“Arise, Hashem, and don Your might as you did in earlier generations,” cries Yeshayahu HaNavi in the verses that precede this week’s haftarah. Only then, the prophet declares, “Uf’duyei Hashem yeshuvun uva’u Tziyon b’rinah…” “will those, redeemed by God, return to Tziyon in joy.” And, therefore, the opening words of our haftarah reading are not the words of Yeshayahu but the words of God, Who responds to His prophet’s pleas. Hashem argues that it is He, and only He (“Anochi, Anochi”), Who can properly comfort the nation but, sadly, the nation had lost sight of this simple idea. In their fear of the surrounding nations, Israel abandoned God and were blind to His helping hand. As a result they eventually forgot His great powers and abilities to save them, to redeem them and, yes, to comfort them.
Understanding the implication of God’s words, Yishayahu turns to the people and tells them “Hitoreri, hitoreri,” “Awaken yourselves!!” The prophet was, in effect, telling them that he was wrong when he called out to God (in the pesukim preceding the haftarah) to “awaken.” Hashem is certainly “awake” and ready to redeem them, but Hashem’s message to them is that their redemption and therefore their consolation is not up to God alone! Israel herself must awaken! It is she, as the Malbim explains, who must arise and repent; it is she who must return and recognize God’s powers; it is she who ultimately must understand the consoling words of God in order to be comforted.
Returning to the theme Yeshayahu struck on Shabbat Nachamu, i.e., that the people should be comforted in the knowledge that they have paid for their sins and that God’s punishment is over, the prophet now reassures them that the punishments will, instead, be visited upon their enemies who oppressed them so. This idea closes Yeshayahu’s prophecy in perek 51. But our haftarah does not end there.
As we read the 52nd chapter, we enter a new stage of prophecy, a stage that goes beyond the immediate condition of the post-Churban. Almost all parshanim see the words of this next perek as a vision and promise of the final geulah of “acharit hayamim,” the end of days. The navi opens this section by repeating and once again calling out to Israel, “uri, uri,” to awaken and revive themselves, reminding the people that they must not remain passive in the redemptive process but must actively be involved in their return. And he continues his words by connecting the opening theme expressed in the beginning of the haftarah to its final pesukim. During the time of the final redemption, Yeshayahu predicts, Hashem’s miracles will be obvious to all, so that, rather than be blind to Hashem’s abilities, the people will recognize God’s help and His greatness.
And, finally, in a message so pertinent to this generation, Yishayahu leaves us with a closing thought: “ki lo v’chipazon teitzei’u, For you will not leave (galut) quickly.” The redemption is a process—a slow process. It is a process that requires our patience, our involvement, and also our awareness of Hashem’s hand in bringing the time of redemption closer. As the haftarah ends: “for God will walk before you and will be your rear guard.”
We follow God’s lead while at the same time He walks behind and protects us.
By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler
Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.