(Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23)
April 1, 2006
After a prophecy recounting Israel\’s disloyalty to God in which God nevertheless forgives them for His own sake (43:24-28), God promises, in a separate prophecy to provide not only for the people\’s material needs, but for their spiritual needs as well (44:1-4). This national and spiritual renewal would have an enormous impact on the people and their response would be overwhelming: \”One would say, \’I am the Lord\’s\’; another shall use the name of \’Jacob\’; another shall mark his arm \’of the Lord\’ and adopt the name of \’Israel\’.\” (Verse 5)
The likely meaning of this description is that the entire community would respond enthusiastically to God\’s material and spiritual generosity and announce their loyalty to Him and their attachment both to God and to His people. They will even willingly or symbolically mark themselves as God\’s servants, something customary at the time in the marking of slaves. (A. Hacham, Isaiah , Daat Mikra, p. 472)
It is beyond our ability to determine whether the respondents mentioned in this verse refer to different groups within Israelite society that existed at the time of the prophecy, but this verse was used by sages during rabbinic times to refer to various groups associated with the Jewish tradition who expressed loyalty to God. The following teaching illustrates this usage: \”And one will find them [converts] among the four groups who respond and speak before He who spoke and the world come into being: One shall say, \’I am the Lord\’s\’ – that is – \’All of me is the Lord\’s and there is no mixture of sin in me\’; \’Another shall use the name of Jacob\’ – this refers to righteous converts; \’Another shall mark of hand \’of the Lord\’ – these are the repentant sinners; \’And they that adopt the name of Israel\’ – these are the God-fearing ones.\” (Mechilta d\’Rabbi Ishmael, Nezikin 18, Horowitz-Rabin ed. p. 312)
This teaching from the Mechilta d\’Rabbi Ishmael, a midrashic work from the period of the Mishnah (2nd century Eretz Israel) notes two types of non-Jews who became associated with the Jewish tradition. One group, the \’gere tzedek\’ or \’righteous converts\’ were [and are] non-Jews who through conversion become totally identified with the Jewish people and Jewish religious tradition. The name of another of these groups was \’yerei Hashem – the fearers of God\’. This name was associated with non-Jews who associated themselves in one way or another with the Jewish tradition without making a total commitment. They likely believed in God but were unwilling to take on the dietary laws or circumcision. In a similar passage in Avot d\’Rabbi Nathan (and in variant readings) other groups are named, like, \’gere umot haolam – converts of the nations of the world\’ and \’gere emet – true converts\’, each of these groups referring to people who associated with the Jewish traditions in various ways. The attitude of the sages toward all of these groups was highly favorable, noting, that if they only feared God that this was sufficient for them to gain a place in the world to come for they were to be regarded as righteous and good. (See for instance S. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine, pp. 81-84 and M. Hirshman, L\’chol Baei Olam, pp. 42-4)
This same attitude should infuse our relationship with all those who want to link themselves with our people and our religious tradition. Our love for them should reflect their love for God and religious truth. This will help us draw them and others closer to our path.
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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