Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 51
"Hear me, you that pursue righteousness." (v 1). The prophet now comforts those who continue to seek HaShem and strive to follow the path of righteousness despite the lengthy exile: "Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug out. Look to Abraham. and Sarah." (vv 1-2). Based on the use of the metaphors of an inanimate "rock" and a "pit" to describe Abraham and Sarah, the Talmud teaches that both were congenitally barren (Yevamos 64a) - yet in their old age, after they had long despaired of ever having a child, God miraculously sent them a son. Similarly, after having extended Israel 's exile to the point where they will despair of being redeemed, He will finally deliver them (RaDaK on v 2).
"For HaShem has comforted (NICHAM) Zion ." (v 3). Full consolation will come at the time of the future redemption, but grammatically, the Hebrew verb NICHAM is in the past tense, following the prophetic style in many other passages, for the matter was clear to the prophet as if it had already happened (Metzudas David on v 3). God promises that in time to come the waste places of Zion will be transformed into a garden of HaShem .
This transformation will be accomplished through the revelation of a new level of Torah at the time of the redemption, the Torah of Mashiach: "For Torah shall go forth from Me." (v 4). " Melech HaMashiach will teach the nations to follow the ways of HaShem, and the messianic Justice will enlighten the eyes of the nations in their various disputes, and I will thereby bring calm and tranquility to each and every nation, for they will no longer make war against each other" (Metzudas David on v 4).
Despite the long exile, the prophet reassures us that God's righteousness is "near" (v 5) and that He will judge the nations. "For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke and the earth shall grow old like a garment." (v 6). "The heavens" alludes to the guardian angels of the nations in heaven, who will be worn out and thrown into turmoil at the time of the redemption, while the "earth" refers to the governing powers of the earth. But God's salvation of His people will endure for ever (Rashi ad loc.).
The opening verse of the present section addressed those who "PURSUE righteousness and SEEK OUT HaShem" (see v 1 above), but now the prophet addresses "those who KNOW righteousness, the people that have My Torah IN THEIR HEART" (v 7), urging them not be fear the degradation and insults to which they are subjected by the nations during the lengthy exile, because all the nations will be consumed like a moth-eaten garment (which is merely extraneous) while God's salvation will last forever (v 8).
"Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of Hashem." (v 9). The prophet now prays to God to arouse the power of His mighty "arm", just as in the days of old when He overthrew Rahav, the "crocodile", i.e. Egypt , causing the Red Sea to split to make a path for His redeemed children (v 10). The phrase "Awake, awake!" in verse 9 was woven into the LECHA DODI song with which it is customary to welcome the Sabbath "bride" every Friday evening. Likewise included in LECHA DODI are a number of other phrases of redemption from Isaiah's prophecy (e.g. Is. 51:17, 52:1 & 2 etc.).
The beautiful prophecy of redemption in v 11 also appears word for word in Isaiah 35:10.
"I, even I am He that comforts you." (v 12). Israel have no need to fear their oppressors, who are mere mortals, whereas their Savior is the Living God, who assures them that their captive exiles will soon be released (v 14).
"And I shall place My words in your mouth and I have covered you in the shadow of My hand, that I may plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth and say to Zion, You are My people" (v 16). "My words" refers to the Torah, and thus the Talmud learns from this verse that "everyone who engages in the Torah for its own sake is considered as if he builds the heavenly and earthly palace, and he protects the whole world and brings the redemption closer" (Sanhedrin 99b).
"Awake! Awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem ." (v 17). The prophet urges the people to awaken from their spiritual slumber induced by the trials of the exile, for they have already suffered double trouble - the desolation of famine and the destruction wreaked by the sword (v 19). God promises that the poisonous cup of suffering will be taken from the hand of Israel and given instead to be drunk by those who oppress and humiliate her (vv 22-3).
While Israel 's oppressors were compared to a worn-out garment eaten by moths and worms (Is. 51:8), the prophet now calls on Zion and Jerusalem to don their garments of glory - the Torah and the commandments. "For henceforth the uncircumcised and the unclean shall no more come into you" (v 1). "The 'uncircumcised' refers to the kingdom of Edom , who are uncircumcised, while the 'unclean' refers to the kingdom of Ishmael , who make an outward show of purity through washing their bodies, but who are really unclean because of their evil deeds. And these two kingdoms have kept hold of Jerusalem from the day of the destruction of the Temple, and they have both been fighting over it for a long time now, each one conquering it from the other, but from the day of the redemption and thereafter they will never pass through it again, as it says in Joel 4:17" (RaDaK on v 1).
"For so says HaShem: You were sold for nothing and you shall be redeemed without money" (v 3). "You were sold for nothing" - because of your sins - "and you shall be redeemed without money" - through repentance (RaDaK ad loc.).
"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him that brings tidings of good, that announces peace." (v 7). "Three days before Mashiach comes, Elijah will come and stand on the mountains of Israel and cry and mourn over them, saying, Mountains of the Land of Israel , until when will you stand in a desolate land? And his voice will be heard from one end of the world to the other. Afterwards he will say, Peace has come to the world! Peace has come to the world, as it is written, 'How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him. that announces PEACE'. When the wicked hear this they will all rejoice and say to one another, Peace has come to US! On the second day Elijah will come and stand on the mountains of Israel and say, Goodness has come to the world! Goodness has come to the world! As it says, '.that brings tidings of GOOD'. On the third day he will stand on the mountains of Israel and say, Salvation has come to the world! Salvation has come to the world! As it says, '.that announces SALVATION'. But when he sees what the wicked are saying, '.He will say to Zion, Your God rules' - to teach you that the salvation is for Zion and her children and not for the wicked" (Psikta Rabasi).
"Depart! Depart! Go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Go out from the midst of her; be clean, you that bear the instruments of HaShem" (v 11). The prophet tells the exiles to depart their places of exile and separate themselves from the unclean nations around them. ".you that bear the instruments of HaShem" - "Your weapons of war will be the instruments of HaShem - His Torah and commandments, and not the sword or the spear" (Metzudas David ad loc.).
"For you shall not go out with haste." (v 12). Whereas at the time of the Exodus from Egypt the Children of Israel were commanded to eat the paschal lamb "with haste" (Exodus 12:11), in the future redemption they will leave their exile not "with haste" - i.e. not in a state of confusion, like people who are in fear - but with calm and confidence (Mechilta; see Metzudas David & RaDaK on our present verse).
"Behold, My servant shall prosper: he shall be uplifted and raised up and be very high" (v 13). While Rashi, Metzudas David and RaDaK interpret the "servant" as referring to the Tzaddikim of Israel in general, the Midrash interprets this as a reference to Melech HaMashiach. "He shall be exalted." - "more than Abraham, who said, 'I have lifted up my hand'" (Gen. 17:22); ".and raised up." - more than Moses, who said, '.raise him up in your embrace' (Numbers 11:12); ".and be very high." - "higher than the ministering angels, of whom it is said 'they have height' (Ezekiel 1:18)" (Midrash Tanchuma).
Just as the nations were appalled at the descent of Israel in the time of their exile, so they will be amazed at their ascent at the time of the redemption (vv 14-15).
* * * Isaiah 51:12-23 and 52:1-12 are read as the fourth Haftara of consolation on Shabbos Parshas SHOFTIM (Deut.16:18-21:9). * * *
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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