Haftarah Parshat Shmot
(Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-3)
December 21, 2013
18 Tevet 5774
Isaiah presents a disturbing picture of the reasons for the downfall of Samaria and its subsequent demise: “Ah, the proud crowns of the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is but withered flowers on the heads of men bloated with rich food, who are overcome by wine. Lo, my Lord has something strong and mighty, like a storm of hail, a shower of pestilence. Something like a storm of massive and torrential rain, shall be hurled with force to the ground. Trampled underfoot shall be the proud crowns of the drunkards of Ephraim, the wilted flowers on the heads of men bloated with rich food that are his glorious beauty. They shall be like an early fig before the fruit harvest; whoever sees it devours it while it is still in the hand.” (28:1-4)
Prophets wholeheartedly mixed geo-political consideration with moral and religious ones. Misappropriation of power and immorality were seen as root causes of national disaster. The ready application of cause and effect were meant as a warning of God’s impending judgment. For one nation (the Northern kingdom – Israel) it meant immediate calamity and for the other (the Southern kingdom) a warning to be closely heeded. When the justice of God’s hand through the agency of the Assyrian conquerors brought calamity, the prophet considered this a celebration of God’s glory: “In that day, the Lord of Hosts shall become a crown of beauty and a diadem of glory for the remnant of His people, and a spirit of judgment for him who sits in judgment and of valor for those who repel attacks at the gates.” (28:5)
This potent message was not intended for the Northern kingdom. They were already lost. It was intended to remind the Southern kingdom that their behavior was no less sinful than that of the Northern kingdom: “But these are also muddled by wine and dazed by liquor: priest and prophet are muddled by liquor… They are muddled in their visions, they stumble in judgment. Yea all tables are covered with vomit and filth so that no space is left.” (28:7-8)
The bottom line of Isaiah’s message is didactic. He was his nation’s moral barometer seeking to alter its course away from oblivion, hoping that the fear of seeing the fate of its northern neighbor might sway them from their evil ways in order to avoid a similar fate.
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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