Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
ISAIAH CHAPTER 43
The end of the previous section (Is. 42:22-25) warned that because of the people's sins God would pour out His anger upon them, sending war. But the new section that opens with the first verse in our present chapter immediately promises that God will nevertheless redeem them.
"When you pass through the WATERS, I am with you. when you walk through FIRE, you shall not be burned." (v 2). The "waters" refer to the Red Sea (Targum, Rashi ad loc.). Just as God split the waters of the sea in order to save Israel from the Egyptians, so He will save them from the "fire" in time to come. "'For behold the day is coming, burning like an oven' (Malachi 3:19), and on that day I shall take the sun out of its sheath to burn up the wicked, but you will not be burned" (Rashi on v 2).
"Since you are precious in My eyes. I will give men for you and peoples for your life" (v 4). The Talmud relates: "Once when Rabbi Elazar went into the restroom, a heathen came in and pushed him aside. Rabbi Elazar stood up and left, after which a serpent entered and pulled out the heathen's entrails. Rabbi Elazar then applied to him the verse, 'I will give men (ADAM) for you.', saying, Read the word not as ADAM but EDOM !" (Berachos 62b).
Vv 5-6: "From the east shall I bring your seed." These verses mention all four points of the compass, indicating that this prophecy refers to the final redemption - because at the time of the first redemption only Judah returned from Babylon , but at the end of days the Ten Tribes will return from all parts of the world. Addressing the people of his time, Isaiah said, "I shall bring your SEED" - i.e. their descendants. ".and GATHER you from the west": the word "gather" alludes to the resurrection of the dead (see RaDaK on v 5).
".Everyone that is called by My Name, for I have created him for My glory; I have formed him, yea, I have made him" (v 7). According to the plain meaning of the text, the prophet is saying that at the time of the final redemption God will gather in ALL the Tzaddikim, for despite their troubles and exile, He will have prepared everything necessary for their redemption. On the level of SOD, the verse affirms that everything in creation exists for the glory of God (including even those things that appear to contradict His existence), and the verse alludes to the four Kabbalistic "worlds": ATZILUS ("My Name"), BERIYAH ("I have CREATED"), YETZIRAH ("I have FORMED") and ASIYAH ("I have MADE").
Vv 9-13: "Let all the nations gather together." God challenges the nations to step forward and testify if their prophets have foretold the final redemption or any of the earlier events foretold by the prophets of Israel before they occurred. The nations are unable to testify - but Israel are God's witnesses, for God has revealed to them what is to come in order that they should know Him and have faith in Him.
Vv 14-15: "Thus says HaShem your Redeemer. for your sake I have sent to Babylon and will bring down all of them." Isaiah prophesies that God would bring the people into exile in Babylon but then redeem them, and this would be proof of His providence and assurance that He will also redeem them at the end of days.
Vv 16-21: "Thus says HaShem, who makes a path in the sea." (v 16). Again, this alludes to the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea . The "chariot and horse, the army and the power" mentioned in v 17 refer to the Egyptians, who were overthrown there. But if the redemption from Egypt is mentioned here, the point is that it will be completely overshadowed by the future redemption, for "Behold, I will do a NEW thing": the future redemption will be completely different in kind and scale.
Vv 22-28: "But you have not called upon me, O Jacob." (v 22). The prophet returns to his rebuke of the people for failing to call out to God even in their troubles. God would have preferred them to "weary" Him, as it were, with their cries, but despite the undemanding nature of the sacrifices He instituted (such as a measure of flour and incense spices that grew naturally in Israel) the people failed to bring their offerings (as in the days of King Ahaz in which Isaiah prophesied, when the Temple services were suspended) and instead they "wearied" God with their sins (see Rashi & RaDaK on v 23). Yet despite all this -
"I, even I am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake" (v 25). God has forgiven Israel their sins in the past, and will do so in the future in order to redeem them. This is not because of their own merit or that of their fathers but only for God's own sake, so that His Name should not be desecrated in the eyes of the nations should He destroy Israel because of their sins (Metzudas David).
"Your first father sinned." (v 27). Some take this as referring to Adam, indicating that the urge to sin is part of man's intrinsic nature (RaDaK ad loc.), while others see a reference to Abraham, who questioned God's promise (Gen. 15:8, see Rashi on our present verse). The closing section of this prophecy affirms that God sends troubles to Israel because of their sins.
* * * Isaiah 43:21-28 and 44:1-23 are read as the Haftarah of Parshas VAYIKRA (Leviticus 1:1-5:26) setting forth the Temple sacrifices, which are mentioned in Is. 43:23-24. * * *
Following the warning that God punishes Israel because of their sins, He immediately promises them that He will eventually send them very great benefit. "And now hear Jacob My servant." (v 1): God assures Israel that out of all the nations, they alone are His chosen servant. "When a servant is good, even though he may occasionally sin his master does not drive him out but instead he punishes him. And eventually, after the servant has been punished several times, when he repents and goes back to serving his master with all his heart, his master will do him very great good" (RaDaK on v 1).
"One shall say, I belong to HaShem, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob, and another shall subscribe with his hand to HaShem and surname himself by the name of Israel" (v 5). "Those who 'say they belong to HaShem' are the complete Tzaddikim; those who 'call themselves by the name of Jacob' are the small people, the children of the wicked; those who 'subscribe with their hand to HaShem' are the BAALEY TESHUVAH ("penitents"), while those who 'surname themselves by the name of Israel' are the converts" (Avoth d'Rabbi Nathan ch 36 citied in Rashi on verse 5 in our present chapter).
In vv 6-17 God's greatness is again contrasted with the vanity and emptiness of man-made idols. The prophets of idolatry are unable to foretell what is to come: only HaShem informs His people what will happen in the future, and they are His witnesses (vv 7-8).
Verses 9-20 scornfully depict the folly of the idolaters' faith in their man-made idols, ridiculing the way a man takes part of a log to warm himself and bake his bread while using the rest to make an idol which he then worships. It might be said that those who take even a true religion but exploit it for their own self-importance and self-enrichment are in a similar category.
Vv 21-23: The idolaters do not understand that there is falsehood "in their right hand" (end of v 20) but the prophet calls on Jacob and Israel to remember that they are God's servants and not the slaves of idols. When Israel repent and are redeemed, the very heavens and the lowest depths of the earth will burst into song (v 23).
Vv 24-28: God will frustrate all the omens of the imposters and false prophets who claim that Israel will never be redeemed. Well over a century and a half before the destruction of Babylon at the hands of King Cyrus of Persia, Isaiah already called him by name (v 28), foretelling that he would herald Judah's return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple. The fact that this prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled to the letter is our assurance that all his prophecies about the future redemption will also be fulfilled to the letter.
* * * The passage in Isaiah 43:21-27 and 44:1-23 is read as the Haftara of Parshas Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1-5:26 * * *
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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