The portion from the Prophets that is chanted in the synagogue on each Shabbos or Festival morning is known as the haftorah. The practice of reading from the Prophets on these sacred days was introduced during the reign of the infamous Syrian-Greek, King Antiochus, who ruled and persecuted our people prior to the Chanukah story. In his attempts to destroy our spiritual identity, he outlawed the public reading of the Torah - a weekly practice which was introduced by Moses. Unable to refresh their spiritual thirst from the Torah itself, the people resorted to reading from the Prophets. Later, when we regained our independence, our people retained the new custom of having someone read from the Prophets; however, we would now read the haftorah after the weekly Torah reading.
The theme of the haftorah selection for each Shabbos or Festival is usually related to a subject within the weekly Torah reading or to the Festival being celebrated. During the seven weeks between the Fast of Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashana, the theme of each haftorah is “comfort” – comfort for Zion and her lost and suffering children.
The haftorah of this Shabbos opens with the following poetic words of comfort to Mother Zion who was barren for a long period:
“Sing out, O barren one who has not given birth; break into glad song and be jublilant, O one who had no birth pangs, for the children of the desolate (Jerusalem) will outnumber the children of the inhabited one, said the Compassionate One.” (Isaiah 54:1)
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh explains that the above prophecy refers to both a physical and spiritual return to Zion, as within the Holy Sanctuary of Zion’s Temple was the Torah - the Divine Teaching. When we all return to Zion, we will also return to the Divine Teaching that Zion represents.
The Prophet then describes the additional comfort which will result from our physical and spiritual return to Zion:
“Fear not, for you will not be shamed; do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth and you will no longer recall the disgrace of your widowhood. For your Husband is also your Maker, ‘God of all the Hosts of Creation’ is His Name; and your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, will be called God of the whole world.” (Isaiah 54:4,5)
What will cause us to forget the pain and the shame of our exile after we return to Zion? It will be the universal recognition that our Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, is the God of the whole world.
In order to achieve this spiritual goal, we first have to rediscover the “spiritual” identity of our people. As we shall discuss in the next stage of this series, the People of Israel are not to be yet another nation in the world which is devoted to its own prosperity and glory. The People of Israel are a nation which is consecrated for a spiritual and universal mission – one which sanctifies and elevates “this” world. Our mission is to create a heaven on earth, as the Torah states that when we study and fulfill all the mitzvos which relate to every area of human existence, our lives will be like “the days of the heaven on the earth” (Deuteronomy 11:21- Commentary of Haksav V’Hakaballah).
We will later discuss how the rediscovery of our spiritual identity can eventually lead us to regain eternal life on this earth, as it is written: “For this is the Just One, our God, forever and ever; He leads us beyond mortality” (Psalm 48:15 – Commentary of Rabbi Hirsch). The defeat of death will be the ultimate justice – a return to the state of the human being in the Garden of Eden, as the human being was originally destined to live forever in the Garden. The regaining of eternal life in this world is the goal of our Torah, which is why the Torah is known as the “Tree of Life” (Proverbs 3:19)
May the Compassionate One therefore guide and help us in our attempts to understand and fulfill the life-giving Divine Teaching. In this way, we can merit to experience the era when, “He will eliminate death forever, and My Master, the Compassionate and Just One, will erase tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). This will be our ultimate comfort!
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
P.S. With the approach of Rosh Hashana, contributions to support the work of “Hazon – Our Universal Vision” are deeply appreciated. Checks can be sent to: Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen, P.O.B. 16012, Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, Israel (payable to Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen).