Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 59
"Surely HaShem's hand is not shortened so that it cannot save." (v 1) - "After finishing teaching them about the good deeds they should practice and how they should turn aside from evil, the prophet now gives them further reproof over their evil deeds. He says that their complaint against God in the previous chapter, 'Why have we fasted but You have not seen.?' (Is. 58:3), is unfounded, explaining that the reason why God has not seen your fasting or saved you from your enemies is not because His hand has become short and cannot save you and not because His ear does not hear. but because your sins have separated you from Him and this is why it seems as if He does not hear and does not have the strength to save you. Why? Because of your sins" (RaDaK on v 1).
"For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness" (v 3). "'Your hands' refers to the judges; 'your fingers' are the judges' scribes; 'your lips have spoken lies' - these are the lawyers; 'your tongue mutters wickedness' - these are the parties to the law suit" (Shabbos 139a). The blight of litigation!
"No one calls in uprightness." (v 4) - "There is no-one who calls out to HaShem with uprightness and heartfelt intent" (Metzudas David).
"They hatch viper's eggs and weave the spider's web." (v 5): The evil schemes hatched by the wicked will lead only to the bite of the poisonous serpent, while all that they seek to construct will be as flimsy as a spider's web, which is easily swept away. Isaiah was directly addressing the wicked people of Judah in his time who sought to gain security through their various machinations. However, his prophecies are for all time and especially for us since we are now at the "end of days". His depiction of the people's wickedness seems to apply directly to those trying to build an Israel founded on military, technological and economic power divorced from the Torah.
"The way of peace they know not." All the peace plans and diplomatic gambits in the world will never bring Israel peace without the Torah, "for all of her ways are peace" (Proverbs 3:17).
"Therefore justice is far from us." (v 9). In the previous eight verses the prophet was addressing the complaints of the wicked and castigating them for their ways. But the wicked of Israel and the righteous are all members of a single organism and the flaws of one part cause the whole to suffer. Thus the prophet now embarks on a lament in the name of the people as a whole. "Therefore justice is far from us" - "We have been crying out over the outrageous injustice (HAMAS) of our enemies, but the Holy One blessed be He does not execute justice and take vengeance" (Rashi ad loc.). Thus Israel today is literally crying out about HAMAS, who perpetrate daily rocket attacks on the country, yet nobody intervenes to stop them! ".neither does righteousness overtake us" (v 9) - "The consolations of coming goodness that He has promised us do not come and reach us" (Rashi ad loc.).
The prophet's lament becomes a confession that he puts into the mouths and onto the lips of each one of us: "For our transgressions are multiplied before you." (v 11). Even those striving to observe the Torah may not put all the blame for the nation's troubles upon those who are far from the Torah. For we must all take personal responsibility: ".and as for our iniquities, we know them" (ibid.).
"And the judgment is turned away backwards, and justice stands far off, for truth is fallen in the street and upright dealing cannot enter" (v 14). The "judgment" that is turned away backwards is "our vengeance against our enemies, which depends on the Holy One, blessed be He. And 'His justice stands far off' - Why? Because 'truth is fallen in our streets', and since the truth has stumbled on earth, likewise justice and equity do not come from heaven" (Rashi ad loc.). Today it is the "street" - i.e. the mass media - that have set themselves up as the arbiters of truth. No wonder it has stumbled!
"And truth is absent, and he that departs from evil makes himself ridiculous" (v 15). "In the generation in which the son of David will come, truth will be absent. What does it mean that 'truth is absent (NE'EDERES)'? This teaches that it will turn into flocks and flocks (ADARIM ADARIM; i.e. society is splintered into an ever-growing multitude of groups each claiming a monopoly on truth). What does it mean that 'he who departs from evil makes himself ridiculous'? It means that everyone will say he has gone mad" (Sanhedrin 97a). These are the symptoms of the threshold of Mashiach! There may thus be a grain of comfort in the fact that today many of the non-religious and probably all of the irreligious think that those who observe the Torah are mad!
"And [HaShem] saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no intercessor: therefore His arm brought him salvation and it was His righteousness that sustained him"(v 16) - "When He will see that there is no pure, worthy man among them in whose merit they can be redeemed, and when He will be astonished that there is no-one among them who intercedes and prays for the redemption, HaShem's right arm will save them, bringing the redemption without merit and without an intercessor" (Metzudas David ad loc.). The Talmud learns from verse 16 in our present chapter and verse 21 in the following chapter that Mashiach will come either in a generation that is entirely worthy or entirely guilty (Sanhedrin 98a).
RaDaK (on verse 16) seeks to reconcile the different opinions in the Talmudic discussion on this question as follows: "The majority of Israel will repent after they see the signs of redemption, and this is why it says, 'And he saw that there was no man' - for they will not repent until they will see the beginning of the salvation. But there will still be sinners and rebels among them and they will leave the exile together with the majority of Israel , who will repent, but they will perish on the way and they will not come to the Land of Israel . Even the majority will not repent completely or pray to God wholeheartedly until they see the signs of redemption. It makes no sense to say that there will be no righteous, good people in Israel who will be fit for redemption - but they will not be sufficiently worthy for the entire people of Israel to be redeemed in their merit. And thus when the rabbis said that the redemption would come in a generation that is 'entirely guilty', this means the majority - for there was never a generation in Israel that was entirely guilty without having some righteous, good people. And even the guilty are not necessarily liable to be wiped out; rather, they will simply unworthy to be redeemed in their own merit."
"And He will garb Himself in righteousness (TZEDAKAH) like a coat of armor." (v 17) - "His weapons will be of two kinds: weapons of charity and salvation for Israel and weapons of vengeance against the nations" (RaDaK ad loc.). "Why does it say, 'He will garb Himself in TZEDAKAH (=charity) like a coat of armor'? Just as in a coat of armor, each metal scale adds up to a great coat of armor, so in the case of charity, all the separate coins join up to make a great sum" (Bava Basra 9b).
"They shall fear the Name of HaShem from the west. when affliction (TZAR) comes like a river, which the spirit of HaShem will drive forth" (v 19). The Talmud comments on this verse: "If you see a generation suffering from many troubles, wait for him (i.e. Mashiach)" (Sanhedrin 98a). RaDaK explains that the "affliction" that "comes like a river" refers to the armies of Gog and Magog, which the spirit of God will destroy from the earth. "For even though the people of Israel will have returned to Jerusalem before Gog and Magog come, when they do so Israel will say that no redeemer has come to them since the nations are coming to make war against them. When God then judges Gog and Magog with 'plague and blood and driving rain and great hailstones.' (Ezekiel 38:22), Israel will say 'And a redeemer has come to Zion .' (v 20 in our present chapter), for then all Israel will come back to God in complete repentance" (RaDaK on v 19).
"And a redeemer shall come to Zion ." (v 20): This and the following verse of redemption are recited in the daily morning services and Shabbos and festival afternoon services etc. at the beginning of the prayer UVA-LEZION.
The very harshness of much of the prophecy contained in the previous chapter was perhaps intended to soften and humble our hearts in preparation for the sublime prophecy of consolation contained in our present chapter. "Arise, shine, for your light has come.!" (verse 1, phrases from which are incorporated in the LECHA DODI song welcoming Shabbos).
"For the darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples, but but upon you HaShem will shine and His glory shall be seen upon you" (v 2). As we contemplate the wanton violence, warfare, terror and crime in the world today together with the licentious godless cultures that breed them, we may well feel that this verse applies directly to our age. We may take comfort in the fact that we are free to turn off the media and immerse ourselves in the study of God's Torah (TaNaCh, Mishneh, Talmud, Halachah, Midrash, Kabbalah, Chassidut. endless treasures), and in this way His light shines to us even in the midst of the surrounding darkness that grips the world.
"Lift up your eyes round about and see: all of them are gathered and have come to you.. Your sons shall come from afar." (v 4). If we look back not only over the last sixty years since the establishment of the state of Israel with the great waves of Aliyah that followed, but also over the exponential growth of Aliyah in the five hundred years since the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, we can see how this prophecy of the return of the exiles has been and continues to be fulfilled. Today over half of the world's Jews live in Israel . Despite all its many problems and even the serious poverty of part of its population, Israel is in purely material terms one of the wealthiest, technologically advanced and sophisticated countries in the world, and the wealth of many nations flows into Israel in the form of imports, investments, tourism etc. etc. as prophesied in vv 5ff. We eagerly await the day when all the flocks of Kedar (=Arabia) will be gathered to be offered as sacrifices on God's Altar in "the House of My glory" (v 7) - i.e. the coming Holy Temple !
V 8: "Who are these that fly as a cloud and as doves to their windows?" Who does NOT come to Israel today by air, usually in planeloads of hundreds - just like flocks of doves? How was Isaiah able to see this 2500 years ago?
"And the sons of strangers shall build up your walls" (v 10). A very large part of the labor force in present-day Israel 's construction industry is foreign.
"And your gates shall be open always by day and by night" (v 11). Flights arrive day and night at Israel 's "gates" - Tel Aviv day airport!
"The sons also of those that persecuted you will come bending to you" (v 14) - "Those who were your persecutors during the exile will already be dead at the time of the salvation, and their children will come to you bowing and they will fall before you" (RaDaK ad loc.). It is a fact that descendants of some of Israel 's worst persecutors have been notable converts, such as those of Sennacherib and Haman, and in our times a grandson of the Mufti of Jerusalem.
"Violence (HAMAS) shall no longer be heard in your land" (v 18). It appears that present-day Hamas was brought into existence for the purpose of being wiped out very soon in fulfillment of this prophecy.
"The sun shall no more be your light by day.. For HaShem shall be to you an everlasting light." (v 19). "Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: Throughout the forty years when Israel were in the wilderness, not one of them ever needed the light of the sun by day or the light of the moon by night. If the encompassing clouds of glory radiated, they knew that the sun had gone down, while if they became white, they knew that the sun had risen. One could look at a barrel and know what was in it, at a pitcher and know what was in it [spiritual X-ray vision!!!] because of the cloud of the Divine Presence that was among them. So too in time to come, as it says, 'Rise, shine for your light has come.' (v 1) . 'The sun shall no more be your light by day.' (v 19; Midrash Mechilta).
"And your people are all righteous forever." (v 21) - This teaches that "All Israel have a share in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 90a).
"I, HaShem, will hasten it in its time" (v 22) - "If they are worthy, 'I will hasten it'; if they are unworthy, 'in its time'" (Sanhedrin 90a).
* * * Isaiah Chapter 60 vv 1-22 is the sixth Haftarah of Consolation, read on Shabbos Parshas KI SAVO (Deut.26:1-29:8). * * *
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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