|March 18, 2010
Term to learn: Jeshurun. Jeshurun is a term used in the prophets to refer to Israel. It was first used in Deuteronomy 32:15 where Moses in his final song to Israel says “But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked-“Jeshurun is formed from the root word, " yashar “ “to be righteous.” It is employed in Deuteronomy ironically as a rebuke to Israel's ingratitude.
This haftarah was most likely delivered to the Judeans living in exile in Babylonia sometime after 538, B.C.E., when Cyrus the Mede issued an edict that permitted foreign subjects to revive their religious heritage and return to their homeland. It is part of a later collection of Isaiah's prophecies that were most likely recorded several hundred years after Isaiah's death. It must have been received with mixed feelings. After living in Babylon for sixty plus years, our ancestors were becoming comfortable and beginning to consider themselves citizens of the empire. Nearly two, perhaps three, generations of Judeans had been living in the most sophisticated urban environment in the known world and they had begun to assimilate, take Babylonian names and observe Babylonian customs. The book of Esther,- which, according to its text, dates itself in this period-, informs us that a leader of the Jewish people had a name that was composed of two words, Marduk, the King of the Babylonian pantheon, and ya, which means God. Mardukya -Mordecai- had a niece named Hadassah whom everyone called by her Babylonian name, Esther. One can imagine the hesitancy of our ancestors. Should they return to the homeland and start all over? Should they abandon their homes and their luxuries and move to a much less sophisticated land where they will probably never again have Chinese take-out?
The haftarah challenges us to consider the nature of taking risks and to more fully come to grips with our hesitancy and the hesitancy of others to do so. It is unusual for us to take risks during times when we don't have to flee. Some of us are willing; others are hesitant for obvious reasons. Consider our young people who choose to make aliyah. They are taking a risk. But how many young adults living in today's economic times have learned that the world and the expectations with which they had been raised no longer exist. It is understandable if they are hesitant and unsure how to proceed.
The Torah portion is connected to the haftarah in an inverse fashion. The Torah portion is concerned with the forms of public sacrifice that were established in order for Israel to maintain a relationship with God. The burnt offering, the sacrifice of well being, and the meal offering reflected a system that would enable Israel to maintain this sacred relationship. Instead of an ordered world maintained by a system of public sacrifices as described in the Torah, the haftarah describes a world in which public sacrifices have been abandoned and replaced with acts of sin and iniquity.
All, however, is not lost; the people are permitted to present their case to God if they believe themselves wrongly accused.
Wipe away your transgressions and remember yours sins no more. Help me remember! v.25-26
But it is possible that if the people choose not to respond that God will abandon them.
The failure of Israel to respond did not deter Isaiah. He provided his people with a new message. He announced that God will pour forth his blessings and spirit to future generations. God is the first and God is the last and there are is no God but me. v.6
In spite of our failure, in spite of our abandoning a prescribed way of life which offered continued contact with God, God through this morning's haftarah will provide future generations with new blessings and new spirit. Isaiah calls out to us and pleads; take a risk, change your ways, believe in God and God will provide you with lives of meaning.
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/
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.