This week’s Torah portion is Lech Lecha or as one translation reads, “get going out of your land.”[i] This is ADONAI’s command to Abram in Genesis 12:1 where Abram is told to pack up everything and head out for parts unknown. The portion continues through Genesis 17, ending with the circumcision of all the male members of Abraham’s household, Abraham included. Thus begins the history of the patriarchs that will continue until the end of the book of Genesis. The Haftarah is from Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16.
Prefacing this week’s Haftarah is an observation from Vayera (Genesis 18 – 22, next week’s portion), concerning a condition that Hagar found herself in as she wandered in the wilderness of Beer Sheba, (Genesis 21). In Genesis 21:19 we read, “And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water” In God in Search of Man Abraham Heschel points out that, “All men are blind until God opens their eyes” (Genesis Rabba 53, 13). [ii] In Hagar’s case, the well and the water was there already; she just did not see it. In many of our life situations, the answer is already there as well but like Hagar, we don’t see it. The reason for starting with this is that this week’s Haftarah begins with the prophet acknowledging Israel’s feeling of despair at the apparent abandonment of the LORD and their consequential exile. But he asks, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from ADONAI, and the justice due me is escapes the notice of my God’” (Isaiah 40:27)? What Israel felt, just as Hagar felt, is not reality. Just as the water was available for Hagar, so the LORD’s provision and care was available for Israel. Isaiah reminds Israel whom it is that is her source of comfort and strength – even while in exile, under discipline:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? ADONAI is the eternal God., the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives strength to the weary, and to the one without vigor He adds might. …they who wait for ADONAI will renew their strength. They will soar up with wings as eagles. They will run, and not grow weary. They will walk, and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28 – 29 & 31)
“ADONAI is the eternal God.” Present tense He is, not He was or He will be, though both of these conditions are true as well. But in the case of trouble, whether it is self-imposed or just a consequence of the world that needs repair, ADONAI is the eternal God, the One who is ultimately in control and watching over His word and will to accomplish His purposes in our lives, individually and corporately. Looking at things a little differently, in his commentary on verse 31, Rabbi Hertz makes a inspiring observation:
Under a wave of enthusiasm we are all capable of an isolated act of heroism, i.e. “to soar” or “to run” for a time. It is far harder to follow the monotonous round of everyday duty when the vision has faded and the spender seems gone, undeterred by trials and hindrances, meeting them in the spirit of faith and conquering them by steadfastness. This is the achievement of those that “wait for the LORD”. Day by day, they shall renew their strength.[iii]
Whether in exile and awaiting redemption or living in the daily grind of life, the LORD has promised to renew the strength of those who wait on Him. But what is “waiting” on the LORD. The definition literally is “to hope in” or “to hope for”, “to wait for” or “to look for”. In this instant, I believe a better translation would be “to hope in” the LORD, thereby trusting in Him and His strength to get us through whatever situation we find ourselves in. The Psalmist expresses this sentiment:
Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the ADONAI his God… (Psalm 146:5)
ADONAI delights in those who revere Him, in those who trust (hope) in His loving-kindness. (Psalm 147:11)
And in Eichah (Lamentations) as Judah is overwhelmed by the destruction of the 1st Temple, the writer proclaims:
“ADONAI is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.” Adonai is good to those who wait for (hope in) Him, to the soul that seeks Him. (Eichah 3:24-25)
It is possible that Shaul had this idea of hoping in or waiting on the LORD when he wrote, “if we hope for what we do not see, then we eagerly wait for it with perseverance,” (Romans 8:25). While we cannot “see” our relationship with Yeshua, but we can know, based on the hope within us, that we are His and are in His care.
One last note on this week’s portion; time and time again, we are reminded that perception and our response to what is perceived is everything. In Parasha Shelach twelve spies went into the Promised Land to check things out, (Numbers 13-14). It was as good as the LORD had sworn to the patriarchs but there were “situations” that could be difficult to deal with. Ten of the spies capitalized on the problems, bemoaning the fact that they could not overcome the problems. Joshua and Calev did not deny the existence of the problems but looked at them from the LORD’s point of view and saw victory. Sadly Israel followed the ten and consequently traversed the wilderness for an addition 38 years. Perception is everything. Three times in chapter 41 the LORD entreats Israel to “fear not” because HE is in control, (41:10, 13, & 14). And yet in verse 14 He says “fear not, you worm Jacob.” Does the LORD consider Jacob/Israel a worm, a weak, soft skinned, spineless entity? I do not believe so, though it is possible that after the oppression of exile, Israel might feel that way about herself. However the next verses describe anything but a weak, soft worm.
Look, I will make you a threshing sledge, new, with sharp, double-edged spikes. You will thresh the mountains and grind them up, and will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and a wind will carry them away, a storm-wind will scatter them. But you will rejoice in ADONAI. You will glory in the Holy One of Israel. (41:15-16).
Not a worm but a mighty tool to level adversaries and disperse strongholds; separating as it were the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad. But notice it is not Israel’s strength, any more than it would have been Israel’s prowess that won the victory in Canaan centuries earlier. It was the working of the LORD in people whose determined to “wait upon Him” and have their strength renewed as they stayed in Him. The same promise proclaimed to Israel by the LORD is available to us today:
For I am ADONAI your God who upholds your right hand,
who says to you “Fear not, I will help you.”
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life Version of the Bible, Snellville, GA: MJFB, 2014.
[ii] Heschel, Abraham Joshua. God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 2011. p 133.
[iii] Dr. J. H. Hertz, C.H. (ed). The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 2nd Edition. London, Soncino Press, 1988. p 61