Haftarah Parshat Vaethanan
July 20, 2013
13 Av 5773
The week’s haftarah begins a series of seven haftarot of consolation (Shiva d’Nehamta) which follow after Tisha b’Av. These haftarot, all from the second part of the book of Isaiah (chapter 40 to the end of the book), are thought to have been composed by a prophet during the return from Babylonian exile. These haftarot announce the end of the exile and the beginning of the restoration of the nation to its rightful home. This process was likely not simple and the people needed reassurance that God affirmed the people’s return. The prophet pledges that God will “shepherd” them through the process of return: “Like a shepherd, He pastures His flock: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in His bosom, gently He drives the mother sheep.” (40:11)
God will nurture His people, guarding and guiding them, showing each returnee His personal concern like a shepherd shows the lambs of his flock. Targum Jonathan, the Jewish Aramaic translation of the Prophets enhances the image of God as a nurturer, by portraying God as one who nurses His charges: “Like a shepherd He pastures His flock, He gathers the lambs in His arms and feeds the nursing young in His bosom, guiding them gently.”
In the following parable, God is described as a doting parent: “[God is likened to a] king of flesh and blood who had many children whom he loved very much. He sent them off to study and he waited for them to come home so that he might see them. When he saw that his children did not come, he went to be with them. He found them studying diligently. He immediately sat some of them on his lap, nuzzling, kissing and hugging them and brought them home to his city. Some of them he carried on his shoulders, others in his arms, some in front of him and others behind him. This describes God’s relationship to the returning exiles, as it is written: ‘Like a shepherd, He pastures His flock: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in His bosom, gently He drives the mother sheep.’” (adapted from Seder Eliahu Zuta 13, Ish Shalom ed. p. 194-5)
The message of this parable seems to be that God, like a caring parent, has to show His children, whom He loves dearly, immeasurable demonstrative love. He also has to give His children a “nudge” to keep the relationship going and to prod his children in the right direction. This is how God made the redemption happen back then and now as well.