Haftarah Parshat Bereshit
October 2, 2010
24 Tishre 5771
Haftarah Commentary for Parshat Bereshit (Isaiah 42:5-43:10)
Human beings are not easily attuned to God\’s message and the more difficult a person\’s situation, often the less capable he or she is of listening and seeing that which God offers up. The Torah takes note of this phenomenon early on when it relates the attitude of the children of Israel toward God while they are still slaves in Egypt: \”They would not listen to Moses for their spirits were crushed by cruel bondage.\” (Exodus 6:9) The conditions of slavery immured the people from hearing Moses\’ message of redemption.
Similarly, this week\’s haftarah offered up a message of redemption to the Babylonian exiles after the destruction of the First Temple. Their hardship made it extremely difficult for them to hear this message: \”Listen, you who are deaf; You blind ones, look up and see!\” (Isaiah 42:18) \”Who is so blind as My servant, so deaf as the messenger I send? Who is so blind as the chosen one, so blind as the servant of the Lord? (Isaiah 42:19)
The relationship between these two verses is open to debate. Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) read these verses as a dialogue between the prophet and the people. In the first verse (18), the prophet apprises his audience of its lack of discernment, while in the second verse (19) the people taunts the prophet, indicating their lack of responsiveness to his message. Another commentator has God attempting to reassure the people by noting that even his own prophet is apprehensive about this message of hope. (A. Hacham, Isaiah 2, Daat Mikra, p. 452 n. 27) Others see both verses as a description of Israel\’s fallen status, namely, that despite their status as God\’s servants, exile and sin have blinded them to God\’s message. (Rashi and others)
All of these interpretations see Israel\’s blindness and deafness as a fault which keeps them from hearing God\’s message. The prophet wants to convince the people to shed its reticence and to hear God\’s message. There is, however, a interesting midrashic interpretation of the second verse, which takes it out of context and reads it not as a matter of vice but as a religious virtue: \”What could David have meant when he said: \’Give praise to God, b\’ne elim (literally, \’divine beings)? [It must mean:] \’O, you sons (b\’ne) who act as if you are deaf and dumb! You who have the right to talk back to the Holy One Blessed be He, not only do you not talk back to Him, but in order to hallow His name you endure the hostile nations! Similarly, Isaiah said: \’Who is blind but My servant? Or deaf as My messenger that I sent? Who is blind as he who is wholehearted, and blind as the servant of the Lord?\” (Midrash Tehillim 29:1 Buber ed. p. 231)
The author of this midrash sees religious forbearance as a virtue. This idea may not be universally accepted as a virtue in the Jewish world but it is probably a quality (or maybe even a strength) which has allowed the Jewish people to endure. It, together with the \’hope\’ preached in Isaiah\’s original message will insure our existence in perpetuity.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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