August 4, 2007
20 Av 5767
This haftarah is the second of a series of haftarot which follow Tisha B\’Av known as the \”shiva d\’nehamta – the seven of consolation\”. After the opening section, where Jerusalem is comforted with the prophecy that the return from exile will leave the nation repopulated, the prophet moves on to other issues, among them, God\’s despair over the failure of the people to respond to His call: \”Why when I came was no one there? Why when I called, would none respond? (Isaiah 50:2) This verse indicates that God found it disconcerting that no one seemed to pay attention to His ability to redeem them from amongst the nations. It disturbed Him that they did not pay attention to His redemptive feats of the past and failed to apply examples from the past to their current situation. It bothered Him that no one called for Divine redemption. (A. Hakham, Isaiah, Daat Mikra, p/538-9) Rabbi David Kimche (Provance, 12th century) asserts that God is troubled that no one wants to return to Him, to do teshuva, to mend the relationship between God and the nation.
Rabbi Yochanan uses this verse as a proof text to illustrate God\’s great despair when synagogues fail to have a minyan or prayer quorum of ten: R. Yochanan says: Whenever the Holy One, blessed be He, comes into a Synagogue and does not find ten persons (the number of people required for a minyan or prayer quorum) there, He becomes angry at once. For it is said: \”Why when I came was no one there? Why when I called, would none respond? (Isaiah 50:2) (Berachot 6b) Rashi points out the significance of Rabbi Yochanan\’s use of this verse. He notes that God is disappointed at the community\’s inability to \’answer\’, namely, recite those passages of the prayer service like the kedusha which require a minyan.
Rav Abraham Yitzhak Kook, the first chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael in modern times (early 20th century), wrote a very interesting commentary to the aggadic (non legal) sections of a number of tractates of the Talmud, while he was still in his early 20\’s in Lithuania. In this commentary, known as Ein Ayah, Rav Kook gives this passage a sociological-theological twist: \”The essence of the service to God, as understood in the Torah, is that all of the activities of life should be rooted in the service of the will of God. Anyone who thinks that the service of God is strictly a private experience, that one can set aside a discrete time for God but otherwise not have God in one\’s heart, such a person destroys the very essence of the Torah. For example, the building of a synagogue is an act of service to God; however, the purpose of the synagogue is that the community prayer in it, always, every day. This shows that the people who built it really intended to serve God by making God\’s service a way of life. However, if the people simply built a synagogue, this would not be indicated. This would show that they assume that service to God was a discrete thing but not a way of life. Such service does not even meet the goal for that particular thing or moment. So when God comes to a synagogue and does not find a minyan of ten, it is not the building that constitutes satisfactory service to God, for the essence of serving God is through how one leads one\’s life according to His will, blessed be He. (Ein Ayah Berachot 6b. pp. 24-25)
Rav Kook warns us that God is disturbed by disembodied participation. Judaism is a religion where one lives one\’s service to God not vicariously, not just in a moment of generosity, not with the expectation that one can just \”pass the baton\” to others, but as a constant life experience as a part of a living community. This is why, according to Rav Kook, that God is so sad when a shul cannot make a minyan.
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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