This week’s haftorah continues the theme of comforting the Jewish nation and presents their strong feelings prior to their redemption. The prophet Yeshaya captures their concern at that time and quotes their unfortunate expression of rejection, Hashem has forsaken me and has forgotten Zion. (49:14) The long, dark years of exile have allowed the Jewish people to sincerely believe that Hashem has abandoned them and will never return to Zion. There are no indications of redemption in the air and the rapid spiritual decline in those times does not project preparatory stages of the glorious era of Mashiach. Therefore, the Jewish people reluctantly conclude that the master plan has been changed and their long awaited redemption may never come to fruition.
Surprisingly, Hashem responds and informs the Jewish people that they are gravely mistaken. The prophet Yeshaya quotes Hashem saying, Can a mother ever forget her child, ceasing to have compassion for him?! Hashem continues, Even if she could forget, I will never forget you! (49:15) Hashem revealed to His people that His relationship with them is an inseparable one. He truly cares for them even beyond a mother’s concern for her own child and He is prepared to do everything in His power to reunite with His children. Hashem adds, Behold I have engraved you on My palm; you walls are constantly before Me. (49:16) Hashem tells His people that, in reality, they remain His constant focus throughout the day. Hashem awaits their return with such anxiety that He has affixed them to the palm of His hand and continually views them in their final stages of redemption. Contrary to the Jewish people’s opinion, Hashem never takes His mind off of them and is anxiously awaiting their return to Him.
The prophet completes the picture and says, Zion, lift your eyes and behold all the children returning to you…And you will ask in your heart, ‘Who begot me all of these children after having been so lonely and childless?!’ (49:21) The proportions of the Jewish return will be so overwhelming that the Jewish people themselves will find it difficult to fathom their own numbers. And Yeshaya adds a most comforting dimension and says The kings of the world will accompany your children’s return and their wives will nurse your babes. They will fall to the ground out of respect for you and lick the dirt of your feet. (49:43) At the time of the redemption, the Jewish people will be so highly respected that the kings of the world will offer to be their servants and will demonstrate unprecedented signs of reverence. This is Hashem’s view of His people, one that never leaves His mind.
In view of this, Yeshaya shares with the Jewish people the reason why they have not merited to sense their inseparable relationship with Hashem. Hashem asks, Why have I come and no one was there; I called and no one responded? (50:2) Hashem indicates that He has extended Himself on numerous occasions but the Jewish people did not respond and were not even there. Our Chazal in Mesichta B’rochos (6B) share with us a penetrating insight regarding this question. They state that when Hashem brings His presence to a synagogue in anticipation of a quorum of ten and does not find a minyan present He is immediately angered by this. Hashem says, Why have I brought My presence and no quorum was there for Me!? (Ibid.) Chazal reveal to us a significant dimension in our relationship with Hashem. The Gemara (B’rochos 6A) informs us that when a quorum congregates for the sake of prayer Hashem’s presence comes to greet them and even precedes them. Hashem’s interest in being with His children is so great that He goes out to meet them and awaits their arrival to His house of worship. However, this relationship should never be abused and we should never cause Hashem to extend Himself in vain. If we fail to appreciate our opportunity we will forfeit it and even bring upon ourselves the wrath of Hashem. If we truly desire a relationship with Hashem we must do our share in it and certainly be there when He presents Himself to us.
The prophet continues, Who amongst you reveres Hashem and listens to the voice of His servant, but went in darkness without any radiance? He should trust Hashem and rely upon Him. (50:10) Chazal, (B’rochos 6B) again, reveal to us an important insight about prayer based on this passage. They explain that the prophet Yeshaya was denouncing the individual who failed to attend his daily prayer services due to a pressing personal appointment. Instead of turning to Hashem with his need and benefiting from Hashem’s radiance, the person passed up the opportunity and opted to do things for himself. Yeshaya says, He should have trusted Hashem and relied upon Him. (Ibid.) Hashem truly desires to be with His people and provide them with all of their needs but they must, at least, turn to Him and recognize His kindness. If we would truly sense that Hashem is our provider we would certainly make prayer, our contact with Him, our top priority. The opportunity to be with Hashem is always available, providing we take the necessary steps to allow this association to be realized and understood.
This message is quite apropos for this week’s sidra, Parshas Ekev. By no coincidence the mitzva and opportunity of prayer is introduced in this week’s sidra. The Torah states, And when you will hearken to My mitzvos and serve me with all of your heart. (D’vorim 11:13) Our Chazal explain that the “service of the heart” refers to our turning to Hashem in sincere prayer. The Torah continues and states that if we do recognize Hashem as the true provider, I will give your rain in its proper time and you will reap the produce of the land… and you will eat and be satisfied. (Ibid. 11:14,15) But the Torah also warns us this week not to forget our true source of provision. Guard yourself lest you eat and are satisfied and have plenty of everything good. And you become arrogant and forget Hashem and attribute your success to your own ability. (Ibid. 8:11,17) Hashem never forgets His people but it is we who tend to forget Him. If we keep our focus on Hashem, we are guaranteed that we will merit to sense His warmth and continuous focus on us.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chesed of Skokie.