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'You (i.e. the Israelite Nation in the future) will be established through righteousness.' (Isaiah 54:14)
The context of the Haftara is the Return to the Holy Land and to Zion. The first half of the Haftara is a relatively factual description of the end of the Exile. Zion, under G-d's total protection from powerful enemies, will sparkle as though covered with precious stones. The inhabitants' way of life will be characterized by 'tzedaka' - doing what is right and just (54:14), Torah learning (54:13), and pro-active co-operation in re-building the city (54:13 - following extension of the interpretation of that verse in the Talmud: Berachot 64a).
The second half brings inspiration by looking into the future when G-d's rule takes root. 'All who are thirsty come for water! Even if you have no money, buy food and eat…without cost' (55:1). Food and drink - both in the physical and (following Rashi, Ibn Ezra) spiritual senses will be within everyone's reach - no doubt because the moral currency of the city will already have been 'established in "tzedaka" - righteousness': the norms of social justice (54:14).
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 scene of the middle section of Isaiah with which contains the opening part of the Haftara is some 200 years later - relating to primarily to the end of the Babylonian exile, although it could at the same time be also be hinting towards redemption in a much later future era. This part of the book mentions Cyrus II, Emperor of the Medes and the Persians, by name. G-d declares him to be His shepherd and His anointed (44:28 and 45:1). Following his declaration, some of the Jews returned, physically and spiritually, to rebuild a much-devastated Holy Land. And the last eleven chapters of the Book - beginning with the closing text of this Haftara - relates to the final redemption and the end of the Diaspora: when 'all Israel will emerge out of its nations of dispersion and reassemble on G-d's sacred mountain of Jerusalem.' (66:20)
The Book of Isaiah contains deeply inspiring words of encouragement, applying to both the Israelites and the world at large. It repeatedly stresses, as seen in this Haftara, 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, in honor, prosperity, and with worldwide influence.
The content of the Haftara declares to the Israelites in exile that the future will bring a new era. Indeed, declares the Prophet: at that time 'no weapon manufactured against you will succeed' (54:17). And in that new era, adherence to G-d's Laws will enable the Israelite Nation to return to its roots under the leadership of the House of David. And at that time, other nations will recognize the Creator's Presence amongst His People in the Holy Land, and run to associate themselves with the House of Israel.
The prophecy of Isaiah states that in the future, the Israelite Nation will be established through 'tzedaka' - righteousness - doing what is right at the right time, and in the right circumstances. In that context, consider the following letter. It is a free translation from an item in 'Ha-Ichud' - Parasha Sheet #473, Ashdod, Israel.
'Dear Fellow Residents,
'In a terrorist attack in Hebron, a soldier named Netanel was shot by an Arab, who escaped. Netanel collapsed to the ground, rapidly losing blood. Under normal circumstances he wouldn't have had a chance, since the hour was very early morning, with no-one about. However, the shots were heard by another soldier, who came running to investigate. When he saw Netanel wounded, he administered first aid and summoned an ambulance, and accompanied him to the hospital; he left Netanel's side only after his parents arrived. He left the hospital quickly, without identifying himself. After the doctors administered to Netanel, they declared that without the other soldier's application of first aid, Netanel would not have survived.
'Now, Netanel's parents owned a makolet (local general neighborhood store), and they hung a large sign in their window, to inform the neighbors of their son's miraculous aid from Heaven; and to enlist the aid of anyone who might be able to identify their son's rescuer. And so the sign hung in their window, for one-and-a-half years.
'One day a woman, resident of Be'er Sheva, entered the makolet to make a purchase. Upon leaving she read the sign in the window, then very excitedly re-entered the makolet and burst into tears, saying, "That's my son, that's my son! My son saved your son!" She went on to describe the background of the story. She located her son via mobile phone, asking him to come to meet her at the makolet, and in a brief moment he was identified as the rescuer.
'The emotional meeting of the two families quickly became the talk of the town. When it came time to leave, the rescuer's mother asked the other woman to join her in a side room. She said, "This isn't the first time we met, likely you don't remember that we met in this very makolet twenty years ago". Netanel's mother didn't know what she was referring to, and the other woman continued. "Twenty years ago I was passing in the neighborhood, and I entered your makolet to make a purchase. At that time I was pregnant, and the two of us entered into a pleasant conversation. I mentioned the difficulties I was having with my pregnancy, and I told you of my plan to abort. When you heard my woes, you and your husband summoned all your powers of convincing to prevent me from going ahead with my plan, telling me how rewarding children are. The two of you talked, and you talked, until you convinced me. Now, this same infant who was born because of you, he is the same soldier who saved your son's life. G-d paid you back in kind."
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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