Haftarah Parshat Lech Lecha (Isaiah 40:27-41:1-16)
October 24, 2015 / 11 Heshvan 5776
Exile (Galut) was a tremendous source of anxiety for the biblical Jew. It represented both a state of homelessness and worse, of alienation from God. The prophets of the Babylonian exile constantly attempted to raise the morale of those Jews living in exile and especially among those who had taken upon themselves to rebuild their homeland after seventy years of exile. It is this concern which the prophet addresses in the opening remarks of this week’s haftarah: “Why do you say, O Jacob, why declare, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, my cause is ignored by God’? (41:27) For some of the exiles God’s regard for them ended at the borders of their homeland. Others may have thought that exile had terminated their relationship with God.
Later commentators attempted to define the angst of the exiles more precisely? Rashi claimed that they were concerned that God ignored their service to Him and the merits of their forefathers and in so doing the reward due them. Rabbi David Kimche thought the exiles were distraught over God’s ignoring their suffering in exile. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra asserted that the exiles were afraid that God judged them without knowing their deeds. Rabbi Yosef Kara, following in Rashi’s footsteps, claimed that the exiles thought that God was unaware of their good deeds. Rabbi Isaiah from Trani held that the exiles thought that God was unaware of their humiliation in exile, leaving them defenseless at the hands of their wicked enemies.
A sense of insecurity inherent in the exile experience comes through in the thought of these commentators. One gets a very real sense that they are expressing their own anxieties as well. The prophet’s answer to his original audience, then, rings as true for these commentators as well: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is God from of old, creator of the earth from end to end. He never grows faint or weary. His wisdom cannot be fathomed. He gives strength to the weary, fresh vigor to the spent. Youths may grow faint and weary and young men may stumble and fall, but they who trust in the Lord shall renew their strength as eagles grow new plumes. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall march and not grow faint.” (41:28-9)
The message of the prophet seems to be that insecurity can be conquered through faith in God. Faith provides us with strength in the face of adversity because it provides us with the sense that God is always with us. With faith, there is no darkness, nor is there weariness because the Source of strength is always with us.
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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