Haftarah Parshat Ekev (Isaiah 49:14-51:3)
September 27,2016 / 23 Av 5776
Sometimes a prophet’s message can be a response to an earlier biblical message. Since the later chapters of Isaiah were written by a prophet from the period of the Shivat Zion – the return from Babylonian exile after the destruction of the First Temple, the prophet, at times, “dialogued” with biblical books of the destruction, like Lamentations (Eicha) and creatively turned the tragic message of the earlier text into an uplifting message.
In one passage from this week’s haftarah, the “suffering servant of God” is described: “4. The Lord God gave me a skilled tongue to know how to speak timely words to the weary. Morning by morning (baboker baboker), He rouses, He rouses my ears to give heed like disciples. 5. The Lord God opened my ears and I did not disobey (va’anochi lo mariti). I did not run away. 6. I offered my back to the floggers and my cheeks to those who tore out my hair. (gavi natati lamakim ulihayai lamortim) I did not hide my face from insult and spittle 7. but the Lord God will help me. Therefore, I feel no disgrace; therefore, I have set my face like flint and I know I will not be shamed. 8. My Vindicator is at hand. Who dares to contend with me! (mi yariv iti) Let us stand up together! Who would be my opponent? (mi baal mishpati) Let him approach me? 9. Lo, the Lord God will help me. Who can get a verdict against me? They shall all wear out like a garment, the moth shall consume them. 10. Who among you revered the Lord and heeds the voice of His servant? Though he walks in darkness (asher halakh hasheikhim) and has no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.”
Notice the parallels to this passage from chapter 3 of the book of Lamentations: “23. They are renewed every morning (labokerim), ample is your grace. 42. We have transgressed and rebelled (marinu) , and You have not forgiven. 30. Let him offer his cheek to the smiter (yetein kimakeihu lehi), let him be surfeited with mockery. 52. You championed my cause, O Lord, You have redeemed my life. (ravta Hashem rivei nafshi) 59. You have seen, O Lord, the wrong done me. Oh, vindicate my right! Me He (shafta mishpati) 2. Me He drove on and on in unrelieved darkness. (oti nahag vayelekh hoshekh v’lo or)” (See S. Paul, Isaiah 49-66, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 315)
The prophet, who views himself as the suffering servant of God, projects the suffering of the generation of the exile onto himself but also sees himself as exonerated and protected by God. By using the language of Lamentations, he allows his audience to appreciate that there is a road out of the darkness of destruction and exile. There is room for rebuilding and reconciliation and that road is faith in God.
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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