Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
ISAIAH CHAPTER 57
"The Tzaddik has been lost, but no man lays it to heart." (v 1). This verse follows on directly from the passage of rebuke of the people that began in the closing three verses of the previous chapter (Is. 56:10-12). The complaint here is that when someone truly righteous is taken from the world, the people do not stop to ask themselves why he should have died - what did he do to deserve it? (Metzudas David on v 1). The prophet explains why: "For because of the coming evil the Tzaddik is taken away" (v 1) - so that he should not have to suffer the pain of witnessing it, going instead to a place of true tranquility and peace in the world to come (v 2). Today these verses challenge us to consider seriously how, following the passing of such towering Tzaddikim as Baba Sali, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and certain others in recent times, the security of Israel and of Jews worldwide has manifestly deteriorated, which should prompt us to do everything we can to further our own TESHUVAH.
"But as for you, draw near, O sons of the sorceress, seed of the adulterer and the harlot" (v 3). In the following passage (vv 3-14) the prophet castigates the people for their "witchcraft" and "harlotry". Their "harlotry" is their turning away from following the path of HaShem with all their hearts and instead putting their reliance on men of flesh and blood in order to gain security. In Isaiah's time, the wicked people in Jerusalem did not want to follow Hezekiah's pure Torah path, but schemed instead to stave off the military threat from Assyria through bribes and alliances with other powers etc. (v 9): these very schemes were part of the "witchcraft". The same scheming continues until today by the secularized Jewish and Israeli "leadership", who cannot bring themselves to return to the path of Torah but instead devote themselves to never-ending stratagems purportedly intended to increase Jewish and Israeli security, all of which have the opposite effect. Whereas the people of Isaiah's time practiced literal child-sacrifice (v 5), today people tend to sacrifice their children on the altar of television, popular culture, materialism etc. instead of training them in the ways of Torah.
"You are wearied with the length of the way, yet you did not say, It is hopeless." (v 10) - "You have been busy with your needs, fulfilling all your lusts and multiplying your wealth, but you did not say 'It is hopeless': you have not given up all of this and said, 'I will not concern myself with all this any more but instead I will put my heart into the Torah and mitzvos" (Rashi ad loc.).
"I will declare your righteousness, but as for your works, they will not profit you" (v 12) - "I constantly tell you things which - if you were to do them - would vindicate you. But the works that you do contrary to My will shall not avail you in your time of trouble" (Rashi). All the schemes of the wicked will be blown away by a mere wind and a breath. But those who put their faith in HaShem and His Torah "will possess the land and inherit My holy mountain" (v 13). This literally refers to the land of Israel and Jerusalem . "And even though this passage specifically refers to King Hezekiah, who trusted in HaShem and did not move from his place, it also relates to every person. No matter how many people a person may gather to aid him in his time of trouble, they will not help him, because gathering people of flesh and blood in this world is wind and vanity. For 'the fear of HaShem is his treasure-house', and one who trusts in Him will possess the land and inherit the Holy Mountain in the World to Come, which is called the Land of the Living. The stumbling-block of this world is sin, and its removal is repentance" (RaDaK on v 13). Thus the passage continues: "And [the prophet, speaking in the name of HaShem, Rashi] says: Bank up, build up, prepare the way, TAKE UP THE STUMBLING BLOCK OUT OF THE WAY OF MY PEOPLE" (v 14).
"For thus says the high and lofty One. I dwell on high and in a holy place, yet with him also that is of contrite and humble spirit" (v 15). This sublime depiction of God's absolute transcendence combined with His limitless compassion is cited by the rabbis as the proof from the Nevi'im or prophetic writings (besides other proofs from the Torah and the Kesuvim) that "in every place where you find the greatness of the Holy One blessed be He, there you find His humility" (Megillah 31a).
"For I will not contend for ever, neither will I always be angry, when the spirit shall faint before Me, for I have made the souls " (v 16) - "If I bring suffering upon a person, My burning anger against him shall not be for length of days nor my rage forever, '.when the spirit shall faint before Me' - i.e. when man's spirit, which is put in him from Me, 'faints' and he admits his sin and is humbled" (Rashi). The word here rendered as "faints" also has the connotation of "swathing" and "clothing" (Metzudas Tzion). This verse is a key scriptural foundation for the kabbalistic teaching that the souls are garbs or garments through which Godliness is revealed in the world.
"I create a new expression of the lips: Peace, peace, both for far and near, says HaShem, and I will heal him" (v 19) - "Whereas until now the person suffered troubles, leading everyone to raise doubts and questions about him, they will now call out to him, 'Peace, peace'. Those who are far and those who are near are both equal - the person who has habituated himself and grown old in My Torah and My service since his youth [FFB] and the person who has just now recently drawn close in order to repent from his evil way [BT]. 'I shall heal him' from his illness and his sins" (Rashi ad loc.). [For those unfamiliar with the slang, FFB="Froom From Birth", BT=Baal Teshuvah!].
"But the wicked are like the troubled sea which cannot be still." (v 20) - "The waves of the sea proudly swell up above, seeking to pass over the boundary of sand that I have set as the boundary of the sea, yet when the wave reaches the shore it is broken against its will. Its fellow-wave coming after it sees this but does not retreat. Likewise the wicked man sees his companion suffering because of his wickedness, yet he still does not repent. Just as the all the foaming and raging of the sea is at its mouth, so the rebellion of the wicked is with their mouths" (Rashi ad loc.). We all want peace, but God says: "THERE IS NO PEACE FOR THE WICKED" (v 21). So much for "Peace Now"!
God says to the prophet: "Lift up your voice like the shophar (KE-SHOPHAR) and tell My people their transgressions" (v 1). Rabbi Nachman teaches that in order not to degrade the people through his rebuke but rather to elevate and enhance them, the Tzaddik must draw his voice of rebuke from the melody emanating from the Garden of Eden. This melody is the "Simple, Double, Treble, Quadruple" Song of the World to Come, which is alluded to in the word Ke-SHoPhaR. These Hebrew letters are the initial letters of Pashut ("simple"), Kaphul ("double"), Shalush ("trebled"), Ravu'a ("quadrupled"; Likutey Moharan II, 8:1).
".tell MY PEOPLE their transgressions." - "these are the Torah scholars, all of whose unintentional sins are counted as willful transgressions" [because they should have known better]; ".and the HOUSE OF JACOB their sins" - "these are the 'people of the earth' (AM HA'ARETZ), the unlearned, in whose case even willful transgressions are counted as unintentional" (verse 1 as explained in Bava Metzia 33b).
"And they seek Me daily and desire to know My ways, LIKE a nation that did righteousness." (v 2). "The people seek to create an outward impression AS IF they are righteous, but even when they ask the sages what are God's righteous laws, it is not their intention to fulfill them" (Rashi on v 2).
In vv 3-6 the prophet castigates the people for practicing the outer rituals of penitence - fasting, sackcloth and ashes, fervent swaying etc. - while failing to abandon their sinful ways, their infighting, exploitation of the poor and weak etc. This leads into the very beautiful passage in verses 7ff in which Isaiah depicts the pathway of kindness and compassion that God wants us to follow.
V 7: "Is it not to share your bread with the hungry." This verse speaks about providing for the PHYSICAL needs of the hungry, poor and naked. Verses 8-9 then enumerate SIX different blessings that will come to one who does so. Among them are that "your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of HaShem shall gather you in": this means that at the time of death, "the charity you did will go before you to conduct you to the Garden of Eden, and the Glory of HaShem will gather you in to the place where the souls of the Tzaddikim are hidden away" (Metzudas David).
Verse 10 then speaks of a higher level of kindness: "If you draw out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul." This means that "you bring forth your good favor to the hungry person, SPEAKING WORDS OF CONSOLATION at the time when you give him food". The continuation in verses 10-11 then enumerates ELEVEN blessings that come to one who fulfills this higher level of kindness. Thus: "Rabbi Yitzhak said: Everyone who gives a coin to a poor person is blessed with SIX blessings, while one who uplifts him with kind words is blessed with ELEVEN blessings" (Bava Basra 9b). "And He will make your bones strong" (v 11) - " Rabbi Elazar said: This is the most excellent of blessings" (Yevamos 102b).
"If you restrain your foot from violating the Shabbos." (v 13). The prophet here concludes his depiction of the true pathway of repentance that God wants us to follow by returning to the cardinal Mitzvah of the Shabbos. While the prohibition of labor on Shabbos is contained in the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8), the observance of this holy day involves more than mere abstention from work. The present verse is the scriptural foundation of the Shabbos laws relating to celebrating the SPIRIT of the day - through abstaining from all business activities even though they may not technically be counted as labors, by marking out the day with a different, more relaxed way of walking than on weekdays, by not even TALKING about business and mundane affairs, by enjoying special delights (food, clothing, etc.) on Shabbos and so on.
"Then you shall you delight yourself in HaShem. and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father" - "The verse mentions Jacob because the heritage is unique to his children as opposed to Ishmael son of Abraham and Esau son of Isaac" (RaDaK). "This will be a heritage without any bounds, as it is written of Jacob" 'And you shall break forth to the west and the east, the north and the south.'" (Gen. 28:14; Rashi on our verse).
* * * Isaiah 57 vv 14-21 & 58 vv 1-14 are read as the Haftarah after the morning Torah reading on the fast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Haftara teaches the kind of fasting and repentance that God desires. * * *
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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