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Pesach (eighth day) 5771

Haftarah Pesach 8th Day
(Isaiah 10:32-3:19)
April 26, 2011
22 Nisan 5771

The prophets were champions of social justice who critiqued their own people and leaders when they saw societal wrongs and when they saw that the nation was not living up to God’s standards. They were also harbingers of optimism and renewal, prophesying visions of a renewed and idyllic world which would replace the flawed one that people now lived in. Such a vision was intended to inspire hope and a positive attitude in those who were weary of the heavy burdens of an unredeemed world. It is not surprising though that the weary and tired found it difficult to be inspired by such visions because they seemed so fanciful and unrealistic.

Perhaps this explains why the sages joined visions of the future redemption to those of the past. The haftarah for the last day of Pesah is an example of this. Pesah celebrates the redemption of the children of Israel from Egypt. The haftarah envisions the ideal future. The events of the past inspire belief in the future redemption.

Still, some prophetic visions are fantastic. Isaiah tells us: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid; the calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, with a little boy to herd them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie together; and the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.” (11:6-7) How is one supposed to believe in such a vision? In the following midrash, the sages adopted a strategy similar to that used in the choice of the haftarah noted a moment ago: “Rabbi Aha said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Halafta: All that the Holy One Blessed be He intends to do in His world in the Time to Come, He has already shown them in this world. He will restore the dead, so He has already restored the dead through Elijah and Elisha and Ezekiel. He will in the future turn the sea into dry land as He did through Moses. He will remember barren women in the future as He did in the past with Sarah. He will cause the wolf and lamb to dwell together (See Isaiah 65:25) as He did in the past through Hezekiah, as is noted in our haftarah.” (adapted from Leviticus Rabbah 27:4)

In this midrash, Rabbi Aha plays on the fact that the prophecy in our haftarah is mentioned twice in the book. He assumes that one reference is to a past event and that God will perform the same act in the future, giving us all reason for optimism. One might learn from this message something crucial to Jewish identity. The Jewish attachment to the past not only shapes who we are as a people but also gives us the requisite hope to build our future. It is our bulwark against despair.

About This Commentary

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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