August 15, 2009
25 Av 5769
The nation stood at a moment of great trepidation and insecurity. The Babylonians had exiled most of its citizens. Those remaining in Judea were disheartened, their homeland devastated. The people were desperate for hope. God\’s message, in the latter part of the book of Isaiah, was meant to meet this religious challenge. His message was dramatic. It raised the ante of God\’s promises to a new level, providing people with the requisite hope to meet the demands which faced them in order to rebuild the nation.
This is the message which God, metaphorically, offered free of charge: \”Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water, even if you have no money; come buy food and eat; buy food without money, wine and milk without cost.\” (55:1) The implications of this message were spelled out a few lines later. In the past, God had made a covenant with the nation through its king. David, king of Israel, was guaranteed his royal line in perpetuity. This promise gave the Davidic line its strength to continue to lead the nation. (See 2 Sam. 7:16) Isaiah, in his message, changed the focus of this covenant: \”Incline your ear and come to Me; Hearken and you shall be revived, and I shall make with you an everlasting covenant, the enduring loyalty promised to David.\” (55:3) The strength of the Davidic covenant was transferred from the monarchy to the entire nation, in lieu of the fall of the monarchy at Babylonian hands. (Psalm 89 reflects the religious angst caused by this event. See, in particular verse 39-46)
The transfer of God\’s political covenant from the monarchy to the people as a whole represented a radical move toward the democratization of God\’s promise. The people as a whole now served as God\’s medium for carrying out His mission in the world. This change coincided with similar changes in the religious realm. (See Isaiah ch. 56) (Prof. Shalom Paul, Isaiah 40-66, Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 393-395)
What are we to make of these radical changes? The theological changes represented here illustrate certain reevaluations necessitated by the destruction of the First Temple and decimation of Judean national life caused by the seventy years of Babylonian exile. Since the monarchy no loner existed, the people took over the role of the monarchy as the harbingers of God\’s will. They, therefore, needed God\’s encouragement to carry forward His mission. This tranformation ultimately distinguished Judaism from other religions. It planted the seed that transformed Judaism into a religion where all of its members are players, where every individual bears responsibility and is an active participant in carrying out God\’s will.
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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