Avraham ben Yaakov
ISAIAH CHAPTER 61
"The spirit of HaShem, God is upon me, because HaShem has anointed me to announce good tidings to the meek." (v 1). RaDaK explains: "These are the words of the prophet referring to himself. He means that the good tidings that he has given in previous prophecies and that he will continue to give later on come to him through the prophetic spirit of HaShem that rests upon him. God has sent him to announce these tidings to Israel because they are destined to be in exile for a long time, but they will find these consolations written and then they will not despair of the redemption. For the consolations he has been sent to utter and transcribe come from the mouth of HaShem, bringing good tidings to the exiles, who are meek and broken-hearted, enduring the exile for HaShem's sake, whereas if they had wanted to separate from His unity and from His Torah they would have become like one of the nations in whose domain they live" (RaDaK on v 1).
The Talmud deduces from verse 1, ".to announce good tidings to the MEEK (ANAVIM)", that the quality of ANAVAH, "meekness" and "humility", is the greatest of all the righteous attributes, being higher even than CHESSED, "kindness" or "going beyond the letter of the law" (Avodah Zarah 20b).
Among the consolations, God promises that He will give to the mourners of Zion "a garland (PE'ER, "glory") in place of ashes (EPHER)" (v 3). After the destruction of the Temple , bridegrooms no longer went out with garlands on their heads but instead rubbed ashes in the place where the head Tefilin are worn (see Ta'anis 15b). But very soon now the garlands will be restored and the true radiance of the Tefilin will also shine forth.
Verses 4-6 promise that after lying desolate and in ruins for many long generations, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem will be rebuilt (which has indeed happened and continues to happen in our days), and that gentiles will serve as "shepherds", "plowmen" and "vinedressers" etc. producing the nation's material requirements, leaving the righteous of Israel to serve as HaShem's priests, whose task will be to minister to the nations and teach them about the unity of God and His Torah.
"For I, HaShem love justice and hate robbery with a burnt offering." (v 8). The Talmud states: "A stolen LULAV (palm branch) is invalid for the performance of the mitzvah of taking the four species on Succoth, because this would be a mitzvah that came about through a sin, and it says He, 'hates robbery with a burnt offering'. The matter may be compared to a king who was passing through the Customs House and told his attendants to pay the customs dues to the customs officers. They said, 'But surely the entire Customs belongs to you!' The king replied, 'From me all travelers will learn not to evade the customs'. Likewise the Holy One blessed be He says, 'I hate robbery with a burnt offering' - from Me all My children will learn and keep themselves well away from robbery" (Succah 30a).
"I will greatly rejoice in HaShem. for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness (TZEDAKAH)." (v 10). These are the words of Israel at the time of the final redemption, rejoicing over the revelation of God's saving power and righteousness that will then occur in the eyes of the entire world. Israel will then be the exemplar of righteousness and justice.
"For as the earth brings forth her growth and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth." (v 11). These are not only metaphors for the way in which God will cause His salvation to spring forth in the future redemption. The words of this verse are also the basis for an important halachic Midrash relating to the laws of KIL'AYIM (prohibiting sowing different kinds of seeds together, Lev. 19:19; Deut. 22:9). From them we deduce how many different kinds of vegetables may be sown in close proximity in a small vegetable bed without infringing the prohibition of KIL'AYIM (see Shabbos 84b and Mishneh Kil'ayim ch 3).
"For the sake of Zion I will not hold My peace." (v 1) - "These are the words of HaShem while Israel are in exile" (RaDaK ad loc.). "I will not keep silent without exacting retribution from the nations on account of the degradation they have inflicted on Zion , which they destroyed down to the very foundation. I will not rest until the justice I will perform for Zion will shine like a brilliant radiation and the salvation I will send her will be seen by all like a blazing torch of fire" (Metzudas David ad loc.).
God's favor for Israel at the time of the redemption is compared to a young man's rejoicing over his new bride (v 5).
"Over your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen throughout the day and throughout the night." (v 6). The Talmud explains that these "watchmen" are angels who constantly remind HaShem about the destruction of Jerusalem , calling on Him to rebuild it (Menachos 87a). Targum Yonasan says that "your walls" are the founding fathers, who "shield us like a wall" (see Rashi on v 6). Rabbi Nachman of Breslov called upon all of us to take it upon ourselves to serve as these "watchmen", particularly through the recital of TIKKUN CHATZOS, the Midnight Lament over the destruction of the Temple , as well as our other prayers for redemption at every possible juncture day and night. ".Give Him no rest until He establishes and until He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth" (v 7).
"Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way of the people." (v 10). Targum renders: "The prophet proclaims: Pass through and return through the gates and turn the heart of the people to the path of righteousness. Announce good news and consolations to the Tzaddikim who have removed from themselves the negative thoughts produced by the evil inclination, which is like a stone that causes people to stumble.".
May we soon see the day when ".they shall call them the Holy People, Redeemed by HaShem, the city that is Sought Out and not forsaken" (v 12). Amen!
* * * Isaiah chapters 61:1-11, 62:1-12 & 63:1-9 are read as the seventh Haftarah of Consolation on Shabbos Parshas NITZAVIM (Deut. 29:9-30:20). * * *
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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