Haftarah Parshat Ekev (Isaiah 49:14-51:3)
August 12, 2017 / 20 Av 5777
After the exile at the hands of the Babylonians, it was totally reasonable for the people of Judea to experience insecurity. It was totally understandable for some to feel that the nation would never be rebuilt and that the exile to Babylonia would never end. While the prophet Jeremiah’s message of defeat and exile was also marked with elements of hope amidst the despair, his message was very much shaped by the idea of divine abandonment. This idea was perpetuated by one very forceful image. Jeremiah compared the relationship between the harried nation and God to that of a married couple whose marriage was deeply troubled, potentially warranting divorce: “I noted: Because rebel Israel had committed adultery, I cast her off (shilakhteha) and handed her a bill of divorce (sefer krituteha): yet her sister, faithless Judah, was not afraid – she too went and whored.” (Jeremiah 3:8)
This message likely haunted the exiles who lacked any surety that their relationship with God could be mended. The prophet Isaiah attempted to answer this insecurity by using the very same language used by Jeremiah to answer those who might be wary of reestablishing the nation after exile and returning to it: “Thus said the Lord: ‘Where is the bill of divorce (sefer kritut) of your mother that I dismissed (shilakhteha)? And to which of My creditors did I sell you off? You were only sold off for your sins, and your mother dismissed for your crimes.” (Isaiah 50:1) God, here, informs the exiles that there was no divorce between them and God actually and consequently their exile was not permanent.
Now what was necessary was to convince the people to renew their faith in God. To this end, Isaiah offers words of encouragement to remind the people of God’s ability to save them: “Why, when I (God) came was no one there? Why when I call would no one respond? Is My hand then too short to rescue? Have I not the power to save? With a mere rebuke I dry up the sea and turn rivers into desert…”(50:2)
The rhetorical force of this message was to convince the exilic community that the return home from Babylonia was realistic. God was not only reconciled with His people but also had the ability to restore them to their homeland. The conciliation offered in this message was not one of quiescence. It was a call to action whose fruition required them to know that God “had their back”.
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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