Haftarah Parshat Ekev
August 11, 2012
23 Av 5772
The latter part of the book of Isaiah is a prophecy from the period of Shivat Zion – the return of the exiles to Zion (the land of Israel) seventy years after the destruction of the Temple at the hands of the Babylonians. This situation creates an interesting literary – prophetic possibility. From a historical perspective, the author of these prophecies has the opportunity to interact with the prophetic messages of earlier prophets. In our haftarah, it seems that the prophet responds to a message offered by Jeremiah, the prophet of the period of the destruction of the Temple.
In one of Jeremiah’s prophecies, he offered an incredibly despondent message to his people on the eve of the nation’s destruction: “Can a maiden forget (Hatishkach) her jewels, a bride her adornments? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number.” (Jeremiah 2:32) The intent of this message is that while it would be unthinkable for a young woman to forget those things which she uses to beautify herself, the people of Israel, in contrast, have forgotten God, who was, as it were, their greatest adornment.
The prophet in our haftarah, living some seventy years later when the return from exile is in full swing, replies to this exhortation using Jeremiah’s same words. He transforms Jeremiah’s message from one of despair into one of comfort: “Can a women forget (Hatishkach) her baby or disown the child of her womb? Though she might forget, I never could forget you; You shall don them all (the newly returned inhabitants) like jewels, deck yourself with them like a bride.” (Isaiah 49:15;18) Here the prophet contrasts a mother who is unlikely to forget her child, but still might, with God who could not conceivably forget His people. Furthermore, he will return the woman’s (Israel’s) lost jewels (the exiles) so that she can again adorn herself.
Both the prophecy of Jeremiah and that of our haftarah use the same opening word (Hatishkach). In addition, they share the imagery of a young woman who is capable of forgetting that which is most precious to her – her jewels/ young children. The Isaiah prophecy serves as a direct response to the Jeremiah prophecy, seeking to rectify its negative imagery. The people may be capable of forgetting God, but God will not forget them. Instead, He will adorn them like a bride bedecked with jewelry. (S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 299)
This prophecy offers us a rare opportunity to experience an inter-biblical conversation. Jeremiah’s message of despair reflected the life of a generation plagued by the disintegration of its society. The Isaiah prophecy offers a glimpse of the redemptive process.