Background

As this Shabbat coincides with the second day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar (the beginning of the Hebrew month of Iyar), a special Haftorah is read from the book of Isaiah, Chap. 66:1-24, followed by a repetition of verse 23 (because we wish to conclude the reading on a positive note). This Haftorah is read whenever Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh coincide, as prescribed by the Talmud in Tractate Megillah (31a).



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 rebuking the wicked, reminding them of G-d?s awesome power: ?Thus says the L-rd: ?The heavens are my throne and the earth is my footstool.?? (verse 1) Though no house or earthly structure can contain or limit G-d, He nevertheless chose to have the Jews build a Temple in His honor. Despite this gesture, the wicked desecrate His house. For what G-d prefers is the person of lowly and crushed spirit, one who hastens to do His bidding. The evildoers offer sacrifices to G-d even as they persist in their sinful ways, mistakenly thinking that in so doing, they are fulfilling His will. The wicked will be shamed, says the prophet, and those who are loyal to G-d shall yet rejoice. At the end of days, G-d will judge the nations who have mistreated His people Israel and the Jewish people will return to the Land of Israel. Those who mourned over Jerusalem during the Exile shall rejoice and be comforted, while those who worshipped idols will be punished. The nations of the world will assist the Jews in returning to Zion, according to the prophet, and Israel will live forever. Then, on every Sabbath and every New Moon, all of mankind will prostrate themselves before the one, true G-d ? the G-d of Israel.



Connection Between the Haftorah and Shabbat Rosh Chodesh:

Since the Haftorah stresses the importance of the Sabbath and the New Moon, saying, ?And it shall be from New Moon to New Moon and from Sabbath to Sabbath that all flesh shall come to prostrate themselves before me, says the L-rd,? (verse 23), it is read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh.



Brotherly Hate



When the prophet Isaiah reassures those Jews who are loyal to G-d, he contrasts them with ?your brethren who hate you, who cast you out.? (verse 5)



The Question:

Why does the prophet refer to the people he is rebuking as ?your brethren who hate you, who cast you out?? Why is it important to stress that they are ?your brethren??



The Answer:

The Ibn Ezra and others explain that the prophet is referring to Jews who hate their fellow Jews and treat them contemptuously, seeking to distance themselves from them. The fact that they are ?your brethren? ? that they too are Jews ? and yet they behave in such a hateful manner, is what makes it even more difficult to bear, says the Ibn Ezra. This, then, is among the reasons why the prophet Isaiah seeks to reassure the righteous ? because of the pain they certainly feel at being singled out by their fellow Jews.



The Lesson:

Lately, it seems, various members of Israel?s extreme Left have been outdoing each other in expressing hatred and contempt for Israel?s government. Former Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni, in an interview with the Arabic newspaper Kol al-Arab, labeled Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz ?war criminals?, saying they are ?carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity.? (Maariv, April 11, p.18) Labor party leader Yossi Beilin has recently appeared on CNN and written op-eds in both the New York Times and the Washington Post in which he lambastes the Israeli government, rather than the Palestinians, as if Israel was somehow responsible for the current impasse. Yossi Sarid, head of the opposition in Israel?s parliament, has even blamed the Israeli right for Palestinian terror attacks, saying that it is the right-wing which gave the terrorists the ?motivation? to carry out their lethal assaults. So, despite the fact that Israel is at war and that Palestinian terrorists continue to murder innocent Israeli civilians, these hucksters of hate continue to spread their venom, treating their fellow Jews with disdain and undermining the country?s unity.



This is precisely the kind of painful phenomenon that the prophet Isaiah described above ? Jews who arrogantly deride their fellow Jews and treat them in an unseemly manner. The Jewish people have suffered from this divisiveness throughout the centuries. The rabbis tell us that it was just this type of senseless hatred that led to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from their Land. At this difficult hour in Jewish history, when the people of Israel are literally fighting for the future of the State, it is particularly appalling that the extreme Left would choose to break ranks with their own people. Sadly, it seems, they have failed to learn from history.



There Will Never Be Another Exile



Towards the end of the Haftorah, the prophet says that the Jewish people will return to the Land of Israel at the end of days and they will again bring sacrificial offerings to G-d. The Jews are then told that just as the heavens and the earth ?stand before me, says the L-rd, so shall your seed and your name stand.? (verse 22)



The Question:

After telling the Jews that they will return to the Land of their forefathers, why does the prophet then offer them reassurance that they will stand forever?



The Answer:

The Radak says that the verse is intended to reassure the Jewish people that once they will be redeemed and return to their Land, they will never again be exiled, nor will they have to fear that their name or their descendants will disappear (i.e. assimilate) in the Diaspora. Rather, just as the heavens and the earth will stand forever, so too will the people of Israel remain firmly in their Land. Though the enemies of the Jewish people might conspire to throw them out of the Land, their plot will never come to pass. Thus, the prophet is coming to assure the Jews that once they return to the Land of Israel, they need never fear being exiled from it again.



The Lesson:

Many Israelis are becoming increasingly anxious about the future, as the Palestinian terror campaign intensifies and Arab hostility mounts. Hizbullah terrorists in southern Lebanon have begun firing hundreds of rockets and mortars into northern Israel, sparking fears that a second front might be opening up. Even as Israel buried still more victims of Palestinian terror this week, nearly the entire international community condemned the Jewish state for having the nerve to defend itself. However, as we saw above, these daunting events need not break our spirit, because the Jewish people will never again be exiled from their Land. The process of redemption has begun, and the Divine clock of history cannot be turned back. Try as they might, our enemies will never defeat us, for, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, just as the heavens and the earth ?stand before me, says the L-rd, so shall your seed and your name stand.? (verse 22)



Simply put - the Jewish people are here to stay.

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