Background

The Haftorah this week is from the Book of Isaiah, Chapters 6:1-13, 7:1-6 and 9:5-6. Sephardim read only Chapter 6:1-13, while Yemenite Jews read Chapters 6:1-13 and 9:5-6 (but not from Chapter 7).



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 describing his vision in which he saw G-d sitting upon His heavenly throne, surrounded by Seraphim angels. Each of the angels has six wings ? two to cover their faces, two to cover their legs and two with which to fly. The angels turn to one another and recite G-d?s praises. Isaiah is awed by the sight before him. One of the Seraphim flies over to Isaiah and touches his lips with a glowing coal, telling the prophet that his sin will now be atoned. Isaiah then hears the voice of G-d asking, ?Whom shall I send and who will go for us?? To which the prophet responds by saying, ?Here I am, send me.? G-d then tells Isaiah to go and rebuke the people, whose hearts have grown fat and who have ceased to heed His will. Isaiah asks G-d how long it will be until the people will learn to listen. To which G-d replies that they will not listen until the land is empty and the nation is driven into exile, after which they will again return to G-d. The Haftorah then proceeds to relate how Retzin, king of Aram, joined forces with Pekah son of Remaliah, who was King of Israel, and they marched on Jerusalem to capture it from Judah. G-d tells Isaiah to allay the fears of Ahaz, King of Judah, and to tell him that Retzin and Pekah will fail to capture Jerusalem. The Haftorah closes with G-d informing Isaiah that a king shall arise in Jerusalem named Hezekiah, who will bear the yoke of Torah and mitzvoth, and that G-d shall rename him ?sar-shalom? or ?prince of peace?, because his reign will be one of peace and tranquility.



Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha:

In the Parsha, the Jewish people experience the Revelation at Sinai, while in the Haftorah, Isaiah describes his Divine vision.



Watch What You Say



After witnessing the heavenly angels singing to G-d on His throne, Isaiah is overwhelmed and declares, ?Woe is me for I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell amid a people of unclean lips? (Chap. 6, verse 5).? Immediately thereafter, one of the angels flies over to him and applies a burning coal to his lips, telling the prophet that he would now be forgiven for his sin.



The Question:

What sin had Isaiah committed?



The Answer:

Rashi says that Isaiah?s sin was that he spoke disparagingly of Israel when he said, ?I dwell amid a people of unclean lips?? Hence, according to Rashi, the angel put the coal to Isaiah?s lips ?to cause pain, to atone for your iniquity that you degraded Israel.? Clearly, if Isaiah had wanted to express humility, it would have been sufficient for him to declare himself ?a man of unclean lips?, but by saying the same thing about the entire people of Israel, he had in fact committed a sin that warranted atonement.



The Lesson:

Earlier this week, the 15 foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) met in Brussels and issued their customary criticism of Israel. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that over 250 innocent Israelis have been murdered in the past 16 months of Palestinian violence, the EU blasted Israel for having the nerve to defend itself, pompously declaring that the Jewish state must ?withdraw its military forces and stop the extra-judicial executions, lift the closures and all the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian people and its leadership, and freeze the settlements.? In addition, the Europeans arrogantly declared that ?Israel needs the Palestinian Authority and its elected president, Yasser Arafat, as a partner to negotiate with,? as if they are better judges of Israel?s national interests than Israel itself. The EU even went so far as to suggest that Israel pay ?reparations? for having damaged EU-funded projects in Gaza.



The fact is that Israel is in no need of European preaching or advice. After what the Jewish people experienced in Europe over the past millennium ? from the butchery of the Crusades to the intolerance of the Inquisition, from the mass expulsions from England, France, Spain and Portugal to the mass murder committed by Germany ? the Europeans are hardly in any position to offer us guidance when it comes to morality or ethics.



As we saw above, the prophet Isaiah?s criticism of Israel necessitated atonement on his part, because to speak disparagingly of G-d?s chosen people is neither acceptable nor appropriate. If this was true for Isaiah, who loved Israel and devoted himself to helping them, then it is even more valid when it comes to the EU. They must beg our forgiveness, not only for the harm they have caused Israel in the past, but for the unwarranted censure and disapproval they continue to mete out to our people.



Family Comes First



The Haftorah describes the alliance formed by the King of Israel, Pekah son of Remaliah, with Retzin, king of Aram, against Judah. Pekah and Retzin hoped to ascend to Jerusalem and capture it, annexing it to their control and replacing Ahaz, King of Judah, with a lackey who would do their bidding. The verse states that they ?marched on Jerusalem to wage war against it but they could not fight against her (Chap. 7, verse 1).?



The Question:

Why were they unable to fight against Jerusalem?



The Answer:

The Abarbanel explains that as long as Israel and Aram attacked separately, each was serving as a Divine agent for punishing Judah for its sins, with the result being that they were successful. However, once Israel joined together with Aram, a foreign nation, to fight against Judah, their fellow Jews, G-d would not allow them to be victorious.



The Lesson:

In recent years, many Israelis, sadly, found common cause with Yasser Arafat, sharing his dream of wresting Jerusalem from Jewish control and expelling the Jewish residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza from their homes. Rather than standing by their brethren, these misguided people preferred to defend Israel?s unrepentant foes and demand that they be given large swaths of territory, including eastern Jerusalem. Even now, after all the innocent Jewish blood that has been spilled over the past year and a half, there are still those Israelis who cling to the delusion that Arafat is a man of peace. Earlier this week, signs were hung along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway which said, ?Remove the settlements and all will be well? ? as if the root of the problem was the Jewish construction of homes rather than the Palestinian destruction of lives. However, as we saw earlier, such people have no chance of succeeding.



Turning against one?s own brethren is a deplorable act, one so wretched that it simply can not prevail. Just as G-d would not allow Pekah, King of Israel, to succeed in his battle against his fellow Jews, let us hope that He will bestow defeat on Pekah?s modern-day heirs as well, and that they will finally learn that most basic of all lessons: Family always comes first.

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Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister?s Office from 1996 to 1999.