|October 24, 2009
Noah Ashkenazim: Isaiah 54:1-55:5
The haftarah and Torah portion are connected by the reference to the flood in the days of Noah which is found in verse 9. ”For this to Me is like the waters of Noah: As I swore that the waters of Noah Nevermore would flood the earth, So I swear that I will not Be angry with you or rebuke you. For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken, But my loyalty shall never more from you, Nor my covenant of friendship be shaken, - said the Lord, who takes you back in love."
God is making a new agreement a new covenant with the people of Israel. First, God is promising a certain stability of nature. Second, God is making a pact with a humanity. The Noachide Pact was for everyone.
It must have been extremely consoling for our ancestors who lived when this Haftarah was written to know they were being given a second chance and were being forgiven with the construction of the new Temple. It must have been even more comforting for the rabbis living in the aftermath of the Bar Kokba rebellion to understand the permission to rebuild the Tempel as a sign of God's operating in history. This prophecy reassured them that in spite of all that had transpired, God still loved them.
We, on the other hand, living with global warming and subsequent disruption of our climate, could ask would this imply "could God’s mind has changed?" This question goes to the heart of a debate in the world of our prophets. Some of them asked as did Jonah could God's mind be changed? Isaiah and Malachi didn't think so.
Everybody knew that the word of God that has gone forth does not come back. Isaiah 45:23
And that the lord changes not. Mal 3:6
There seems to be consensus that God can postpone.
Isaiah told Hezekiah he was sick and would die. Hezekiah prayed and fifteen years were added to his life. Nathan predicated a punishment on the house of David. The king repented and the prophet uttered a new oracle, David shall live but the child he begot in sin shall surely die.
Jonah was a prophet. He heard the word of God, but in ancient Israel, the prophet simply delivered a message and it was up to the recipient to make choices. Jonah's prediction against Ninevah was conditioned on the sincere repentance of the people of the land.
Jeremiah understood this a bit differently. Observing how the Potter refashioned marred clay he discovered that God can act in the same way. God will repent of the harm he was going to do and so can a Nation. On the High Holidays we constantly repeat the phrase, “Repentance, Prayer and Righteousness can avert/modify the severe degree.” Judgment can be suspended.
Ezekiel tells us that salvation depends upon man's conduct. The people of Nineveh changed their ways.
Jeremiah hoped against hope that in the last hour his people might be transformed and the final doom turned aside. He published a collection of prophecies to convince the house of Judah to become aware of all the evils which they would incur if they chose not to repent from their evil ways. 36:3
Jonah disagreed. If you remember the story, that's one of the reasons he was angry. He didn't want God to “change his mind”.
This morning's haftarah reaches across space and time and reminds us that God's promises are conditional and we as partners in the Brit Covenant have to do our part as well. The fulfillment of God’s promises are dependent upon the decisions we make.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish"
Jewish Lights Publishing.
Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/Noah_haft.shtml
The FJMC weekly haftarah commentary is one of the few haftarah commentaries available on line. The USCJ through its Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem has also been posting a weekly haftarah commentary for a number of years. We highly recommend it. If you are interested you can find a link on the left side of our weekly commentary and click through.
In 2003 the FJMC commissioned a Sefer Haftarah, a scroll consisting of all the Haftarot which follows the Haftarah order that appears in the USCJ and Rabbinical Assembly Torah translation and commentary Etz Hayim. The FJMC Sefer Haftarah visits a different synagogue in North America every week.This scroll contains vowels and cantillation and allows the haftarah reader to experience the Haftarah in a more personal way. FJMC also produces individual personalized Haftarot for those who wish to recognize a special occasion. Scrolls of Haftarot have been in use since the early middle ages.