Haftarah Parshat Lech Lecha
October 27, 2012
11 Heshvan 5773
In his opening words to this week’s haftarah, the prophet complains of the despair evident in the words of the returning Babylonian exiles: “Why do you say, O Jacob; why declare, O Israel: ‘My way is hid from the Lord, my cause is ignored by my God’?” (40:27)The people feels abandoned by God, their good deeds ignored. They sense that their treatment at God’s hands reflects the fate of those being punished by God rather than rewarded. The words chosen to express these sentiments echo those found in the Torah as a punishment for betraying God: “Then My anger will flare up against them, and I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them.” (Deut. 31:17) By turning the Torah’s words on their head, their complaint against God becomes even more cogent. (See A. Hacham, Isaiah 2, Daat Mikra, p. 423 n. 28)
The people’s response obviously reflects their existential hopelessness. They feel no improvement in their situation, causing them to lash out at God. This is why the prophet’s message is so important. Their very hopelessness is their worst enemy, not God. Despondence spells destruction. Faith in God is their greatest source of hope and their ultimate strength: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is God from of old (Elo-hei olam); 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 stumble and fall; but they who trust in God will renew their strength as eagles grow new plumes. They show run and not be weary. They shall march and not grow faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-30)
This message is a reminder that God is in the picture for the long run. The description of God as “God from of old” (literally: everlasting God) may allude to God’s relationship with Abraham where He was called “the Lord, everlasting God” (Genesis 21:34), reminding the people that God intends to keep His promises. (Hacham, p. 424 n. 29) Faith in God includes trust in both God Himself and in His promises. It is the source of optimism and of the possibility to succeed. Without this frame of mind, people will “stumble and fall.” With faith, the mission cannot fail, the enthusiasm will not wane. Abraham was the model of such steadfast faith. His mission has not failed. We are its perpetuators. Not succumbing to despair is one of Judaism’s greatest lessons.