Shofetim-Haftarah of Consolation #4
Isaiah Chapter 51:12 – 52:1:The fourth of the seven Haftarot of consolation is the middle point. This Haftara is the segue between the destruction and mourning of the Ninth of Av and the celebration of Creation and Life on Rosh Hashanah.
It is not a coincidence that this Haftara begins with the same word that began the Revelation of God at Sinai, the Covenant of the Ten Statements; “I Am”. Being. Existence.
We also find that many of the key phrases of the Lecha Dodi, composed by Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz, sung by most congregations to greet the Shabbat, are found in this selection from Isaiah: “Awaken yourself! Awaken yourself!” (51:17) “Awaken, awaken! Don your strength…” (52:1) “Shake the dust from yourself,” (52:2). Rabbi Alkabetz chose words from the Haftarot of Consolation to celebrate the Shabbat, as if to say, that consolation is necessary for the peace of Shabbat, and to draw a comparison between Redemption and Shabbat.
We also find numerous repetitions in the Seven Haftarot; more in this selection than any other.
It is clear that the prophet begins by describing God as assuming full responsibility for consoling His people. After the challenges they expressed in the second Haftarah, and the statement that they are “inconsolable” in the previous Haftarah, it is God and only God Who can console the Jews. The consolation will be Divine; the Nechama/Consolation will be the Redemption
We console a mourner by distracting him from his pain. We do not and cannot promise that he will regain what he has lost. If someone has lost money or an object, he will be consoled if he is able to recoup his loses or find the lost object; the pain, albeit temporary was real and will often remain a sour point in his life.
The Ultimate consolation must be that it becomes clear that what we experienced as suffering was not; what we believed was lost, never was. That everything that happened was necessary for the ultimate benefit of the one who suffered. This is what will happen in the Redemption. We will have sufficient clarity to understand that all that happened was necessary and was actually good. (Tzlach; Pesachim 49b)
“I Am God your Lord Who took you out of Egypt…” That alone, demands that you serve Me. The Ultimate Redemption will be far greater than the redemption from Egypt; “It is I, I who will comfort you.” The “I” of Egypt and the “I” of the Redemption will comfort you by virtue of the absolute clarity you will have
Isaiah is taking the people back to the greatest moment in their history; the Revelation. He is reminding them how each heard God’s voice at Sinai, how each had attained the highest level of prophecy. Each Jew had two crowns; one for “We will do,” and one for “We will hear.” Two crowns of glory. Crowns they lost when they asked Moshe to stand between God and them. “I, ‘Anochi’ was standing between Hashem and you..” (Deuteronomy 5:5) Moshe uses the same word; “Anochi” so that the people will understand what they forfeit when they were too frightened to directly hear God’s voice.
This was tragically a lost moment of greatness. It was an Infinite opportunity forfeit by fear and a sense of lacking. Would any of our troubled history have occurred if we had risen to the occasion?
The Jews who are listening to the prophet Isaiah understand that much of their suffering and failures was caused by their fear of the demands of the greatness demanded by such a direct relationship with God.
“If only we had not…” If only we had…” The living hell of lost opportunities. Issues similar to those we experience as we stand at the crux of looking back on our mistakes, Tisha B’Av and look forward to the opportunities of the future, Rosh Hashanah. Will we fail again? Will we rise to the potential granted on Rosh Hashanah and take full advantage of all that is being offered?
Standing at the Boundary between Past and Future: We hesitate to cross the line from past to future, we are liminal Man. We are stuck in our past and fear not only the challenges and suffering the future will bring; we also fear that we will again fail to fully use the opportunities offered to us on Rosh Hashanah.
Yeshayahu speaks to us as we stand on this thin boundary between past and future. He takes us back to Revelation and then offers us more; the Navi repeats “Anochi” “I am” to tell us that we will receive more than our ancestors received at Sinai. God is assuming full responsibility. God will help us rise to the occasion and utilize our full potential.
This is the prophet’s vision of redemption; a time in which God will help each of us develop our abilities to their fullest potential. God will not allow us to lose our crowns of glory as we did at Sinai.
We can easily forget what is entailed in asking God to grant another year of life: We are not simply asking God to mark down a credit in a book and then yell out “Next!” Another year of life is another year of Hashem guiding us each second. It is a year of seconds each of them granted by Hashem and filled with abundance. We are not asking for a gift of a year, but a COMMITMENT of a year. What is entailed in that commitment?
Yeshayahu responds and explains with this Haftarah; What is your vision for the coming year?