This week’s haftorah concludes the three week series related to the exile of the Jewish people and the destruction of their Bais Hamikdash. This final reading goes down on record as the strongest message of reprimand ever delivered to the Jewish people. The prophet Yeshaya depicts the moral conduct of the Jews as being the most corrupt and wicked one since the days of Sedom and Gemorah. He declares the Jews to be even worse than 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 more 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 account. 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. 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 of 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 profound statement of the Jewish people in Shir Hashirim. Shlomo Hamelech presents the feelings of the Jewish people during their last moments before their bitter exile from their homeland. They describe themselves in the following succinct manner, “I am asleep but my heart is awake.” (Shir Hashirim 5:2) Rashi (ad loc.) quotes the words of Chazal in the Pesikta which explain the Jewish people’s message. The Jews stated that although they fell into a deep slumber and basically abandoned Hashem’s service, Hashem, the heart of the Jewish people, will always remain awake. The inner contact between Hashem and the Jewish heart can never become disconnected.
The Jewish people’s message to Hashem was that He overlook their atrocities and focus on their inner essence. Even if the external expression of the Jewish people displays total disinterest in Hashem the internal bond between Hashem and His people will always remain. Buried beneath the many thick layers of indifference which coat the heart is a pure and sincere feeling for their true beloved father, Hashem. True, their actions do not display any semblance of interest in Hashem, however the fact remains that the Jewish heart can always be motivated. Hashem can always reach the bottom of their hearts and reengage them in His perfect service.
We now understand the sudden change of nature in this week’s haftorah. The behavior of the Jewish people was truly abhorrent but this only represented the external layers of their heart. When addressing their actions Hashem stated in the most harsh terms that He had no interest in His people. However there always remains an inner dimension to the Jewish people, the faint call from within them to return to their true source of existence, Hashem. When addressing this inner essence Hashem is always prepared to motivate His people and even invites them to be cleansed and glisten like snowflakes.
This is the hidden secret of the Jewish people’s eternal existence. From the vantage point of their actions, the Jews, at times, fall into a deep coma developing the most inconceivable immoral behavior. They do not demonstrate any inner interest to be with Hashem or any sincerity to serve Him. But Hashem, the heart and pulse of the Jewish nation remains connected to His people. His love for them is so boundless that He never gives up on them. And so, when their actions are totally corrupt He addresses that inner dimension of theirs. He beckons them to reconcile their ways and informs them that He is prepared to do virtually anything for them. If they do return He will cleanse them and even brighten them like glistening snowflakes. This remarkable dialogue reinforces the fact that Hashem always cares about us and is forever awaiting our return. He constantly yearns for that glorious moment when all of His people will reflect the name of our month, Av, and proclaim, “You are our (Av) father and we are Your sons!” May this day come speedily in our times.