This week’s haftorah begins the special series of haftorah portions relating to our final redemption. In this introductory reading the prophet Yeshaya delivers Hashem’s warm words of comfort to the Jewish people. After nearly two thousand years of exile the time has finally arrived for the Jewish nation to return to Hashem and to the Promised Land. The painful scars of exile, persecution, and rejection by Hashem remain fresh in the minds of the Jewish people. In addition, they find it difficult to approach Him after all their defiance and disregard for His will. Hashem therefore turns to His nation and expresses to them warm words of comfort and console.
Hashem instructs the prophet Yeshaya, “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call her because her long term has been served and her sin has been forgiven. She has received a full measure from Hashem for all her sins.” (4:2) The Jewish people find it difficult to accept that Hashem is truly interested in them. Although, the time for redemption has come they have not thoroughly cleansed themselves from all of their wrongdoings. They question, “How can they entertain the lofty ideal of establishing a perfect relationship with Hashem without having perfected their ways?” Hashem responds, “Your sins have been erased because you have suffered an abundant and full measure for them.” (ibid.) The Malbim (ad loc.) explains this to mean that the harsh severity of their sufferings compensated for their incomplete steps of repentance. The Jewish people deserve their redemption after enduring and outliving their most horrifying and tragic experiences with steadfast faith in Hashem.
During their painful exile they have consistently demonstrated their unwavering commitment to Hashem and their inseparable attachment to Him.
The prophet continues, “A voice is calling from Zion clear the road of Hashem, smooth out the Land of Israel as a path for our Hashem. All valleys will be raised and all mountains levelled…and the glory of Hashem will be revealed.” (40:3-5) Hashem’s deep concern for His people encompasses all aspects of their return. The roads of return will be clear and smooth and Hashem will be waiting for His Jewish nation with ‘open arms’. Yeshaya says, “Announcer of Zion, ascend a tall mountain; raise your voice with strength without any fear and say to the cities of Judah that their Hashem is here. ” (40:2) Yeshaya adds that no nation will stand in their way and that every power will release them from their tight hold. He states, “All nations are like nought before Hashem, they are not considered an entity to Him.” (40:17) “He renders princes nothingness, the powers of the world worthless.” (40:23) Yeshaya tells the Jewish people that they have nothing to fear because from Hashem’s perspective nothing is standing in His way. Their redemption will be clear and perfect, an open demonstration of the hand of Hashem.
Our Chazal (see Yalkut Shimoni Yeshaya 443 and Beraishis 162) share with us an important insight regarding Hashem’s words of comfort. They quote the passage in Shir Hashirim wherein the Jewish people address Hashem at the time of redemption and say, “If only you, Hashem could be like a brother to me.” (8:1) Chazal explain this to refer to the indescribable compassion that Yosef Hatzadik displayed towards his brothers. After all the inappropriate behavior the brothers displayed to Yosef they could never forgive themselves for their misguided actions. They therefore delivered a message to Yosef beseeching Him to forgive them and not harbor ill feelings towards them. In response to their plea, the Torah states “And Yosef comforted them and spoke to their hearts.” Chazal indicate that mere words of comfort and assurance were not sufficient to allay their fears. Yosef therefore spoke to their hearts and redirected their thinking. He showed the brothers how meaningful they were to him and how their safety and prominence were key factors in Yosef’s attaining and maintaining his position and glory. The Jewish people express their wish that Hashem do the same for them and act towards them as Yosef did towards his brothers. Chazal conclude that if Yosef allayed all his brothers’ concerns and fears certainly Hashem will do the same for His people. When instructing His prophets to comfort the Jewish people, Hashem therefore chooses these very same words, “comfort them and speak to their hearts.” Yeshaya is charged with the mission of conveying to them how significant is each and every Jewish person to Hashem. Yeshaya says about our redemption, “Hashem will lead us like a shepherd tends to his flock, gathers them in his arm, carries them in his bosom and gently leads his young ones.” Yeshaya tells us that Hashem cares for every Jewish soul with individual concern as does a shepherd for his sheep. Although the Jewish people strayed so far and suffered so much Hashem still cares about them in an indescribable measure. Yeshaya beckons the Jews not to be hesitant or embarrassed to return to Hashem. Hashem cares so much for every one of them that, despite their past experiences, they will undoubtedly enjoy a most perfect relationship with Him.
The haftorah concludes, “Lift your eyes heavenward and see who created them; He who brings out the myriads of stars by number and calls each one by name; .. not a single one is overlooked.” In view of the above, Yeshaya’s final message is quite clear. Although the myriads of stars are scattered over the vast expansion of the heavens, Hashem identifies with each one of the stars, his loyal servants by name and purpose. The Ibn Ezra explains (see Tehillim 147, 4) we should view ourselves, the Jewish people, in this same vein. Although we are scattered over the vast expansion of the earth Hashem still identifies with each and every one of us by name and purpose and eagerly awaits our personal return to Him. These are true words of comfort, spoken to the heart of Yerushalayim, which will foster a perfect relationship with Hashem. May all of the Jewish nation, mourners of Zion and Jerusalem be comforted with our final redemption soon in our days!
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Dovid Siegel and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chesed of Skokie.
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