is the hidden secret of the Jewish people’s eternal existence. From the vantage point of their actions, the Jews at that time fell into a deep coma and developed the most corrupt and immoral standards conceivable. They did not demonstrate any inner interest of being with Hashem or any sincerity regarding their service to Him. But Hashem, the heart and pulse of the Jewish nation retained His interest in His people. His love for them is so great that He never gives up on them. And so, when their actions were so corrupt that they didn’t even deserve “the time of day” from Hashem, He didn’t forget His people. He beckoned them to reconcile their ways and informed them that He was prepared to cleanse them from all of their sins. This experience reinforces the fact that Hashem is forever waiting for His people to return. He patiently awaits that glorious moment when all of His people will finally proclaim, “You are our father and we are Your sons!” May this day come speedily in our times.