Background



According to the Ashkenazic custom, this week?s Haftorah is from the Book of Isaiah, Chap. 27:6-13, 28:1-13, 29:22-23. According to the Sephardic custom, it is from the Book of Jeremiah, Chap. 1:1 to 2:3. Yemenite and Iraqi Jews read from the Book of Ezekiel, Chap. 16:1-14.



The prophet Isaiah was the son of Amotz, who, according to the Talmud in Tractate Megillah (10b), was the brother of Amatziah, King of Judah. Hence, Isaiah was the king?s nephew. According to the Talmud in Tractate Pesachim 87a, Isaiah prophesied during the same period as the prophets Hosea, Amos and Micah. Tradition has it that Isaiah was born circumcised and he is likened in his greatness to Moses. The Midrash in Deuteronomy Rabbah (2:4) states, ?There were no greater prophets than Moses and Isaiah?? Though he did not hesitate to reproach Israel when necessary, Isaiah?s prophecies are largely devoted to comforting the Jewish people and reassuring them about the future. The Midrash (Tanna d?Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 16) says that Isaiah prophesied more good things and more consolations to Israel than any other prophet. Indeed, in Hebrew, Isaiah?s name means ?G-d will redeem?.



Summary:

The Haftorah begins with the prophet Isaiah comforting Israel, saying that the Jewish people will take root and flower, will spread out far and wide and rule over other nations. G-d promises to punish the nations that harmed Israel ? each will be made to pay precisely in accordance with the extent to which they aggrieved the Jewish people. The Jews, too, were to be punished for their sins, but if they wish to atone for them, then they must discard their idolatry and destroy the altar they have made to false gods. Through their sins, Israel only enfeebled itself, making it easy prey to even its weakest enemies. Yet, G-d will again gather the Jewish people together and bring them back from their exile to the Land of Israel. The great shofar will sound and those that are lost in Assyria (i.e. the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel) and those who are dispersed in Egypt (i.e. the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin) shall come home and worship G-d on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.



The prophet then proceeds to bemoan the Kings of Ephraim (i.e. the northern Kingdom of Israel, comprising the Ten Tribes, who were later to be exiled by the Assyrians) for their drunkenness. Isaiah prophesies that they will be swept away and exiled by their enemies. He also laments the fact that the tribes of Judah and Benjamin learned from Ephraim?s ways, drinking wine to excess and distorting justice. Isaiah further sadly states that even though he reproached Judah and Benjamin, they would not listen. For their mockery of G-d?s law, he says, they will be ensnared and punished. However, the Haftorah closes with Isaiah comforting Israel, saying that in the future the Patriarch Jacob will not be ashamed before his fathers, because all of his children (i.e. the Jews) will be faithful to G-d and follow His Torah.



Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha:

In the Parsha, G-d sends Moses to redeem the Jewish people from the exile of Egypt. Similarly, the Haftorah contains G-d?s promise that the Jews will be redeemed at the end of days from their exile and brought to the Land of Israel.



1. Self-Inflicted Suffering



Isaiah tells Israel that it can atone for its sins by eradicating the idolatry in its midst and returning to G-d. Should Israel fail to do so, then they will be punished, says the prophet, warning them that they will become weak and their enemies will prevail over them: ?When its branches dry out, they shall be broken; women shall come and ignite it. Since it is not a people of understanding, therefore its Maker shall not have compassion on them and He Who formed them shall not grant them favor (Chap. 27, verse 11).?



The Question:

What does Isaiah mean when he says that because Israel is ?not a people of understanding?, G-d will not show them compassion? What does ?understanding? have to do with Divine mercy?



The Answer:

The Radak (Rabbi David Kimche, 1160-1235) explains the verse ?not a people of understanding? as follows: ?Israel now is not a nation of understanding, for if they were, they would examine themselves and see that all this evil has come upon them because they left G-d.? Hence, says the Radak, ?since they do not contemplate their actions and do not return to G-d when the evil befalls them, He who made them and preferred them over any other nation will not have mercy on them.? Thus, according to the Radak, Israel?s lack of understanding is the direct cause of its continued misery, because it does not take to heart that its own sins have brought about tragedy and destruction, it fails to repent and return to G-d. It is this failure, this lack of ?understanding?, that results in G-d?s decision to withhold His mercy.



The Lesson:

In the past 15 months, Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that their aim is the destruction of Israel. By turning down Ehud Barak?s extravagant concessions and returning to the use of violence and terror, Arafat effectively abandoned the peace process with Israel, tearing it to shreds and plunging the region into senseless bloodshed. Yet, even with the collapse of the Oslo process and the obvious repudiation of its underlying logic, many of Israel?s leaders continue to delude themselves. Though violence against Israel persists, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres continues to negotiate with senior PA officials and even formulated a draft document that would grant them statehood. The President of Israel, Moshe Katzav, was angry this week when Prime Minister Sharon refused to permit him to go to Ramallah and ask for a cease-fire from the Palestinian Legislative Council. The fact that it is the PA which launched and orchestrated the violence, and not Israel, makes it morally obscene to suggest that Israel be the one to plead for a truce. This, however, does not seem to have troubled Katzav ? the President apparently saw nothing wrong with appearing before the Terrorist Politburo responsible for the deaths of 250 innocent Jews over the past year.



It is precisely this type of short-sighted and vapid thinking that the Prophet Isaiah was referring to above. Israel unfortunately brought Oslo upon itself, foolishly thinking that a terrorist such as Arafat could change his spots. Even though Arafat violated every agreement he signed, Israel continued to make concessions and continued to withdraw. It is time for the nation to heed Isaiah?s warning ? to look at ourselves as a people and realize that the disaster of Oslo was an act of self-imposed madness, one which must be ended before it ends us. As Isaiah pointed out, we can not expect Divine mercy if we refuse to let go of our delusions and our errors and repent for our sins. Let us hope and pray that our leaders will finally come to realize this basic, fundamental truth and act accordingly.



2. Homecoming



The prophet Isaiah comforts Israel, foretelling that, at the End of Days, the Jewish people will be gathered from their exile and return home to the Land of Israel. He says, ?And it shall come to pass on that day, that the L-rd shall gather from the flow of the river to the stream of Egypt and you shall be gathered one by one, O children of Israel. And it shall come to pass on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those lost in the land of Assyria and those dispersed in the land of Egypt shall come and they will prostrate themselves before the L-rd on the holy mountain in Jerusalem (Chap. 27, verses 13-14).?



The Question:

What is this shofar [a ram?s horn] that will be sounded to herald the end of the Exile?



The Answer:

Some commentators understand this figuratively to mean that the Jews will return to Israel as if a shofar had sounded to call them home. Yet many interpret it literally to mean that a shofar will be heard. Indeed, in the weekday Shemoneh Esrei prayer, we ask G-d to ?Sound the great shofar of our freedom? and end the exile of the Jewish people. The Midrash in Pirkei D?Rabbi Eliezer Chap. 31 says that the shofar is the right horn of the ram which the Patriarch Abraham sacrificed instead of his son Isaac on Mount Moriah.



The Lesson:

Recently, the nation of Argentina has sadly descended into chaos. Its ballooning foreign debt has topped $140 billion, riots have taken place and the country now has its fifth president in two weeks. Reports in the Israeli media indicate that large numbers of the 200,000 Argentinean Jews are now considering aliyah to Israel, particularly since many of them have been hit hard by the economic disarray. Some come to Israel with little more than the clothes on their backs. The difficulties of aliyah for many are therefore compounded by their lack of financial resources. It therefore behooves us to do what we can to facilitate their absorption in Israel. The return of the Argentinean Jews to Israel is a fulfillment of Isaiah?s prophecy of the ingathering of the exiles. The difficulties they encounter, just as we all did when moving to Israel, recall the Midrash above regarding the shofar, which symbolizes our father Abraham?s dedication and self-sacrifice. Many of the immigrants could easily move elsewhere, to places such as America or Spain. By choosing Israel, they are tying their fate to the Jewish people and linking their future with Jewish destiny. It is in that spirit that we must now welcome them home.