Haftarah Parshat Ekev
August 20, 2011
20 Av 5771
In this second of the seven special haftarot of consolation (shiva d’nahamta) which follow after Tisha b’Av, we find one of the famous passages in the book of Isaiah about the “suffering servant of the Lord”: “The Lord gave me a skilled tongue to know how to speak timely words to the weary. Morning by morning, He rouses, He rouses my ear to give heed like disciples. The Lord opened my ears and I did not disobey. I did not run away. I offered my back to the floggers and my cheeks to those who tore out my hair. I did not hide my face from insult and spittle. But the Lord did help me. Therefore I feel no disgrace; therefore I have set my face like flint and I know I will not be shamed…” (50:4-9)
The prophet’s job was an unpopular one. He frequently carried a message which conflicted with accepted norms. Consequently, he was not accepted and frequently suffered much worse indignities. Such was and is the fate of social critics. Therefore a prophet needed to be a special kind of person, articulate, confident and sure of his message but nevertheless caring and nurturing, even for those who vexed him most. In the following midrash, this point is made anecdotally: “Rabbi Azariah, in the name of R. Judah b. Simeon, [related the following:]Isaiah said: I was at leisure in my house of study when I heard the voice of the Holy One, blessed be He, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us (Isa. 6:8). I have already sent Micah, and they smote him on the cheek, as it is written, ‘They strike the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek’ (Micah 4:14); I sent Amos, and they called him a ‘stammerer’. Now ’ Whom shall I send, and who win go for us?’ Then I (Isaiah) said: ‘Here am I; send me.’ Said the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Isaiah, My children are troublesome, they are stubborn. If thou take it upon yourself to be degraded and to be beaten by My children, you are the right one to go on My mission; if not, you are not the right one to go on My mission.’ Isaiah replied: \’ [I am willing to go] on these conditions, I offer my back to the floggers, and my cheeks to those who tore out my hair (Isaiah 50:6). Am I not then fit to go on a mission to Your children?\’ Then the Holy One, blessed be He said: ‘Isaiah, \”You love righteousness” (Psalm 45:8), [meaning], you love to make My children righteous, \”And you hate wickedness” (Ibid.), [meaning], you hate condemning them as wicked. \”Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness over all your peers” (Ibid.). What is the meaning of ’Over your peers’? God said to Isaiah: \’As you live, all the prophets received the gift of prophecy one from another, but you will be different. They all bring simple prophecies but you will be blessed to bring prophecies bearing double consolations, [like those which we heard last week and in the coming weeks]: Awake, awake (ib. 51:9); Awake yourself, Awake yourself (ib. 17); Rejoice, I will surely rejoice (ib. 61:10); I, even I, am He that comforts you (ib. 51:12); Comfort, oh comfort My people (ib. 40:1)”. (adapted from Leviticus Rabba 10:2 Margoliyot ed. pp. 197-9)
What made Isaiah special? He did not kowtow or pander. He was willing to stand up to abuse for teaching what was right but always did so with over abiding love. Because he was able and willing to balance these qualities, God also granted him to be the messenger of solace for the generations.
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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