Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 23
"The burden of Tzor." (v 1). In this chapter the prophet foretells and laments the terrible coming destruction of the great sea-trading city of TZOR . According to the simplest and most obvious interpretation of this prophecy, TZOR refers to the city of Tyre in Lebanon , which under King Hiram had showed favor to Israel in the days of King David and King Solomon but which later betrayed her. The identification of TZOR in this chapter with Tyre is endorsed by Rashi (on verse 5) on the grounds that the prophesied fall of Tzor is said to bring shame to Sidon , which is not far north of Tyre on the Lebanese coast.
However Rashi also mentions the opinion of Rabbi Elazar ben Pedath (brought in Midrash Tanchuma Va-era ch 13) that the prophecy in this chapter is directed against Edom-Rome, whose great fall in time to come will strike terror into people's hearts like the terror inspired by the fall of Egypt at God's hands. This comparison between the impact of fall of Tzor and that of Egypt is contained verse 5: "According to the report as to Egypt , so will they will tremble at the report of Tzor". Rashi (ad loc.) lists "Ten Plagues" that according to various verses in the prophets will befall Edom , each corresponding to one of the Ten Plagues in Egypt . Rabbi Elazar ben Pedath's opinion is founded on the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, that "every place in the Bible text where TZOR is spelled CHASSER ("defective", i.e. without the letter VAV in the middle, as in our present text), it refers to the kingdom of Edom, while every TZOR that is spelled MALEH ("full", i.e. WITH the VAV) refers to the city of Tyre (Tanchuma loc. cit.). The root TZAR, without a VAV, means a trouble or oppressor, while the root TZOR with a VAV means to form or create.
Regardless of whether this prophecy applies only to the city of Tyre [which in recent times has distinguished itself mainly by giving shelter to Hizbullah terrorists while firing missiles into Israel ] or also to EDOM , which is today still desperately clinging to the last vestiges of its ascendancy, the calamity portrayed is one of cataclysmic proportions. A city that was a teeming, busy, prosperous international trading center (vv 2-3) is cast down only to see many of its finest young men and women destroyed as if they had never existed (v 4), while the remaining inhabitants flee into exile in all directions (vv 6-7). The calamity is from God alone in order to take vengeance on Tzor for its arrogance (vv 8ff).
In verse 12 God tells the inhabitants of Sidon to migrate to Kittim, which means Italy (see Targumim on Numbers 24:24). This seems to suggest a kinship between the people of ancient Tyre & environs and the city of Rome , which was a relatively recent habitation in the time of Isaiah. Verse 13 seems to indicate that Tzor itself was originally established by the Chaldees (KASDIM) under the auspices of Assyria , the irony being that they would now come to destroy it.
"And it shall come to pass on that day that Tzor shall be forgotten for seventy years like the days of ONE KING." (v 15). Despite her one-time majesty, Tzor will be cast down for seventy years. This was the number of years that King David lived. Metzudas David suggests that it was because Tyre had made a covenant of friendship with David but later betrayed Israel that she had to suffer seventy years of devastation corresponding to the years of the life of David, in order to understand that her punishment was divinely decreed.)
"Take a lyre, go about the city, you harlot that has been forgotten." (v 16). When a forgotten harlot wants to get back into business, she goes around singing to attract people's attention. So too Tzor after her seventy years of devastation would again begin to go around hiring herself out to the all the kingdoms of the world (v 17) - except that all her gains will be "sanctified to HaShem" (v 18) for at the end of days, the profits from Tzor's trade will flow to Jerusalem, where they will be consumed by the Tzaddikim after the coming of Melech HaMashiach (Rashi, Metzudas David & RaDaK ad loc.). The "stately clothing" (MEKHASSEH ATEEK) which the Tzaddikim will enjoy at that time refers to the secrets of the Torah and the reasons for the commandments, which are things that the Ancient of Days (ATEEK) has covered over (KEESSAH) (Pesachim 118a).
"Behold HaShem makes the land empty and makes it waste." (v 1). The very terrible prophesy of devastation, exile, grief and mourning contained in this chapter (vv 1-12) is considered by many of the commentators to refer to Israel - including both the Ten Tribes and the people of Judah. Thus Rashi (on v 1) states: "This is a prophecy of retribution against Israel , because Isaiah delivered a prophecy of consolation [in the closing verses of the last chapter and in v 14ff of the present chapter], but prior to its fulfillment they would see great trouble. Therefore he said to them: It is not to you that I am saying you will inherit it, because God will empty you out of the land. Only those of you who will be left on the day of redemption shall raise their voices and exult, as it says later in the prophecy in verse 14, and it is to them that I delivered the good prophecy."
Another opinion, however, proposed by RaDaK (on v 1 and v 5 etc.) is that this prophecy refers to the earth as a whole and to the devastation that will strike the nations at the time of the redemption of Israel . Rashi and Metzudas David likewise apply the closing prophecies of doom (vv 17ff) to the nations.
"And it shall be as with the people, so with the priest, as with the servant, so with his master." (v 2). In a secure, stable society, people show respect for worthy notables, but when a whole population is taken into exile, the captor makes no distinction between the honorable and the lowly, herding them all together indiscriminately (see Rashi on v 2). The Talmud points out that lack of respect for those of status had already become a feature of life in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the Temple . "Rabbi Yitzchak said: Jerusalem was only destroyed because small people and great people were equated with one another" (Shabbos 119b). Today things seem even worse: the small people have seized control while the truly great are treated like the dust of the earth!
"The earth also is defiled (CHANPHAH) under its inhabitants" (v 5). The root here translated as "defiled" means to flatter and act hypocritically. The earth is said to act hypocritically when it produces weeds and empty pods instead of edible crops. This prophecy implies that when Israel and the nations defy the Torah, it generates an ecological catastrophe causing freak crops. [And often the beautiful-looking produce on the supermarket shelf also turns out to be tasteless and nutrient-deficient, another example of hypocrisy.]
"For they have transgressed Torahs, they have changed the law; they have broken the eternal covenant" (v 5). If this prophesy refers to Israel , it is referring to the transgression of the two Torahs, the written and the oral (Metzudas David). If it refers to the nations of the world, it refers to their persecution of Israel in excess of what God decreed, thereby violating the covenant of brotherhood that should have existed between Esau, Ammon, Moab and Ishmael and their close relative Israel (RaDaK on v 5; cf. Amos 1:10).
Vv 6-12 portray the ecological collapse that will occur, destroying all rejoicing and happiness.
After all this devastation, only a few will be left to rejoice in God's salvation: they will be like the few remaining olives and grapes left on the trees and vines after the harvesting is over (v 13) - yet they will raise their voices and sing, just as Israel sang and praised God's mighty acts after the splitting of the Red Sea (Targum on v 13).
"Therefore glorify God in the regions of light." (v 15). Targum renders: When light will come to the Tzaddikim, give glory to God.
"From the corner of the earth we have heard songs, glory to the Tzaddik." (v 16). Rashi renders: "We have heard from behind the PARGOD [the screen that conceals God's court from man] that songs are destined to arise from the corner of the earth. And what are those songs? 'Glory to the Tzaddik' - the Tzaddikim are destined to arise and endure." The "corner of the earth" alludes to the rebuilt Temple : "From the Holy Temple joy will spread to all the inhabitants of the earth" (Targum ad loc.).
".and I said, a secret [is revealed] to me, a secret [is revealed] to me! Woe to me! Traitors have dealt treacherously; traitors have dealt very treacherously" (v 16). Rashi (ad loc.) explains: "Woe to me that two secrets are revealed to me, a secret concerning retribution and a secret concerning salvation, and the salvation will remain far off, coming only after plundering enemies will come - plunderers after plunderers and robbers followed by more robbers. The Hebrew text contains five expressions of betrayal, referring to Babylon , Media , Persia , Greece and Edom , all of whom will subjugate Israel prior to their redemption".
The Hebrew word RAZI in verse 16 means not only "my secret" but also has the connotation of leanness - because the terrible prophecy that Israel 's final redemption will be accompanied by harsh retribution caused the prophet's flesh to shrink in horror (see RaDaK on v 16).
"Fear and the pit and the trap are upon you O inhabitant of the land" (v 17). "This refers to Edom , Ishmael and the other nations, who are the dwellers in the land and the lords over it, while Israel are in exile among them. The prophet is saying, Do not think that Israel alone will be in trouble, for all of you too who think you will be the lords and dwellers of the earth will be made to move out of it, and each and every nation will move from its place, but Israel will be saved from the trouble and the Tzaddikim will be written for life while you will not escape" (RaDaK ad loc.).
"He who flees from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit, and he who comes out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the trap" (v 18). "One who escapes from the sword of Mashiach ben Yoseph will fall to the sword of Mashiach ben David, and whoever escapes from this will be caught in the trap in the war of Gog" (Rashi ad loc.).
"And it shall be on that day that God will punish the host of the high ones on high and the kings of the earth on the earth" (v 21). First God will cast down the guardian angels of the nations from heaven, and then He will throw down the nations themselves (Rashi ad loc.). When a people's genius and culture decline, the people itself declines.
"And they shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit" - This is the pit of hell (v 22, see Rashi ad loc.).
"Then the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed." (v 23) - "Those who worship the moon shall be confounded and those who bow to the sun will be humbled" (Targum). People will know that God rules over everything, including the laws of nature.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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