Haftarah Bere’shit

canstockphoto0885276This week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 42:5-43:10, begins with creation, establishing the LORD’s sovereignty and care for all His creation. The portion is part of a collection of prophecies that address the Jewish community in Babylonian exile. It is composed of speeches and prophecies that emphasize ADONAI’s universal dominion, His concern for Israel who was created to be His witness among the nations and for Israel’s redemption, as well as for them to have confidence in their divine election and destiny. “ADONAI’s power to create or destroy is combined with His will to strengthen Israel and protect her in travail. Israel’s own liberation is a light that radiates God’s redemptive purposes to all people.” [i]

Fishbane makes note of three important points:

  1. The emphasis on “the universal dominion of God and His special concern for the redemption of Israel.”
  2. The fact that Israel was “created to be ‘My witnesses” among the nations.’”
  3. It is the LORD’s redemptive action on behalf of Israel that “radiates God’s redemptive purposes to all people.”

To set aside any doubt of the validity of these points, look again at the passage. First, speaking to Israel:

I, ADONAI, called You in righteousness, I will take hold of Your hand, I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations… (Isaiah 42:6).[ii]

But now, thus says ADONAI—the One who created you, O Jacob, the One who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are Mine. …For I am ADONAI your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:1; 3a).

There can be no doubt concerning the divine choosing and redemption of Israel. According to ADONAI, He created, formed, redeemed and set His name upon Israel – the physical children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Notice in 42:6 the phrase, “…give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations,” ADONAI’s care for Israel is an assurance or affirmation of His care for the rest of humanity, the nations.

ADONAI’s declaration in 43:1 “…I have called you by name, you are Mine” is significant. Daily in synagogues around the world, toward the end of the Shacharit Amidah just before Sim Shalom, the Aaronic Blessing from Parasha Naso (Numbers 6:23-26) is proclaimed over the people. However, verse 27, which is the reason the blessing is given, is not included in the blessing. The LORD told Moshe that the priests when they pronounce this blessing are “to place My Name over Bnei-Yisrael, and so I will bless them, (Numbers 6:27). Most people miss the importance of placing the LORD’s name over the people when reciting this blessing. Israel, who is called by the Name of the LORD, can trust both in His Name, ADONAI Zava’ot, and trust that He is Israel’s Savior. In this redemption, it was ADONAI’s choice to make Israel a witness to the nations. However the passage from Isaiah does not end with just Israel’s redemption. Remember that the reason for the witness is so that the world would know of God’s redemption.

All the nations are gathered together, and the peoples are assembled. Who among them can declare this, and proclaim to us former things? Let them present their witnesses so they may be justified, or let them hear and say, “It’s true. You are My witnesses”—it is a declaration of ADONAI—”and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me no God was formed, and there will none after Me. I, I am ADONAI—and there is no savior beside Me. (Isaiah 43:9-11).

Recently, during the eight days of Sukkot, we recited the Hallel Psalms which included Psalm 118:1-4:

Praise ADONAI, for He is good, for His loving-kindness endures forever.
O let Israel say: For His loving-kindness endures forever.
O let the house of Aaron say: For His loving-kindness endures forever.
O let those who fear ADONAI say: For His loving-kindness endures forever.

In this passage, three groups of people are encouraged, even commanded to praise ADONAI. First is klal Israel; all of Israel is to praise the LORD. Second is the house of Aaron; the priesthood is to praise the LORD. Finally, all those who fear the LORD are to praise Him. All people are called to acknowledge and praise the LORD, beginning with Israel, going through the priesthood and expanding out to all humanity who fear and worship the LORD.[iii] Returning to Isaiah we read:

I, I am ADONAI—and there is no savior beside Me. (Isaiah 43:11)

He is the Savior of the Jews and all of creation. As we see in Zechariah 14 (Haftarah for Sukkot, Day One), as well as the end of the Aleinu, the LORD desires that the entire world would come to acknowledge Him, “ADONAI will then be King over all the earth. In that day ADONAI will be Echad and His name Echad,” (Zechariah 14:9). And according to these passages in Isaiah it is the LORD Himself who will bring about the redemption and restoration of Israel and all creation.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Michael Fishbane (translation/commentary), The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot, Philadelphia, JPS, 5762/2002, p174.

[ii] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life Version of the Bible, Snellville, GA: MJFB, 2014.

[iii] Rabbi Nossom Scherman, The Later Prophets: Isaiah, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publications, 2013, p323.

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