This week’s haftorah continues the theme of comfort and presents the strong feelings of the Jewish people in exile. The prophet Yeshaya captures their concern and presents their deeply sensed feeling of rejection. Yeshaya quotes, “And Zion said Hashem has forsaken and forgotten Me.” (49:14) The long, dark years of exile have caused the Jewish people to sincerely believe that Hashem has abandoned them never to return. There are no indications of redemption in the air and the rapid spiritual decline of the times certainly does not reflect the glorious era of Mashiach. Therefore, the Jewish people reluctantly conclude that the master plan must have changed and their long awaited redemption will never come to fruition.
To this, Hashem responds and informs the Jewish people that they are gravely mistaken. Hashem says, “Can a mother ever forget her child; cease to have compassion for him?! Even if she could, I will never forget you!” (49:15)
Hashem revealed to His people that His concern for them extends beyond all human concerns. The Jewish people are too meaningful to Hashem to allow Him to forget them. Hashem adds, “Behold I have engraved you on My palm; your glorious walls are constantly before Me.” (49:16) Hashem tells His people that, in reality, they remain His constant focus every single day. The Malbim (ad loc.) explains that the ultimate purpose of the world can only be accomplished through the Jewish people. The glorious era of redemption revolves around them and it is only they who can reveal to the entire world the truths of Hashem. Hashem therefore awaits their return with anxiety in order that His master plan can come to fruition. He has, figuratively, affixed them to the palm of His hand and always sees them in their final stages of redemption. In actuality, He is constantly maneuvering world events in order to bring about the redemption. The Jewish people are therefore, by definition, the center of all world events. Contrary to the Jewish people’s opinion, Hashem never takes His mind off His people and is always anxiously awaiting their return.
The prophet continues to share breathtaking glimpses of our final redemption and then raises the obvious question. Why don’t the Jewish people sense this special relationship? If, in fact, Hashem cares so much for them why don’t they feel it? Why does Zion consider herself so neglected and forgotten? The prophet answers this with a penetrating question from Hashem, “Why have I come and no one was there; have 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 didn’t even bother to be there. In essence, Hashem has done His part in helping us sense His concern but we have not responded.
Our Chazal in Mesichta B’rochos (6B) share with us their painful insight regarding this issue and explain this passage in a most vivid form. They inform us that when Hashem brings His presence to a synagogue in anticipation of a quorum of ten and does not find them there He is immediately angered. To such situations Hashem responds, “Why have I come and no (quorum) was there for Me; have I called and no one responded.” This statement suggests that we have overlooked a serious dimension of our relationship with Hashem. To begin we quote the Gemara in B’rochos (6A) which informs us that when a quorum congregates for the sake of prayer Hashem’s presence goes out to greet them. Hashem’s desire to be with His people is so significant that He even goes out to meet them, awaiting their arrival to His sanctuary? From this we understand that prayer is far greater than an obligation or responsibility. Prayer is an opportunity to unite with our Creator and associate with Him. So significant is this relationship that Hashem even precedes His people and anxiously awaits their arrival to his home.
We should cherish this opportunity and attempt to foster this relationship at all costs. It goes without saying that we should never ignore this opportunity and abuse this relationship. If Hashem deems it appropriate to be there we should certainly do our part to respond to His kindness and warmth. If we fail to attend we are causing Hashem to extend Himself in vain and can not expect positive results to follow.
Hashem is truly angered by our arrogance and accepts our behavior as a sign of indifference or rejection. Yeshaya concludes, “How can we expect to sense Hashem’s warmth and concern?” If we truly desire a relationship with Him we must do, at the least, our part to receive Hashem’s gesture of warmth and to be there when His is there.
The prophet continues this theme and asks, “Who amongst you reveres Hashem, listens to the voice of His servant, but went into darkness leaving no radiance for himself. He should trust in Hashem and rely upon Him.” (50:10) Chazal, (Brochos 6B) again interpret this passage in a unique manner and reveal another important insight about prayer. They explain that the prophet was referring to the daily minyan attendee who failed once to attend his prayer services due to a pressing personal appointment. In response to this absence Hashem brings the situation to the attention of others. They ask, “What has happened to this G-d fearing individual who was accustomed to approaching Hashem on a daily basis?” Now, the man has gone to a place of darkness and no light from Hashem will shine upon him. He should have relied upon Hashem rather than failing to keep his appointment with Hashem in His office. (see Rashi ad loc.)
This response also seems quite harsh to us. After all, the person was always a G-d fearing individual who constantly attended prayer services. Why is he being so severely denounced for this and even worse, regarded as going to a place of darkness? The answer seems to be in the concluding words, “He should trust in Hashem and rely upon Him.” Apparently we are noticing a change of attitude and a principal deviation here. Prayer represents our recognition that everything, our livelihood included, is in the hands of Hashem. Our first appointment of the day is with Hashem wherein we request that all of our day’s experiences will be met with success. Our happiness, health and wealth are all up to Hashem and we therefore request of Him that He pay serious attention to all our needs.
However, one who cancels his daily appointment with Hashem demonstrates that he considers matters to be in his personal control. He couldn’t meet with Hashem today because a more pressing need existed. Excluding Hashem for the moment, this personal appointment was necessary in order to secure his personal finances. If he didn’t attend he could forfeit his opportunity of producing financial success.
Hashem responds that this person has forgotten the most basic principal of life. He should have trusted in Hashem because ultimately even the success of this meeting depends upon Him. Hashem would have “shined His light upon him” if he would have followed the formula. But now, after demonstrating his lack of faith, he has gone away from Hashem. From this point and on his relationship has been severely effected and Hashem chooses not to allow this person to sense His true concern for him.
Yes, Zion feels neglected and doesn’t sense Hashem’s interest in her. But, as the prophet reveals, this is not Hashem’s doing. We have always had the opportunity of prayer and could always enjoy a warm personal association with Hashem in His very own home. However it is we who abuse our privilege and force Hashem to keep His distance from us. If we would take prayer more seriously we would always feel the helping hand of Hashem.
How appropriate are these lessons which are read in conjunction with this week’s parsha, Eikev. Because, in fact, the central theme of the parsha is to never forget Hashem and His kindness. This week, Moshe Rabbeinu reminds us that our sustenance and livelihood are in Hashem’s hands, rather than our own.
In addition, Moshe Rabbeinu introduces the opportunity of fervent prayer and informs us that continued success and satisfaction are the natural results of such perfect service. (see Devorim 8:17, 18 and Devorim 11: 13, 14, 15)
May we merit to continuously develop our relationship with Hashem through our prayer and receive the radiance of Hashem always.