Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Return to the Land and Return to G-d

This week we read the third of the haftorot of consolation, "Aniya so'ara lo nuchama", "Agitated pauper who is not consoled" (Isaisah 54:11 ff.). In this reading, G-d comforts his beloved nation, personified as a forlorn woman, assuring her that the land of Israel and Jerusalem will be rebuilt with dazzling splendor. All the children will be learned; the nation, being re-founded on charity and honesty will not have to fear their enemies (both internal and external - Malbim). It continues with beseeching all who are thirsty to imbibe the waters of Torah and all who are hungry to partake of the bread, wine, and milk all representing Torah and mitzvos (based on Malbim). The haftora ends with an assurance of the restoration of the Davidic dynasty with the arrival of Mashiach whose commands all nations will heed.

Interestingly, the first half of this chapter from the prophet Yeshayahu - "Rani akara lo yalada" (Isaiah 54:1 ff.) - is read two weeks later as the haftora for parshat Ki Teitsei. Avudarham (quoted by Levush 428) quotes a Midrash that this order was chosen in order to convey a dramatic sequence of events. The order of the seven haftorot of consolation is: "Console, console my nation", "And Zion said G-d has abandoned me", "Agitated pauper who is not consoled" (our haftora), "I am the one who consoles you", "Sing out barren one who has not given birth", "Arise, shine, for your light as come", concluding with "I will rejoice in my G-d". The logical sequence being conveyed is that G-d calls his prophets to console his nation but she refuses to be consoled claiming that G-d has abandoned her. The prophets report back likening her to a pauper who refuses to be comforted. But then G-d Himself consoles her calling to her to sing and shine. Zion is finally comforted and proclaims she will rejoice in G-d who has consoled her.

Malbim notes an anomaly concerning the order as it appears in the text itself. First, the prophet states, "Rejoice O barren one ... for many are your children" (54:1) and then "Agitated pauper who is not comforted" (54:11). Why is Zion still compared to a pauper after her children have returned to her? He answers that at first the children of Israel will return to Eretz Yisrael. But Zion will not yet be rebuilt. Consequently, she is still referred to as a pauper who inconsolable. She rejoices over the return of her children but mourns the absence of Hashem's openly revealed Divine presence through the rebuilding of the Beis HaMidkdash. Hashem assures her that this too will occur by promising its rebuilding. The Gemara (Megilla 17b) bears out this sequence of events. Noting the order of the shemone esrei, the Gemara relates that starting from the blessing of "bareich aleinu", the tefila follows the order of the redemption of Israel. The blessing of the ingathering of the exiles (t'ka b'shofar) appears earlier on with the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the coming of Mashiach following later.[1]

These seven haftorot are read from after Tish'a B'Av through the month of Elul culminating with two haftorot of repentance read between Rosh Hashana and Yom HaKippurim: "Shuva Yisrael" and "Dirshu Hashem b'himatz'o". Apparently, the first seven also relate to the theme of repentance falling as they do in the preparatory period toward the Days of Repentance. Rav Kook zt"l as well as others often noted the connection between Israel's return to G-d and its return to its Land. Here, we would like to connect the two ideas mentioned above to repentance. The mishna at the end of Yoma, quotes the famous statement of R. Akiva: "Before whom do you purify yourselves and Who purifes you? Your Father in heaven.... Just as the mikveh purifies the t'mei'im, so too the Holy One blessed be He purifies Israel!" The comforting of Israel through her return to her Land and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and the purification of Israel following its repentance are both done directly by our Father in Heaven. Zion is not satisfied with the comfort of the prophets and insists on consolation by Hashem directly. As during the original Exodus from Egypt, G-d Himself redeems Israel[2] and rebuilds the Beis HaMikdash[3], not through emissaries.

As mentioned above, in the process of redemption there are different stages: the physical return to Eretz Yisrael and the later spiritual return of Hashem's presence. Repentance as well requires mental, verbal, and physical efforts performed by us[4] (see Ramban, Nitzavim 30:14) hopefully to be blessed with the return of Hashem's Presence to us. Rambam (Teshuva 7:7) beautifully describes this process:

How great is repentance! Before, [the penitent] was separated from Hashem, the G-d of Israel...he cries out as is not answered...and today [after repentance] he is cleaved to the Shechina... he cries out and is answered immediately, and he performs mitzvos and they are accepted with pleasure and joy, as it is written "and the offering of Yehuda and Jerusalem will be pleasing to G-d as in days of old".

The prooftexts the Rambam quotes (only one quoted above for brevity) relate to the avodas HaMikdash, perhaps further verifying our analogy.

As we approach the month of Elul and the Days of Repentace, may we all merit our return to G-d and the return of the entire Jewish nation to its Land.

[1] The application to current events of the last century cannot be overlooked. B"H, as a recent oleh, I personally witness daily in our own neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh the fulfillment of the first part of the chapter to be read in two weeks: "Widen the place of your tent and the curtains of your dwelling places shall be stretched out; do not stop; lengthen your ropes, and your pegs strengthen, for you shall spread out to the right and to the left." Malbim interprets this to apply to the building of new homes as well as expansions of old ones to accommodate the constantly growing population both in Jerusalem and the other cities of Israel. Although applications of prophecies can only properly be done by Gedolei Yisrael and will only be fully understood after the final redemption, I humbly submit a personal observation.

[2] At least during the final stages of redemption.

[3] See Beit HaMikdash: Built by Whom? for further elaboration on whether the future Beis HaMidkash is to be built by G-d or Israel.

[4] These are the three steps of t'shuva: regret, confession and commitment not to return to the sin.

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