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Va-ethannan 5770

Haftarah Parshat Vaetchanan
Shabbat Nahamu
(Isaiah 40:1-26)
July 24, 2010
13 Av 5770

Haftarah Commentary for Parshat Vaetchanan (Isaiah 40:1-26)

What ingredients go into making a great leader? It is easy to be a leader in good times, when there are no troubles on the horizon; or to tend the flock when there is no need to correct the course it is following. But will such a leader ever gain recognition for greatness?

In a midrash on this first the seven haftarot of consolation (shiva d\’nechamta) which follow Tisha b\’Av, we see an anecdotal attempt to reflect on what made Isaiah a great prophet: \”Isaiah said: \’I was at leisure in my beit midrash (House of study – apparently, the author\’s reflection on what Isaiah was doing before God\’s calling), and I heard the voice of God, who said: Whom shall I send and who will go for us?\’ (Isaiah 6:8) I have already sent the prophet Micah and they smote him on the cheek. I sent Amos and they called him a \”stutterer\” (a word play on his name), so whom shall I sned. Immediately, Isaiah volunteered, saying: \’Here I am, send me.\’ God said: \’Isaiah, my children are troublesome and stubborn. If you take this job upon yourself, you will be scorned and beaten by your people; if you are unwilling to bear [this burden], don\’t take this mission upon yourself.\’ Isaiah replied: \’Even so [I want the job], [as Isaiah said:] I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to those who would pluck out the hairs. (Isaiah 50:6) So, am I not fit to take the position?\’ God responded: \’You love righteousness\’, namely, you love to make My children righteous, And \’you hate wickedness\’, namely, you dislike condemning them as wicked. This is what makes you the best person for the job. In the end, other prophets were blessed to offer single words of comfort to the people, but you will be blessed to offer them double words of comfort, like: \’Nahamu, nahamu, ami – Comfort you, comfort you, My people. (Isaiah 40:1)\” (Adapted from Leviticus Rabbah 10:2)

What makes a great leader? A great leader is a person who is willing to stand up to the people and to stand up for the people. Very few of us have the mettle for these roles. There are very few like Moses and like Isaiah, but when they do exist, their names become a clarion call for eternity.

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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