Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 55
"Ho all who are thirsty, come to water." (v 1). "After the war of Gog and Magog the nations will recognize that God rules over all and that there is none beside Him, and then they will come to Jerusalem to learn God's laws and teachings. Water is a metaphor for Torah and wisdom - for just as the world cannot survive without water, so the world cannot survive without wisdom, and just as a thirsty person craves for water, so the wise soul craves for Torah and wisdom. The Torah is also compared to wine and milk. Just as wine makes the heart rejoice, so do words of Torah. And just as milk keeps a baby alive and makes it grow, so words of Torah keep the soul alive and make it grow" (RaDaK ad loc.).
"Why do you spend money for that which is not bread?" (v 2) - "Why should you pay your enemies money without receiving bread?" (Rashi ad loc.) "Why do you pay a high price to study alien systems of wisdom and philosophy that have no benefit?" (Metzudas David ad loc.)
"Hear and your soul shall live" (v 3) - "Listen to Me and you will merit to stand in the resurrection in the days of Mashiach" (Metzudas David ad loc.). "And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure loving promises of David" (v 3) - "This is Mashiach, for he will be called by the name of David. He will be the teacher of the nations 'and he will judge between the nations and rebuke many peoples' (Is. 2:4)" (RaDaK ad loc.).
"Seek HaShem while He may be found." (v 6). Isaiah now addresses the people in exile, calling on them to repent. They should seek God "while He may be found" - i.e. "BEFORE the decree is finalized, while He is still telling you to seek Him out" (Rashi). ".while He is NEAR" - "seek Him in such a way that He will be near, i.e. when you seek Him WITH ALL YOUR HEART" (RaDaK). "Seek out the fear of HaShem while you are still alive" (Targum).
"For My thoughts are not as Your thoughts." (v 8) "My laws are not like the laws of flesh and blood. In your world, if a man admits to a crime he is judged guilty, but by My law, 'Whoever confesses and forsakes [his sins] shall be shown mercy' (Proverbs 28:13)" (Rashi on v 8). "If a man commits an offense against his fellow, he takes vengeance on him and will not forgive him, and even if he forgives him on the surface he nurses a grudge in his heart. But I am full of forgiveness. And when I forgive, I do so in truth, and no trace of the sin remains" (RaDaK on v 8).
"For as the rain comes down. and does not return there but waters the earth." (v 9) - "The rain and the snow do not return to the skies through evaporation without first watering the earth. Sometimes a person sends someone to do something but the agent comes back without accomplishing his mission. But 'My word. shall not return to Me empty'" (Metzudas David ad loc.).
"For you shall go out with joy." (v 12). The redemption will bring great joy. Moreover, joy - SIMCHAH - itself is the avenue that leads to redemption. "It is a great mitzvah to be joyful always" (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov).
"Instead of the thorn, the cypress shall arise." (v 13) - "In place of the wicked, the righteous will rise up" (Rashi ad loc.). The "thorn" and the "nettle" refer to Haman and Vashti, while the "cypress" and the "myrtle refer to Mordechai and Esther (Megillah 10b).
"Guard justice and practice charity, for My salvation is near to come." (v 1). "Great is charity for it brings the redemption closer" (Bava Kama 10a). "Great is Teshuvah for it brings the redemption closer. Great is charity for it brings salvation closer" (Yoma 87a).
"Happy is the man that does this. that keeps the Sabbath." (v 2). "The Sabbath is mentioned specifically at this juncture because the prophet is addressing the people in exile, urging them to improve their ways in order to leave their exile, and the best of all pathways is the observance of the Sabbath, while the exile from the land came about because of the transgression of the Sabbath" (RaDaK on v 2). "Whoever observes the Sabbath according to its laws, even if he worshiped idols as in the days of Enosh, he will be forgiven. If Israel kept two Sabbaths according to the law, they would be redeemed immediately" (Shabbos 118b).
"Let not the son of the stranger who has joined himself to HaShem say, HaShem will surely separate me from His people, nor let the eunuch say, Behold I am a dry tree" (v 3). The "son of the stranger" is a convert who does not have children after his conversion; he is similar to a "eunuch" who has no children. Such a convert may think that he will not be considered a member of HaShem's people either in this world or in the world to come, and likewise the childless may think that if he leaves no son after him it is as if he never came into the world and God takes no favor in him, since God created the world for the sake of procreation." (RaDaK on v 3).
But quite the contrary, God promises that those childless "that will observe My Sabbaths" (=the weekly Sabbaths and the Sabbatical years, RaDaK) will receive "in My House and within My walls (=the Temple in Jerusalem ) a place and a name (YAD VASHEM) better than sons and daughters" (v 5). [The name YAD VASHEM has been given to Israel 's Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem .] Likewise God promises the "children of the stranger" that "I shall bring them to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My House of Prayer." (v 7). "Just as a person brings a guest into his home and receives him gladly, so God says, I shall command the priests to accept them gladly when they come to convert, and they will rejoice when they see themselves in the Temple courtyard year by year with the people of Israel" (RaDaK).
"For My house shall be called the House of Prayer for all the nations (v 7) - "Not only for Israel alone but also for those of the nations who convert" (see Rashi and Metzudas David ad loc.).
"HaShem God who gathers the outcasts of Israel says, Yet will I gather others to him, besides those of him that are already gathered" (v 8): "I shall gather in more converts to be added to all the ingathered people of Israel " (Metzudas David).
"All you beasts of the field: come into the forest to devour all the beasts thereof" (v 9). "The beasts of the field do not have as much strength as the beasts of the forest. The 'beasts of the field' refers to the gentiles who will not harden their hearts but will convert. They shall 'devour' (win over?) those who harden their hearts and continue their rebellion" (Metzudas David ad loc.).
"His watchmen are all blind: they are ignorant." (v 10). This verse begins a new section of five verses continuing until chapter 57 v 2 (notwithstanding the conventional chapter break in printed Bibles, which violates the continuity of the Hebrew text).
"After completing the previous prophecy of consolation, the prophet returns to rebuking the wicked people of his generation" (RaDaK on v 10).
"The prophet began by saying, 'Seek out HaShem' (Is. 55:6) but the people do not listen. He therefore now says: See how the prophets are crying to them to repent for their own wellbeing, but their leaders are all like blind men who do not see what is developing. They are like a watcher appointed to see if the sword is approaching in order to warn the people, but he is blind and fails to see the sword coming, dumb and unable to warn the people - like a dog appointed to guard the house but he is dumb and does not bark. Likewise the leaders of Israel fail to warn the people to repent. Just as dogs never know satisfaction, these 'shepherds' do not know or understand what will happen at the end of days. 'Every one is out for his own gain': They rob the rest of the people over whom they are appointed" (Rashi on vv 10-11).
Let us be the ones who hear the call of HaShem in order that our souls shall live!
* * * Isaiah 55:6-13 & 56:1-8 are read as the Haftara after the afternoon Torah reading on public fast days. * * *
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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