Ki Teitzei: Haftarah of Consolation #5
The people to whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, people who lived during the first Temple, lived with a deep awareness of the presence of God. They were troubled by far more than their military and political situation. They lived with a
deep sense of failure; failure in the mission they had accepted at Sinai. These people had heard the earlier prophecies of Isaiah. They understood that their service of God was lacking. They knew that there was no passion and that they were simply following programmed behavior even in the Temple service. They were not focusing on their relationship with God even as they served Him.
The prophet is not consoling people who are in physical exile; he is addressing the sense of failure that people have in their relationship with God. Exile is not only being driven from the land. Even those who are living in the presence of the Temple can be in exile. The pain is not physical. Isaiah is addressing the spiritual malaise of the Jewish people. His words continue to resonate today, especially as we approach the Day of Judgement.
In every prayer of the High Holydays we will speak of Israel leading all the nations of the world to acknowledge God’s Presence, Power, and guidance of History. This has been part of our mission since we stood at Sinai and God challenged us to be a “Kingdom of Priests.” We accepted the responsibility to introduce God to the world and influence all nations to accept God and serve Him. The nations did not follow us at Sinai just as they had not come to us after the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea. Did we fail in our mission?
When Joshua’s spies met Rachav she spoke of the fear that consumed all the nations of Canaan. They knew that the Jews were coming to conquer the land, and they had little doubt that with God’s help the Israelites would succeed. They prepared for war. They did not come to make peace. They continued to refuse to acknowledge God. Did we fail in our mission?
Joshua wrote the Torah in seventy languages immediately after crossing the Jordan from Moab to Canaan. The Torah was made available to all the nations of the world. They did not accept the Torah, even after they witnessed the miracle of the Jews conquering their land. Did we fail in our mission?
After many ups and downs in our history and the development of the Land of Israel, David and Solomon effectively established a kingdom. The Temple was built in Jerusalem; it was to be a “House for all nations.” The nations did not come to their House of Prayer. Did we again fail in our mission?
We offer seventy Additional sacrifices on Succot in the merit of all the nations of the world. We are not allowed to forget our mission, the one that began at Sinai; the mission to lead all people to God. Have we failed?
We left Egypt with great miracles. We survived forty years in the desert with great wonders. We conquered and settled Canaan and transformed it into the Land of Israel with the open Hand of God. Yet, with all the success, all the fanfare, all the miracles, the world still did not come to learn about God.
We have influenced the world. Monotheism. Brotherly love. Morality. But, we have not achieved serving as priests of Hashem to lead all humanity to serve the Creator.
We did not maintain what we had achieved at Sinai. We lost what we gained with Joshua. We were unable to maintain our grasp on the glory of David and Solomon. Our own relationship with God was unsteady. We slipped. We lost perspective. We rebelled against Hashem. The Temple was destroyed. We were sent into exile.
We were embarrassed by our personal failure. We were shamed by the other nations, the very same nations we were to lead and inspire. We were now at their mercy. They had power over us.
What happened to the dream of Sinai? What happened to the greatness that had been placed in our grasp? What happened to our instrumental role in history? We still dream of the role. We still imagine achieving our potential and “fixing” the world. We pray at the beginning of each year that this coming year should be the one in which the vision of Sinai is reified. It seems to be only a dream, a distraction from the reality of our existence as a nation.
In this week’s Haftarah, the prophet Isaiah addresses this sense of failure, our internal embarrassment and the shame we experience in front of all other nations.