"For behold, the Master, HaShem of hosts, will take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff." (v 1). RaDaK (ad loc.) explains: "The previous section spoke of the retribution against the wicked and how they will be destroyed in the days of Melech HaMashiach. The new section tells how He will now [i.e. soon, prior to the days of Mashiach] carry out judgment against the wicked in Jerusalem and Judah , and how all the great people among them will die through hunger or the sword, leaving only the young and foolish. The prophet calls God 'the Master' in order to inform them that He is in control and that it is in His hands to destroy and to build, to give satisfaction or to make people hungry, but the wicked do not think that He is the Master and that He watches over their deeds, for if they did they would not sin and they would not go beyond the bounds of His commandments."

Vv 1-3 depict the coming loss of all the leaders and sages of Judah leaving only fools and jesters to rule over them (v 4) which will destroy all the norms of respect for elders and worthy members of the community (v 5). The dearth of true leaders will cause people to turn to anyone wearing a smart coat appealing to him to lead them (v 6), but he himself will know that he is unworthy: "I will not be a healer for in my house is neither bread nor clothing" (v 7). The Talmud darshens this reply as indicating his admission that he was never a regular student in the Beith Midrash and therefore knows neither Bible nor Mishneh nor Gemara - and therefore lacks all the qualifications for true leadership (Shabbos 120a). [Many feel that Israel today suffers from a terrible dearth of quality leaders and wonder which of the current candidates for leadership could possibly take the nation out of its predicament.]

The collapse of the social fabric and the crisis of leadership are the results of the people's rebellion against HaShem in turning from His Torah (v 8). They do not even deny their sins (v 9). The prophet cries out to them to correct the distortions in their speech whereby "they call evil good and good evil" (see Isaiah 5:20): instead they should declare and affirm that it is the righteous who are good and who will eat the fruits of their works (verse 10 in our present chapter) while the evil of the wicked will wreak vengeance upon them (v 11). But the people have turned everything upside down, allowing children and women to rule over them, making all their pathways crooked (v 12). These ruling women (NASHIM), on whom the prophet elaborates later in this chapter (vv 15ff), may literally be women [as in Israel today, where in the tradition of Golda Meir, the current speaker of the Knesset, the Foreign Minister and even the President of the Supreme Court are all women, in defiance of Torah law, Rambam, Hilchos Melochim 1:5]. Alternatively, these NASHIM are NOSHIM, "those who have slipped" (cf. Gen. 32:32), i.e. men who have fallen from Torah observance (see Rashi and Targum Yonasan ad loc.).

The prophet continues to put forward God's complaints against the corrupt leadership that has consumed the "vineyard" - i.e. the rest of the people, robbing the poor in their very homes (vv 14-15).

His main complaint is that "the daughters of Zion are haughty.", strutting with the utmost immodesty and every kind of affectation in order to allure new partners in their immorality (v 16). Because of this God will smite them on the crown with leprosy (v 17) and remove all their ornaments and fancy clothing (vv 18-24).

According to rabbinic tradition (Midrash Rabbah Shemos 41:5), verses 18-24 enumerate twenty-four kinds of ornaments with which it was customary to bedeck brides, and these twenty-four kinds of ornaments in turn correspond to the twenty-four books of the Bible, which are the "ornaments" of those Torah sages who are fully familiar with them. [The 24 books of the Bible are: the 5 books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Twelve, the 5 Megilloth, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles.]

The association of the bridal ornaments with the books of Biblical wisdom suggests that the criticism of the prophet against the "daughters of Zion" who used their ornaments for pompous self-aggrandizement are directed against the kind of Torah scholars who use their knowledge and proficiency as a "sword of arrogance" in order to rule over others. These self-seeking scholars cause the corruption of leadership, which in turn brings immorality (see Likutey Moharan II, 5:5-6).

Isaiah prophesies that "on that day" (v 18) - i.e. "in time to come, when the Holy One blessed be He will come to restore Israel to His service" (Rashi ad loc.) God will remove all these ornaments of pride and sweep away this entire false leadership (vv 25ff).


Verse 1 of Chapter four is a direct continuation of the previous section, and brings it to a conclusion: in the Hebrew text, a section break follows verse 1, and verse 2 opens a new section. Verse 1 is characterizing the sweeping nature of the disaster that was to overtake the men of Judah and Jerusalem, which would leave so many unattached and vulnerable woman that as many as seven women would all beg one man to marry them without even having to take responsibility for their support, just to remove their shame at being unmarried. [Midrash Eichah Rabbah 5:12 cited by Rashi on v 1 explains that Nebuchadnezzar's invading armies were ordered not to rape married women.]

"On that day." (v 2) - "this is the day of salvation that will arrive with the coming of the Redeemer" (RaDaK). ".the plant (TZEMACH) of HaShem will be beautiful." TZEMACH is one of the names of Mashiach (TZEMACH has the same gematria as Menachem). After the great cleansing that will take place with the removal of the wicked, "he that remains in Zion and he that remains in Jerusalem shall be called holy, everyone in Jerusalem that is written for life." (v 3). From this verse the Talmudic rabbis learned that "In time to come, people will call out 'Holy' before the Tzaddikim just as they do before the Holy One blessed be He" (Bava Basra 75b). [Thus people refer to ARI HaKadosh, Rabbenu KaKadosh.] "And if you say that the Tzaddikim who died before that time will have lost their glory, the verse says 'everyone who is written for LIFE', i.e. the life of the world to come, will be in Jerusalem (Rashi on verse 3).

"And Hashem will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion and upon her assemblies [1] a cloud and [2] smoke by day and [3] the shining of a [4] flaming [5] fire by night, for upon all [6] the glory shall there be [7] a canopy" (verse 5). This verse speaks of seven canopies - each being one aspect of the "encompassing light" that will radiate over each of the Tzaddikim in time to come (Bava Basra 75a; Rashi on verse 5). Thus the righteous will have a tabernacle to protect them against the streams of fire flowing down from the River Dinoor and the rains that will come pelting down upon the wicked at the time of God's judgment (verse 6, see Rashi ad loc.).


"Let me sing for my Beloved - my Beloved's song about His vineyard" (v 1). The metaphor of Israel as God's vineyard was introduced in Chapter 3 verse 14 and is elaborated as a parable (MASHAL) in our present chapter vv 1-6, while the NIMSHAL (that which is symbolized by the metaphor) is explained in v 7. The prophet sings this "song" on behalf of his Beloved and as His emissary to His beloved people, using terms of endearment in order to emphasize God's great love for Israel despite the harshness of the allegory.

The vineyard was planted on a very fruitful hill: this is the Land of Israel . The vine was the choicest species. In the Hebrew text, this is called a SOREK. The gematria of Sorek is 606, alluding to the 606 commandments God gave to Israel in addition to the Seven Universal Commandments of the Children of Noah, making a total of 613. Other Midrashic explanations see the choice vine as the Holy Temple (Succah 49a) or as the soul of Adam, which was planted in the Garden of Eden (see Rashi on verse 7).

The tragedy of this vineyard is that after all the care invested in cultivating it, it brought forth bad grapes, causing the owner to abandon it and leave it to go to rack and ruin.

Vv 11ff: "Woe to those who rise up early in the morning that they may seek out strong drink." The object of the reproof implicit in the allegory of the vineyard that went bad is the drunken rulers of the people, who drink and play music "but they regard not the work of HaShem neither consider the operation of His hands" (v 12). The "work of HaShem" specifically refers to the stars and constellations, the wisdom of whose movements and seasons leads man to apprehend the glory of the Creator (see RaDaK on v 12). Astronomy and the secrets of the heavenly cycles are the very summit of Torah wisdom, but those who have the capacity to understand them yet instead saturate themselves with drinking and feasting have despised the work of God (Talmud Shabbos 75a). The same applies to those who neglect to recite the blessings of YOTZER OHR before the morning SHEMA and MA'ARIV ARAVIM before the evening SHEMA, both of which praise God for the luminaries of the heavens (see Rashi on v 12).

"Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge" (v 13). The collapse of Torah knowledge among the people is the main cause of the exile, leading to degradation (v 15).

In vv 18f the prophet further elaborates his complaints against the sinners, who begin with thin cords of vanity and end up being tied and bound by their sins as with the thick ropes of a cart (v 18). "They say, Let Him make speed and hasten His work." (v 19): the sinners heard the prophet's warnings of coming doom and mockingly challenged Him to bring it speedily in order for them to test if it would really come.

Verses 20-23 typify the culture of evil, in which moral language becomes twisted out of its proper meaning in order to rationalize and justify the worst excesses. It is because the people have despised God's Torah that they will be smitten with His retribution (vv 24ff). "And He will lift up a banner to the nations from far." (v 26). This refers generically to all Israel 's enemies and persecutors, but specifically to the armies of Assyria, which in the time of King Hezekiah invaded and ravaged the whole of Judea (RaDaK on v 29).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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