Background

The Haftorah this week is from the book of Isaiah, Chap. 43:21-28 and Chap. 44:1-23. Yemenite Jews read Chap. 43:21-28 and Chap. 44:1-6.



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 G-d rebuking Israel, for they were created to declare G-d?s greatness and praise, yet they do not call out to Him, even when they are in distress. They failed to bring the requisite sacrifices to the Temple, choosing instead to ?burden? G-d with their sins. Nevertheless, G-d reassures the Jewish people that He will erase their sins for His sake and He will not recall their iniquity. G-d reiterates that He has chosen Israel to be His people and that He will pour His blessing upon them like ?running water on dry land.? As a result, the Jews will grow in number and prosper, and people will proudly declare themselves to be part of the nation of Israel. G-d says that the Jews will be His witnesses in the world, attesting to the fact that He is G-d and there is no G-d beside Him.



The Haftorah then proceeds to mock the practice of idolatry and those who engage in it, stating that those who fashioned idols and worshipped them will be ashamed of their actions. They do not take to the heart the fact that the very wood they have used to heat their oven and bake their bread is the same material they have used to fashion their false gods to whom they pray for help. The Haftorah closes by telling Israel to remember these things and to worship G-d and not to forget Him. For G-d has erased our sins and He will redeem us, and when the redemption comes, the entire world will rejoice.



Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parsha:

The parsha (Torah portion) this week details the sacrificial offerings that Israel is required to bring, while the Haftorah speaks of how Israel was not fulfilling this obligation properly.



Don?t Lose Heart



The beginning of the Haftorah contains G-d?s rebuke of Israel for its lack of trust in Him. While recounting Israel?s sins, the Haftorah states: ?Your first father sinned and your intercessors transgressed against me.? (Chap. 43, verse 27)



The Question:

Who is this ?first father? that the Haftorah is referring to and what was his sin?



The Answer:

The commentators differ as to whom this is referring. The Radak and the Abarbanel say it is a reference to Adam, who sinned in the Garden of Eden. The Malbim states that it refers to prior generations who had sinned while the Temple was standing. Rashi, though, says that it is a reference to the patriarch Abraham, who was the ?first father? of the Jewish people. According to Rashi, the sin referred to in the verse was when Abraham asked for a sign from G-d that he and his descendants, the Jewish people, would inherit the Land of Israel. In Genesis 15:7 G-d tells Abraham: ?I am G-d who brought you out of Ur Kasdim to give you this land to inherit it.? In the next verse, Abraham replies, ?My L-rd, G-d, whereby will I know that I will inherit it?? Thus, according to Rashi, it is Abraham?s seemingly innocent request for reassurance regarding G-d?s promise of the Land that is the sin referred to in the verse of our Haftorah.



The Lesson:

With things looking bleaker by the day, as Jews are killed from the Galilee to Gaza, it is easy to grow fearful about the future. Yes, G-d promised us this Land long ago, and yes, we as a people miraculously rose up some five decades ago to reclaim our heritage and rebuild our state. Yet so many things seem to be working against us ? our enemies murder us with impunity, our allies tell us to stop defending ourselves and the United Nations this week called for the establishment of a state of Palestine, as if the Palestinians should be rewarded for killing 350 Jews in the past 18 months. Yet, while it may be easy to lose heart or to sink into despair, we saw above the gravity of casting doubt over whether we will in fact inherit this Land. For according to Rashi?s interpretation, Abraham?s request for reassurance from G-d that he would inherit the Land ? however reasonable or understandable it may have been ? was nevertheless considered a sin. So much so, that the prophet Isaiah repeats it to Israel hundreds of years later, when the Jewish people were safely ensconced on their Land. Now, too, we must look back to our ancestors and learn from them. We must realize that however threatening the storm clouds may appear to be, G-d?s promise remains in force. The Ripper of Ramallah may appear to be winning the diplomatic war against us, but in the long run we can be confident and certain that this Land, all of this Land, is ours and it will always be so. In that Divine promise we must never lose faith.



Be Yourself



At the end of the Haftorah, G-d tells the Jewish people to remember that idolatry is foolishness and empty, and that they should worship only G-d. The verse states: ?Remember these, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant, I formed you that you should be a servant unto me, Israel, do not forget me.? (Chap. 44, verse 21)



The Question:

Why does the verse mention Israel a second time? Isn?t the word ?Israel? in the second part of the verse superfluous?



The Answer:

Rabbi Mendel Hirsch (son of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch), in his book Sefer HaHaftarot, says that the second mention of the word ?Israel? is a call to us from G-d to be ?Israel? ? that is to say that all we have to do is to live and to act as we should, and all the promises that G-d has made to us will be fulfilled in full. Thus, G-d is calling upon us to be ourselves ? to be Israel ? and all will be well.



The Lesson:

This week, the United States reportedly ordered Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to pull Israeli forces out of Palestinian-controlled cities such as Ramallah, where they were successfully rounding up hundreds of terrorists and confiscating illegal firearms and explosives. Sharon duly complied, acting not like the leader of an independent and proud nation defending itself, but more like a marionette whose strings were pulled from afar. The result, of course, is that the terrorist infrastructure remains safe and it has now been given a respite to regroup and plot future assaults against innocent Israelis. No other nation in the world would so readily compromise the safety and well-being of its citizens, and neither should Israel. As we saw above, G-d has told us that the remedy for our troubles is for us to be ?Israel? ? to act like a proud and independent nation, true to its heritage and faith, one which puts its own welfare above any other considerations. The only way out of the current crisis with the Palestinians is precisely that ? for Israel to finally start acting like Israel and not like anyone else?s lackey or subordinate.

----------------------------------

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