Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
ISAIAH CHAPTER 63
"Who is this that comes from Edom , with crimsoned garments from Batzrah.?" (v 1). Verses 1-5 of this chapter are a prophecy about God's vengeance against Edom in time to come. Edom 's guardian angel in heaven will be "killed" first. In destroying Edom , God is compared to a warrior taking vengeance on his enemies, his garments red from the blood of the killing. It is as if someone is asking in astonishment: Who this is? and God replies: "I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save" - "I speak and promise to do justice for Israel , I have abundant power to save them, as I have promised" (see Metzudas David & RaDaK ad loc.).
Based on this verse, the Talmudic sage Reish Lakish said: "The guardian angel of Rome is destined to make three mistakes. The first is that it is only the city of BETZER that provides refuge for killers (Deut. 4:43) whereas he will seek refuge in Batzrah. The second mistake is that the cities of refuge are only for unwitting killers whereas he killed intentionally. The third is that the cities of refuge are only for humans while he is an angel" (Maccos 12a). [Maharal explains that by cutting off a life every unwitting killer becomes attached to the overall power of evil, which is the guardian angel of Edom (SAMA-EL), and thus becomes cut off and uprooted from his place, except that he can be "absorbed" and find refuge under the protection of God, who encompasses all existence including even a sinner. When the great Day of Judgment comes, when God will remove the spirit of impurity from the world (Zechariah 13:2), the overall power of evil will likewise beg to be left in existence, seeing itself as the expression of God's attribute of Judgment. But the overall power of evil is not a man (whose acts without full understanding and responsibility) but rather an angel, which possesses complete knowledge and understanding. Therefore BATZRAH, which alludes to the root of his power, expressing a level of evil that goes beyond the proper limits of Judgment, will not provide him with refuge in the way that the city of BETZER provides refuge to human beings.]
The future destruction of the overall force of evil will be all God's work. "Of the peoples there was none with me" (v 3) - "None of the nations will be able to stand up against Me in war, for I shall have killed the heavenly angel" (Metzudas David). When will this be? "For the day of vengeance is in My heart" (v 4) - "If a person tells you when the final redemption will come, DO NOT BELIEVE HIM, as it says, 'For the day of vengeance is in My HEART'. If the heart has not even revealed it to the mouth, to whom could the mouth reveal it???" (Yalkut Shimoni). "Rabbi Yohanan said: To My heart I have revealed it but not to My limbs. Reish Lakish said: To My heart I have revealed it but I have not revealed it to the ministering angels" (Sanhedrin 99a).
"And I looked and there was none to help. therefore My own arm has brought salvation to me." (v 5) - "I looked to see if Israel had any merit that might help and aid the redemption, but I did not find any merit in them. I was astonished because there was no intercessor" (Metzudas David and Rashi ad loc.). This implies that the final redemption will come about not through Israel 's merit but because of God's righteousness and compassion.
"I will recall HaShem's kindnesses." (v 7). This verse begins a new section that runs continuously without a break (in the Hebrew text) until the end of the following chapter (Isaiah 64:11). The previous prophesy of the coming destruction of Edom does not engender a mood of triumphant joy in Israel but rather one of deep introspection, leading the prophet to consider God's kindnesses to the House of Israel "which He has bestowed upon them according to His mercies" - i.e. not because of our own righteousness (Metzudas David).
"In all their affliction, He was afflicted" (v 9). This rendering of the verse follows the KRI (the way the words are READ in accordance with the Massoretic tradition) but not the KSIV (the way the text is traditionally written in the parchment scroll). The KSIV does not attribute the human feeling of affliction to the Holy One blessed be He, Who transcends all such feelings, but rather it says, "In all their affliction, He did NOT (LO, Lamed Aleph) afflict them," i.e. not to the full extent, because the "angel of His countenance" (=Israel's guardian angel, Michael) protected them. The KRI is far bolder, telling us that for all His transcendence, God DOES FEEL our pain and torment ("the pain is LO, Lamed Vav, to Him" (see RaDaK on v 9).
"But they rebelled." (v 10). The prophet wants the people to understand that it is because of their own rebellion that God has sent their afflictions at the hands of the nations: they have not come by chance (see Metzudas David ad loc.).
"Then he (= Israel ) remembered the days of old, how Moses came to His people." (v 10). In exile Israel will remember the days of old when God sent Moses to redeem them (see Rashi; Metzudas David ad loc). The prophet places a prayer on the lips of the people: "Where (AYEH) is He that brought them up out of the sea (i.e. the Red Sea ) with the shepherd of His flock." It is noteworthy that in asking the key question, AYEH??? WHERE??? (see Likutey Moharan II:12) the people will not only seek out HaShem but also Moses - the Tzaddik of the Generation - through whose agency God will redeem them.
In verses 12-14 the prophet evokes the greatness of the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea, emphasizing the EASE with which the Children of Israel passed through - like a horse galloping free in the wilderness or like an animal GOING DOWN into a valley (as opposed to having to climb up with effort; see Rashi and RaDaK on vv 13). He thereby creates a wistful longing for the miracles of the past in preparation for the prayer for future redemption that he puts into the mouths of Israel in verses 15ff. Verses 15-18 are included in the prayers of TIKKUN CHATZOS (the Midnight Lament over the destruction of the Temple).
"For you are our father, though Abraham is ignorant of us and Israel (=Jacob) does not acknowledge us." (v 16). Notably absent from this verse is the second founding father, Isaac. An aggadic Midrash in the Talmud tells that in time to come God will turn to both Abraham and Jacob telling them their children have sinned against Him, to see if they will intercede on their behalf, but both will reply that they should be wiped out to sanctify His name. However, when He says to Isaac, Your children have sinned, Isaac will reply, "MY children and not YOUR children??? Surely when they said, 'We shall do and we shall hear', You called them 'My firstborn son'! Furthermore, how many years does a man live? Seventy! Subtract the first 20 years, when a person is not liable to heavenly punishments. That leaves 50. Subtract 25 to take account of the nights. That leaves 25. Subtract twelve and a half years to take account of all of the time spent praying, eating, in the bathroom etc. That leaves twelve and a half years in which people may sin. If You can bear all of them, all the better! And if not, I will bear half and You bear the other half!!!" At that moment all Israel will say "For YOU (Isaac) are our father!!! (Shabbos 89b).
In this chapter the prophet continues with the introspective prayer which began in the previous chapter (Is. 63:7). In the last verse of the previous chapter (63:19) he prayed that God should again rend the heavens and descend as He did when He came to save Israel from Egypt and to give them the Torah on Sinai, when the very mountains melted (Rashi & Metzudas David ad loc.). In the first verse of the present chapter (which is a direct continuation), He prays to God to show His power to His enemies the way that fire burns up brushwood and makes water bubble furiously. "As when You performed awesome wonders that we did not expect." (v 2). The magnitude of the miracles of the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai were on a scale that the people could never have dared to hope for - and the prophet artfully implies that miracles of the same order or greater are required for the final redemption.
"For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen that a god beside You should do such a thing for him that waits for him" (v 3). This rendering of the verse follows the plain meaning of the Hebrew text. However the latter part of the verse can equally be rendered: "No eye has seen, O God, besides You what He shall do to one who waits for Him". In the words of Rambam: "Man does not have the power to understand the goodness of the world to come clearly, and no-one knows of its greatness, beauty and power except the Holy One blessed be He alone. All the benefits that the prophets foretold for Israel relate only to the material benefits Israel will enjoy in the days of Mashiach when dominion will be restored to Israel, but nothing whatever can be compared to the goodness of the life of the world to come, and the prophets never compared it to anything in order not to detract from it through an inadequate comparison. For those who wait for Him, God will perform a goodness that no eye of any prophet has seen and that no-one besides God has seen " (Rambam, Laws of Teshuvah 8:7).
In vv 4-6 the prophet puts more words of prayer and confession into the mouths of the people, mourning the loss of the truly righteous, which has left a people all of whom are like someone unclean and full of sins, causing God to hide His countenance from us.
"But now, HaShem, You are our father, we are the clay and You are the potter." (v 7). Not only do we ask God to have compassion upon us like a father. We ask him to CHANGE us for the better, just as a potter can change the shape of the vessel he makes at will (RaDaK). As in the case of Is. 63:15-18, the prayer in the closing verses of our present chapter (Is. 64 vv 7-11) is incorporated in TIKKUN CHATZOS.
May God turn our hearts to Him and restore Israel and the Holy Temple quickly in our days! Amen!
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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