Haftarah Parshat Yitro (Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6)
February 7, 2015 / 18 Shevat 5775
Jews, being a minority people, seem to be in a constant struggle to maintain their unique identity and belief within the context of the world around them. In other words, Jews are constantly battling assimilation, both national and spiritual. This is not a new phenomenon. Isaiah prophesied during times which were also characterized by these problems. He lived during the reign of Ahaz, a king who, like many aristocrats, was smitten by the culture of the aristocrats of the surrounding nations and led his people to acculturate alien ways and beliefs. Obviously, for Isaiah, a prophet of God, these ways were abhorrent. He envisioned better times when God’s people would again appreciate their own ways and their own God. He envisioned a leader who would prompt this return: “For a child has been born to us and authority has settled on his shoulders. He has been named ‘The Mighty God is planning grace, the Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler’ – In token of abundant authority and of peace without limit upon David’s throne and kingdom that it may be firmly established in justice and in equity, now and evermore.” (9:5-6)
The identity of said child has been a source of controversy. Christianity identified this child-king with Jesus in order to establish prophetic precedent for their beliefs. The “peshat” or plain meaning of this verse, however, lies elsewhere. The Jewish tradition identifies this child within the contemporary framework of Isaiah’s prophecy as Hezekiah, the righteous son of Ahaz who through his loyalty to God would rescue his people from their dire situation. Rashi notes: “even though Ahaz was wicked, the son who was born to him years ago to be king in his place will be righteous. He will serve God and bear His yoke, busying himself with Torah and the observance of the commandments… and he will be called the ‘peaceable ruler’.” (Abridged) Rabbi David Kimche adds: “In the days of his kingship, the redemption came to Israel, for He (God) struck the Assyrian camp, on account of the merit of the child who was born.”
For Isaiah, Jewish existence was precarious. The abandonment of God and the adaption of ways which negated Jewish uniqueness were the seeds of the nation’s destruction. Hezekiah, unlike his father, looked to his own tradition for his spiritual nourishment. For Isaiah, this quality was a great virtue, worthy of making Hezekiah “the anointed one” and worthy of bringing the redemption of God’s people as well.
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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