Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
ISAIAH CHAPTER 41
* * * The last five verses of the previous chapter (Is. 40:27-31) together with vv 1-16 of the present chapter are read as the Haftarah of LECH LECHA (Genesis 12:1-17:27 telling the story of Abraham's arousal to God and his war against the Four Kings). * * *
"Keep silence before Me, O islands." (v 1). The "islands" are the heathen nations (Rashi ad loc.). God challenges them to hear what He has to say and then put their case, as if before a judge, as to why they claim He does not have the power to deliver His people from their hands (see Metzudas David ad loc.).
"Who aroused one from the east, whom righteousness met wherever he set his foot.?" (v 2). This alludes to Abraham, founding father of the people of Israel , whom God aroused in defiance of the prevailing idolatry of the time, and who spread righteousness wherever he went despite the most colossal opposition. With no more than a small band of followers, Abraham had the courage to go out to war against four major kings despite the fact that they had already overwhelmed five other kings - and won a spectacular victory that flew in the face of nature (Genesis 14:1-20). This could only be because it was brought about by HaShem, Who "calls the generations from the beginning" (v 4) - i.e. He chose Abraham in the knowledge that his offspring would be worthy to be the chosen people. And just as He did wonders for Abraham at the outset, so He will be with his offspring in the latter generations (see Rashi and RaDaK ad loc.).
The announcement of the coming redemption of Israel fills the nations with rage. Thus verses 5-7 depict the nations gathering together to make war against them, encouraging one another as if cooperatively making a great idol.
In verse 8, God turns from the nations to address Israel , now explicitly calling them the "seed of Abraham My beloved". He encourages them by reminding them of their noble origins and emphasizing that since Israel is "My servant", He will not cast them away (v 9). The earth's "farthest corners" (ATZILE-HAH), from which God has called Israel , allude to the highest spiritual "world", ATZILUS.
The essence of God's message to Israel is, "Do not fear, for I am with you" (v 10). It may be that the nations are furious with Israel (as we see today in practically every international forum), but God promises that in the end, "all those who were incensed with you shall be ashamed and confounded" (v 11).
"Do not fear, you WORM Jacob." (v 14) - "The family of Jacob is weak as a worm, which has no power except in its mouth" (Rashi ad loc.). God promises that He will turn this tiny nation, whose only power lies in the words of Torah and prayer which they "chew" day by day, into a new (i.e. not blunt) threshing instrument (v 15) that will be BAAL PIPHIYOTH - i.e. it will have an abundance of MOUTHS that will "grind up" the mighty, powerful nations of the earth (see Targum on v 15).
""The poor and needy seek water." (v 17). Rashi explains: "Here the prophet prophesies about the end of days, when there will be 'not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water but to hear the word of HaShem. they will wander all over to seek out the word of HaShem but they will not find it' (Amos 8:11-12). But when His anger is assuaged, He will prepare them 'bread' and 'water' and cause His Shechinah and His holy spirit to dwell in the mouth of their prophets" (Rashi on v 17).
"I will open rivers on high places." (v 18). These "rivers" are the rivers of understanding of Torah and prophecy that will flow in men's hearts, while the "wilderness" that will turn into a pool of water refers to a place where hitherto no Torah wisdom existed (see Rashi ad loc.). "I will plant in the wilderness the cedar." (v 19) - "There too I will put all kinds of wisdom, goodness and peace" (Rashi ad loc.).
"In order that they [i.e. the nations] should see and know and consider and understand together that the hand of HaShem has done this." (v 20). Just as in the generation of the founding father, Abraham, the nations were astounded at the miracles God wrought for him against overwhelming odds, so at the end of days the nations will see how God will redeem Israel .
V 21: "Present your cause." In this and the following verses, God again turns to address the nations, scornfully challenging their idolatrous prophets to try to explain "the former things, what they were" (v 22) - i.e. what took place before the creation of the world and for what purpose it was created (Rashi ad loc.) or to tell "their latter end. what is to come", i.e. what will be in the end of days. Isaiah is implying that his own prophecies foretell the future exactly as it will be, whereas all the idolatrous prophets (not to speak of today's political pundits, commentators, professors, world watch experts, think tank consultants, etc. etc.) are "nothing": Behold you are of nothing and your work is of naught" (v 24).
Vv 25ff: "I have raised up one from the north and he has come." Affirming the emptiness of the predictions of the false prophets and pundits, Isaiah now foretells exactly what will happen in the future. The prophecy contained in these verses may be understood as foretelling how King Cyrus would come from Persia , which is to the north and east of Babylon , to strike down the kingdom that destroyed the Temple and exiled Israel . (This was to take place 162 years after the death of Hezekiah, in the latter part of whose reign these prophecies of consolation were delivered.) This prophecy may equally be interpreted as applying to the future redemption, when the Ten Tribes - who were originally exiled to lands to the north east of Israel - will return (see RaDaK on v 25). The inability of any of the heathen prophets to foresee these amazing wonders shows their total emptiness.
"Behold, My servant, whom I uphold." (v 1) - "This is Melech HaMashiach" (Metzudas David & RaDaK ad loc.). ".My elect, in whom My soul delights" (v 1) - " Israel are called My elect" (Rashi ad loc.) "He shall not cry nor lift up his voice." (v 2) - "He will not need to rebuke and prophesy to the nations, because they will come to learn of their own accord" (Rashi ad loc.). "The islands shall wait for his Torah" (v 4) - all the nations will listen to the Torah of Mashiach! (see Rashi ad loc.).
In the very beautiful passage in verses 5-9, God addresses the prophet Isaiah himself, messenger of the coming Mashiach: "I HaShem have called you." (v 6) - "When I formed you, My thought was that you should bring My people back to the Covenant and shine to them" (Rashi ad loc.). The purpose of the prophet is "to open blind eyes" (v 7) - "because they do not see My might and set their hearts to return to Me" (Rashi ad loc.). ".To bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house" (v 7). The "prison" is exile, which may be physical, or worse still, mental and spiritual.
"I am HASHEM, that is My name, and My glory will I not give to another." (v 8). The name of ELOKIM (translated as "God") has been taken by idol-worshippers to speak of their gods, but the Name of HaShem, ("the Lord"), i.e. the "Tetragrammaton", YKVK, is unique to the One Creator and it is impossible for the idolaters to join their gods with Him under this name, for He is Master over all (see RaDaK ad loc.). RaDaK adds: "Moreover, 'I will not give My glory to another' as I have done until now because I have not yet executed judgment upon the wicked, and for that reason they have not recognized Me and have gone astray after idols. But after I bring Israel out of exile and perform the greatest wonders for them, executing judgment upon the wicked, all the nations will recognize Me and know that there is none besides Me" (RaDaK ad loc.).
Verse 10, "Sing to HaShem a new song." opens a new prophecy continuing on from the previous prophecy about how the nations will know HaShem in the future. Now Isaiah tells all the nations to sing an entirely new and original song in the future, when they will witness HaShem's might on behalf of Israel and recognize that He alone is God (Rashi on v 10). The song will be "new" because the level of Providence that will be revealed in the future will be different from anything ever known before. Even the habitations of Kedar - the children of Ishmael - will see that the God of Israel rules. "Let the inhabitants of Sela [the rock] sing" (v 11) - "These are the dead, who will come back to life" (Rashi ad loc.).
V 14: "I have long time held my peace. now I will cry like a woman in travail." For the entire period of the long exile God has, as it were, "held Himself in" without taking vengeance for the destruction of the Temple . But at the end of days He will spring into action. "I shall destroy mountains and hills" (v 15) - "I shall kill kings and rulers" (Rashi ad loc.). "And I shall bring the blind by a way that they knew not." (v 16) - "This refers to Israel, who were blind until now and did not look to Me and follow the path of good, which they did not know how to travel" (Rashi ad loc.).
In vv 18-25 Isaiah addresses Israel , who are deaf to the word of God and blind to His commandments, calling on them from now on to listen and look (Metzudas David on v 18). "Who is blind but My servant or deaf like My messenger that I shall send? Who is blind as he that is perfect and blind as HaShem's servant?" (v 19). Our commentators offer a variety of interpretations of this verse. RaDaK (ad loc.) explains these as the words of the stubborn-hearted people, who are themselves spiritually blind and deaf, yet think it is the prophet that is blind and deaf [just like many of the non-observant regard the Torah-observant as cut off from the "real" world]. Rashi comments on the words, "Who is blind as he that is perfect" - "If someone among you was blind, he has already received his suffering and he is as one who has been paid all that was owing to him and he will go out clean" (Rashi ad loc.).
"Seeing many things, but you do not observe; opening ears - but no one listens" (v 20). The prophet continues to rebuke the people for their stubborn refusal to understand and heed the messages contained in all that their eyes are seeing and ears are hearing so as to repent. In this verse and those that follow he is addressing the future generations until today, calling upon us to understand that if we are imprisoned in the prison-house of exile, it is HaShem Who has "given Jacob for a spoil and Israel to the robbers" for one reason only: because "we have sinned against Him and they did not desire to follow His ways and they did not heed His Torah" (v 24).
"Therefore He has poured upon him the fury of His anger and the strength of battle, and it has set him on fire round about. Yet he knew not, and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart" (v 25). For exactly the same reason, Israel continues to suffer until today from the burning fire of enemy hostilities. Let us ask ourselves if we have laid this to heart and if we are drawing the necessary conclusions.
* * * Verses 5-25 of this chapter, together with the first ten verses of the next chapter (Isaiah 43:1-10) are read as the Haftarah of the first Parshah in the Torah: BEREISHIS (Gen. 1:1-6:8). * * *
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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