Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
ISAIAH CHAPTER 29
"Ho Ariel! Ariel!" (v 1): Ariel, literally "the lion of God", refers to the Temple in general and specifically to the Altar (cf. Ezekiel 43:16), because "the fire that came down upon the Altar from heaven crouched upon it like a lion" (Metzudas Tzion on verse 1). The Temple building itself - the back of which was narrow while the front was broad - also resembled a lion (Tractate Middos 37a). The reason why King David is mentioned in this verse is because it was he who discovered the true site of the Altar (see I Chron. 21:18ff; RaDaK on our present verse).
The prophet is grieving over the coming assault on Jerusalem by Assyria , chastising the people because "you add year upon year; the festivals will be cut off" (v 1). He is warning that if they would not repent, the Altar would be destroyed and then their sins would accumulate from year to year instead of being atoned through the daily and festival sacrifices (Metzudas David). Sennacherib would lay siege to Jerusalem , where the people would mourn the many that he would kill in the surrounding towns of Judah . Then Jerusalem - surrounded by the bodies of the dead - would itself be like an Altar surrounded by its slaughtered animals (v 2). The people would have to suffer this because of the insincerity with which they brought sacrifices to the Temple . Only the terrors of the siege of Jerusalem - which the prophet depicts in verse 3 - would humble their hearts, and they would then pray to God in a lowly, barely audible voice like that of a necromancer (v 4).
And as soon as the people would turn to God, "The multitude of your strangers [=the enemy] shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be like chaff that passes away, and it shall be in an instant suddenly" (v 5). Here the prophet foretells the overthrow of Sennacherib's armies, who would be consumed by the fire of God's angel and turned to ashes (Rashi ad loc.). The enemy's vain ambitions of conquering Jerusalem would turn out to be as empty as a passing dream (vv 7-8).
The fact that our commentators relate this prophecy to the overthrow of Sennacherib, which took place over two thousand five hundred years ago, in no way detracts from its relevance in our times, because Sennacherib's onslaught against Jerusalem was the prototype of the destined assault against Jerusalem by the armies of Gog and Magog at the end of days. Then too the people will have to repent and call out to God from a position of abject lowliness in order to merit the tremendous salvation that He will bring about at that time.
Verses 9-12 can be seen to address the bewildered Jews of today who suddenly find themselves confronting a hostility from the nations not seen since the days of the Holocaust, with daily-renewed threats to the survival of their tiny country. Many seem to be as in a drunken stupor and a sleep, bereft of guidance from true prophets and seers. "And the vision of all this has become to you as the words of a book that is sealed." The vision that applies to our times is indeed contained in these prophecies in this very book of Isaiah, but it has become "sealed" and closed up because of people's inability - or unwillingness - to see its relevance.
The prophet's rebuke is directed not only against those who do not observe the Torah at all. Even more, he castigates those who give the outward appearance of piety while in truth being far from true devotion. "For this people draw near with their mouth and with their lips do honor Me, but they have removed their heart far from Me and their fear of Me is like a commandment of men learned by rote" (v 13). Each one of us must seriously consider how this rebuke applies to us and how we can correct what we must correct. For the mindless, mechanical repetition of our prayers out of mere habit without inner feeling and devotion leads to the loss of wisdom and understanding (v 14).
It is a terrible mistake when people believe they can hide behind an outer façade of piety while "secretly" following the devices of their own hearts, as if God is unaware of their deeds. How can a mere creature imagine that He who created him does not understand what is in his heart? (vv 15-16).
The people's complacency will lead to the complete overthrow of the world order with which they are familiar (v 17), and only at that moment of supreme crisis will the "deaf" finally hear the message of the books of the prophets and the eyes of the "blind" see (v 18). The redemption that will sprout through the repentance engendered by the attack on Jerusalem will bring joy to the meek and humble (v 19) while the wicked will be destroyed (vv 20-21).
The sight of the Children of Israel repenting at the end of days will be to the glory of the patriarchs, whose descendants will again display heroic devotion to HaShem just as their ancestors, bringing about a great sanctification of His Name (vv 22-24).
The rebuke of the prophet in this chapter against the "rebellious children" who take counsel and prepare plans to face the enemy without consulting true Torah sages and prophets (v 1) is directly primarily against those who "travel to go down to Egypt" (v 2).
RaDaK points out that we find nothing in any of our sources relating to the reigns of Uzziah, Yotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah in which Isaiah prophesied that might indicate that there was a party in Jerusalem seeking aid from Egypt against Assyria . There was indeed such a party seeking Egypt 's help against Babylon several generations later, prior to the destruction of the Temple in the time of King Tzedekiah, but it is hard to interpret the present prophecy as referring to them since it explicitly foretells the redemption from Assyria in the time of Hezekiah (see v 31). RaDaK surmises that despite the absence of any explicit reference in the book of Kings or Chronicles, such a party may well have existed in the time of King Ahaz or in that of Hezekiah, who was faced with the challenge of dealing with a highly recalcitrant leadership elite (see RaDaK on v 1).
The contemporary parallel to the ancient "pro-Egyptian" party in Jerusalem is obviously the sizeable number of Jews today who believe that Israel is totally dependent upon the favor of America and other temporal powers for its survival, when the truth is that Israel's only true supporter is HaShem, and the only way to elicit His favor and compassion is through repentance, prayer and the fulfillment of His Torah. "And the strength of Pharaoh shall be for shame and the trust in the shadow of Egypt for confusion" (v 3). The shuttle of treasure-bearing asses and camels carrying bribes down to Egypt (v 6) is reminiscent of the endless shuttle of briefcase-bearing Israeli officials trying to curry favor in Washington and other capitals. "For Egypt shall help in vain and to no purpose" (v 7).
"Now go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, so that it may be for time to come for ever and ever." (v 8). The prophet states quite plainly that his message applies to future ages - i.e. TODAY! The problem remains that we are "children that will not hear the Torah of HaShem, who say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not to us right things but speak to us smooth things, prophesy delusions" (vv 9-10). People prefer to hear how the pundits rate the latest "Peace Plan" rather than hearkening to the prophet's call to repent!
The prophet warns that the people's recalcitrance will lead to calamity, and the entire structure of trust and faith in temporal salvation would be smashed to useless little bits (vv 12-14).
"For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In ease and rest shall you be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength - but you did not want it" (v 15). If the people would only put their faith in HaShem and devote their main effort to the fulfillment of His Torah, the path to redemption would be easy. But if they stubbornly try to save themselves through worldly stratagems, "Therefore HaShem will WAIT to be gracious to you." (v 15). The redemption will surely come, but only after a long period of hardship. "Happy are all who wait for Him" (ibid.) - "i.e. who wait for the consolations He has promised, for not one word will be unfulfilled" (Rashi).
Verses 19ff prophesy that the time will come when the Tzaddikim remaining in Jerusalem will be answered by God. "And HaShem shall give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, and your Teacher shall not be hidden any more but your eyes shall see Your teacher." (v 20). Rashi explains that God will feed the people "the bread of adversity" "because you will not be attached to worldly pleasures as you are now" and then "your Teacher" - i.e. "the Holy One blessed-be-He, who teaches you how to succeed" - will no longer be concealed. Targum on verse 20 renders: "And HaShem will bring to you the possessions of the enemy and the plunder of the oppressor and He will no longer remove His Indwelling Presence from the Holy Temple but your eyes will see My Shechinah in the Holy Temple ".
"Your eyes shall see your Teacher" also applies to seeing the true Tzaddik in the flesh. Thus Rabbi Judah the Prince said, "The reason I am sharper than my companions is because I once caught sight of Rabbi Meir from behind. And if I had seen him from in front I would have been sharper still, as it says, 'Your eyes shall see your teacher'" (Talmud Eiruvin 13b).
In vv 23ff the prophet depicts the great blessing that will come into the world when Israel will cast away their idols. "And the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold as the light of the seven days." (v 26). This verse depicts the radiant spiritual light that will shine when Israel will repent at the end of days. The moon (the receiver, Malchus, the Shechinah) will receive the full light of the sun (Kudsha Berich Hu, Zeir Anpin), and the "sun" itself will shine 7 x 7 x 7 as brightly as the original light of creation, i.e. 343 times as brightly (see Rashi and Targum on v 26).
Vv 27ff prophesy the downfall of Sennacherib's armies. "And the song shall be for you like on the night of the sanctification of the festival" (v 29). The delivery from Sennacherib was to come on the festival of Pesach, which is celebrated with song (Rashi ad loc.). "For its hearth is ordained of old, it is prepared for the king" (v 33). The "hearth" (TOPHTEH) refers to Gehennom, "because everyone who is seduced (MIT-PHATEH) by his evil inclination falls there" (Rashi). A place in hell had already been prepared for Sennacherib and his armies.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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