Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 31
"Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help." (v 1). On the surface the prophecy contained in this relatively short chapter seems simply to continue the theme of the previous chapter, castigating those in Judah in the time of Ahaz and Hezekiah who sought help from Egypt against the Assyrian threat instead of putting their faith in HaShem.
Yet Rabbi Nachman of Breslov revealed that this chapter has a more timeless significance and contains deep secrets about the future redemption, taking it as the basis for one of his lengthiest stories, "The Prayer Leader" (see Rabbi Nachman's Stories translated by R. Aryeh Kaplan, p. 350f). The plot of the story revolves around a certain Country of Wealth where the people had made money and material wealth the basis of a most elaborate system of idolatry. They were being threatened by a mighty warrior, whom they sought to escape by seeking assistance from another even wealthier country, but only the Prayer Leader proved able to save them from the mighty warrior, taking them on a highly circuitous pathway in order to cure them of their idolatry, as told at length in the story.
The Country of Wealth seems to symbolize our national establishment, which has lapsed into the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself, believing that only through material means is it possible to accomplish anything in this world while spurning the pathway of the Torah, where the spiritual purpose of life is paramount. The idolatry of materialism is prevalent among the secular Jewish "leadership" of today both in Israel and the Diaspora. Whereas the true leadership of the Jewish people - the rabbis of the Sanhedrin - are appointed only on account of their wisdom, today's most prominent secular Jewish leaders owe their influence entirely to their wealth - for if they did not have it, nobody would pay them the slightest attention. The very respect these leaders are accorded proves that those who give it to them and see them as their leaders are also entrenched in mental enslavement to the idolatry of wealth.
It is obvious that the consensus among the materialistic secular Jewish leadership of today is that Israel can only be secure with a strong army combined with vast amounts of aid from its mighty "allies". This leadership not only ignores the Torah but actively fights it. "Woe to those who go down to Egypt [=USA etc.?] for help and depend on horses and trust in chariots. and they have not looked to the Holy One of Israel and they have not sought out HaShem" (v 1).
"Yet He too is wise and will bring evil." (v 2). The people use every kind of sophistication in the material means they employ to protect themselves from the threats they face, seeking "help from Egypt ". But God is wiser and He will thwart all their efforts (see Metzudas David ad loc.). Likewise today we are all witnesses to the fact that no matter what worldly means (military, technological, diplomatic, economic, scientific, cultural etc.) Israel 's secular leadership have used in the hope of inducing the country's enemies to end their hostility, everything has always ended in utter failure and Israel is today confronted with greater hostility than ever throughout the world.
In order to show the futility of relying on worldly means while spurning God's Torah, "When HaShem will stretch out His hand, the helper shall stumble and the one who is helped shall fall down, and they shall all perish together" (v 3).
Verses 4-5 depict the might and speed with which God would in the end miraculously intervene to save Jerusalem - as when He would wipe out the armies of Sennacherib in one night, and as He will do at the end of days, when He will overthrow the armies of Gog and Magog. His might is compared to that of a fearless lion snatching its prey (v 4), while His speed is compared to that of swooping birds (v 5).
"Turn to Him from whom you have deeply revolted." (v 6). The prophet calls on the people to cast aside their idolatry of wealth and worldly means, because in the end they would have to anyway when faced with the dire threat of Sennacherib/Gog and Magog: "for on that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold which your own hands have made to you for a sin" (v 7). When the time of crisis would arrive, everyone would see that the idols of this world cannot help at all.
The overthrow of Sennacherib - like the future overthrow of Gog and Magog - would come about not by means of the sword of a human being but through God's miracles (vv 8). So said the prophet in the name of God, "whose hearth is in Zion and whose furnace is in Jerusalem " (v 9). On one level the "hearth" and the "furnace" symbolize the "fire" with which God would burn up the enemies at the very gates of Jerusalem . On another level, they refer to the Temple Altar , in whose honor God would carry out the miracle (RaDaK). The Temple Altar represents the very opposite of the worship of wealth, for man takes his choicest produce and animals (=wealth) only to burn them into nothing on the Altar for the sake of God, in order to atone for his sins and to correct his spiritual flaws, which are themselves rooted in the desire for wealth.
"Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness." (v 1). The opening verses of this prophecy foretell the return of the rule of justice with the ascent to the throne of the Messianic king. In the time of Isaiah this was to be Hezekiah, who would steer the nation through the worst moments of Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem through his great might in the fear of HaShem (see Rashi on v 2). It was precisely because of his pursuit of justice and righteousness that the great salvation would take place in his days (RaDaK on v 2). This prophecy also alludes to the future Mashiach.
"And the eyes of them that see shall not be turned away, and the ears of those who hear shall hearken" (v 3). Earlier God had told the prophet that his words would have no effect on the people except to "make their ears heavy and smear over their eyes" (Isaiah 6:10). But in the great arousal of Teshuvah that would take place under the shadow of Sennacherib and at the end of days under the shadow of Gog and Magog, they will now see the truth and hearken to the prophet.
"The vile person shall no longer be called generous." (v 5ff). A good part of the work of Melech HaMashiach is the repair of language, which in the time of Isaiah had been corrupted through flattery and glib sophistication just as it has been corrupted in our times, when the vilest killers, robbers, oppressors, cheats and liars parade on the stage of world leadership to the adulation of the compliant media. But in the time of Mashiach the masks and veils will be removed and people will see and talk about things in their true light (vv 5-8).
A new section of this prophecy begins in verse 9 calling upon the "women that are at ease" and the "complacent daughters" to realize that very hard times lay ahead and to prepare themselves for the horrors of exile and destruction (vv 11-13). RaDaK (on v 10) writes: "It is possible to interpret this prophecy as referring either to the future destruction of the whole of the land of Israel and the destruction of the Temple in the days of Tzedekiah, or to the destruction of the Second Temple, in which case the consolation in v 15, 'until a spirit be poured upon us from on high', refers to the days of Mashiach. Or alternatively, this prophecy could refer to the destruction of the cities of Israel and the exile of the Ten Tribes in the days of Hosea son of Elah, and of the cities of Judah that Sennacherib captured, in which case the consolation would refer to the days of Hezekiah, after the plague in the camp of the Assyrians."
".The fort and the tower shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks" (v 14). Rashi (ad loc.) explains that the wild asses are Ishmael while the pasturing flocks are Edom .
All this will last "until a spirit will be poured upon us from on high" (v 15) - this is the indwelling spirit that will emanate from the Shechinah at the time of the redemption (see Targum on this verse). "Then justice shall dwell in the wilderness and righteousness in the fruitful field" (v 16). The "wilderness" refers to Jerusalem during the time of the exile, while the "fruitful field" is the land of Israel , "which will in those days be like a fruitful field" (Rashi ad loc.).
"And the work of righteousness (TZEDAKAH=charity) will be peace" (v 17). True peace comes not through the machinations of crooked politicians but only by sowing the seeds of righteousness and charity.
"And it shall hail in the downfall of the forest and the city shall descend into the valley" (v 19). Rashi (ad loc.) explains that the Holy One blessed be He will rain down "hail" upon the wicked, who are now built up with full cities thick as a forest. In view of the contemporary world situation, it is noteworthy that Rashi specifically identifies the "city" that "shall descend into the valley" as being the capital of PERSIA (Rashi on v 19).
"Happy are you." - Israel - ".who sow." - i.e. acts of charity - ".over all waters, sending away the foot of the ox and the donkey." The ox is Edom while the donkey is Ishmael (Yalkut Reuveni).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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