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Thus says G-d… He that created the heavens…and spreads forth the Earth and what comes out of it…. He gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk therein: I am the L-rd who will make you (the Israelites) … to be the light to the nations - to open eyes that are blind, to release the prisoners from captivity… Sing to G-d a new song, and of His praise to the ends of the Earth… (Isaiah 42:5-10)
By way of introduction…
This Haftara is taken from the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a navi: an individual who personally received the word of G-d and conveyed it to the people. Isaiah himself lived at around 720 BCE. That was when both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were going through spiritual and moral decline. In consequence, his earlier prophesies - messages directly from G-d - foresaw the exiles of both the northern Kingdom of Israel (which took place in his lifetime), and ultimately the southern Kingdom of Judah.
The Book of Isaiah also contains deeply inspiring words of encouragement, applying to both the Israelites and the world at large. It repeatedly stresses that the Israelite exiles and Divine punishments suffered will be temporary, and that G-d will eventually redeem His people and settle them permanently in His land. Not only will they live under His constant care and guidance, but they will also raise the moral and ethical levels of the other nations.
The above opening words of the Haftara link the Creation with the ultimate destiny of the Israelites as an or goyim -'a light to the nations'. What is the connection between specifically the Creation, and Israel's destiny as His people and their relationship with the rest of humanity? How does this connection 'open the eyes of the blind?' And why should the song sung to G-d be a new one - surely, as Ecclesiastes (1:9) puts it, 'there is nothing new under the sun'?
One clue to the issues raised may be found in the Talmud's comment on Jethro's advice to Moses to create a hierarchy of judges. The text relates:
Moses sat to judge the people. The people stood (waited in line) for Moses from morning to evening (Ex. 18:13).
Rashi, quoting the Talmud, asks:
Did Moses really judge the people all day long - from morning until evening? (He did not.) But this statement is to tell you that whoever judges a case honestly and fairly is seen as a partner in the Creation. As the Creation's narrative states: 'it was evening and it was morning' (Gen. 1:31 et al).
The phrase of 'it was evening and it was morning' marks the stages of progress in the process of the Creation, Day by Day.
Man was created on the Sixth Day. But Man, placed on the top of the Creation Pyramid, is unique. Unlike all other beings, Man is given the abilities to advance the Creation still further, by making the world a better place in which to live. He alone was granted the intelligence to work towards this goal through his own experiences and, later on, by sensible application of the revealed wisdom of the Creator Himself. Whereas all other creatures could fulfill their roles on this earth by following their natural instincts, Man could only reach his by disciplining his desires to be 'leshem shamayim' (for the sake of Heaven) - meaning following a lifestyle that was pleasing to G-d and beneficial to Mankind and the world at large, even when he or she finds it boring and painful.
Thus Moses' establishment of a system of judges under his father-in-law's advice was designed for everyone to have easier access to justice and resolution of disputes. It aimed to improve the Creation by making it a fairer place in which to be.
Man was put on the top of the Creation Pyramid at the end of the Sixth Day. However, the Pyramid as a whole was designed to grow with Man's active involvement in it. Man was given the authority to use the Creation for his benefit (Gen. 1:29), including members of the animal kingdom (ibid. 9:3).
The miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from their far-flung exiles (as prophesized in Isaiah 34-5, 40 et al.) is a further stage in the Creation. Here, G-d interacts with Man raise the pyramid higher by enhancing Mankind at large. That may be illustrated by the following:
A lavishly illustrated Sunday color supplement magazine blew into the backyard of an illiterate peasant. As he leafed the pages he saw the Regency furnishings, the deep pile carpets, and the open-air swimming pool surrounded by the spacious outside lawn, with its rows of orchids. His eyes opened wider and wider. It occurred to him that there must be more to the world than his manure-covered flea-infested back yard, and endless grumbling. He stops being blind to the idea that he can do nothing to make his life more fulfilling and starts to learn to read and write…
When the rest of the world sees the miraculous circumstances of the final ingathering of the Israelite exiles and their full establishment in the areas that G-d wishes them to settle - according His Laws and Values, they will come to a new level of self-realization. The Creation will be forwarded by their seeking to bring G-d into their own lives, by applying some of the G-d-revealed wisdom and experience of the Israelites. As Moses told the Israelites about their following the Torah, the Nations will say,
This (Israelite) nation can only be a wise and understanding one. For who is this great nation who has G-d close to them… whenever (they) call to Him… and who is this great nation whose statutes and laws are just… (Deut. 4:6-8)
They will thus realize, as written in the Haftara: 'I am the L-rd who will make you (the Israelites) … to be the light to the nations - to open eyes that are blind (to self-improvement), to release the prisoners from (mental) captivity.'
And the nations - through the Israelites - will ultimately recognize their benefits of their Creator and, in recognition and gratitude, will be able to 'Sing to G-d a new song, and of His praise to the ends of the Earth…'
May our generation of Jews be part of that process.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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