September 15, 2001
This week’s haftarah is the last of the “sheva d’nechamta – the seven haftarot of consolation”. In it, the prophet expresses some of his strongest words of support for the maintenance and rebuilding of Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael. God Himself takes part in the project by appointing watchmen to protect the city.
“Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen who shall never be silent by day or by night, those who remember the Lord, take no rest.” (Isaiah 62:6)
The Talmud (Menachot 87a) understands the verse to say: “Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set permanent watchmen, day and night. These [watchmen who] remind God are never silent.” The Talmud asks what the watchmen say when they “remind” God. Two answers are given, both intimating that the watchmen challenge God to protect and defend the holy city: “Raba son of Shela said: [The watchmen say,] ‘You shall rise up and have compassion on Zion’ (Psalm 102:14). Rabbi Nachman bar Isaac said, [The watchmen say,] The Lord builds up Jerusalem’ (Psalm 147:2). And what did they say before the destruction of the city? Raba son of Shela said” [The watchmen used to say,] For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for His habitation” (Psalm 132:13).
Who are these watchmen? According to Rashi, the great 11th century French sage, they are angels who see as their mission the restoration of the city. Abraham Ibn Ezra, the 12th century Spanish exegete, identifies these watchmen as the “mourners of Zion” who mourned Jerusalem unceasingly, both day and night. Radak, the 13th century Provencal commentator, records that there are those who claim that these “watchmen” are the whole house of Israel who live in the diaspora (the exile). Their constant prayers and vigilance , day and night, protect Jerusalem. Finally, the Radak himself, interprets that the “watchmen” are but a metaphor for God, Who, when the walls of the city are rebuilt, will never let them fall again.
Thank God, we are no longer “mourners of Zion”. Nevertheless, we are still the guardians of the Jerusalem and Israel. Now is the time when all who love Jerusalem must join forces to protect and defend her. This mission requires faith and dedication, day and night, not just by those who live in the land but by Jews all over the world. The call of Jerusalem should resound in all the corners of the world. It should be in every home and in every heart. Only when every Jew sees himself and herself as a “guardian” of the city will God’s protection truly be felt.
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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Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
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